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PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am

THE SHELTER-MAGAZINE industry is big business and a major source of inspiration for home design. Pictures of perfectly styled abodes torn from glossy magazines such as Architectural Digest, Elle Decor and Metropolitan Home help to form visions of beautiful homes and guide interior-design projects. Although there's no denying the usefulness of these publications, commercial venues can also be a source of inspiration where you can find innovative designs that are perfect for the home-interior market.


Some designers recommend checking out stylish stores and the like before embarking on home renovations. 'I often bring clients to restaurants and boutiques to get inspired about interior decoration, particularly in terms of focal points,' says architect and designer Johnny Li of Nail Assemblage. 'Focal points are the first thing people notice.'


At the recently opened Billy Boy cafe in Sheung Wan, Li and his team fused commercial and domestic elements to recreate the design feel of the 1950s and 60s in several aspects of the restaurant's interior, which was created to feel more like a home.


'At Billy Boy we have a large mural as our focal point,' says Li. 'But a focal point can be anything from a blank wall with a beautiful texture to a piece of art.'


The restaurant's colour scheme, a combination of basic background greys and off-whites highlighted with orange, yellow and pink, allows for such focal points. For example, the orange accent is repeated in the kitchen to draw the eye to that spot. This technique works well in open-plan flats.


Billy Boy is furnished with designer chairs, such as the Eero Saarinen Tulip and the Eames fibreglass shell side chair, along with furniture from Nail Assemblage's new Yi Line, inspired by 50s panache. 'This style of furniture is more in the background, which complements the focal points around the restaurant,' says Li.


It creates a relaxed setting suitable for the home. It also has a fun touch. 'The tables all have different chairs. This transcends a formal setting and is a playful way to approach an interior space.'


Sonjia Atelier, a studio and boutique recently opened by designer Sonjia Norman in Wan Chai, has a look that would suit the homes of people who like gritty, unfinished interiors. Designed by Sjoerd Hoekstra and Betsy Tang of Three Dogs Retail Design, the shop's 'concrete brutalist' appearance combines basic construction textures to achieve an effect that's dramatic and bold, but also rich and glossy. 'Sonjia's clothes have a lot of different fabrics with different finishes,' Hoekstra says. 'So we represented this range of textures in the design.'


This endeavour was aided by the structure of the old print shop that houses the atelier. 'Sonjia wanted to respect the history of the building,' says Hoekstra. 'So we enhanced the origins of the place by stripping away the materials that had accumulated on the original surfaces, and leaving evidence of use such as wall bolts and nail holes.' This meant the floor was returned to its original concrete and the marks and stains that accumulated over time were revealed. 'We left these to give the floor character and to create light and shadows for a rich effect,' says Hoekstra. The floor was then coated with varnish to give it a deep lustre. For a finished look, the same treatment was applied to the walls, which were first stripped of their screed to the original brick and concrete.


According to Hoekstra, older apartments lend themselves more naturally to a concrete brutalist renovation. 'Brick can be coated with sealant to prevent dust, and painted white or covered with emulsion paint to give it texture,' he says. 'And many [older] apartments will have concrete floors that can be exposed and varnished.'


Achieving this look is more economical than most remodelling jobs. 'You aren't adding anything,' Hoekstra says. 'You're only removing and finishing original surfaces, so there's a cost for demolition and for some painting and finishes, but that's about it.'


For those flats that don't have concrete floors, cement board (usually used as a material to fireproof walls) can be stapled to wooden floors and covered with a sealant as a low-cost alternative to achieve the poured concrete effect.


The lush woods and plush furnishings of luxury junk Michelangelo, owned and designed by Kambiz Tabar, are oceans away from the stark look of Sonjia Atelier. Michelangelo, outfitted in a traditional design with cosy comfort wrapped in classic print fabrics, is another example of a commercial venue whose style suits a home interior.


'The look of the boat is down-to-earth elegance,' says Tabar. 'I go for that stand-out effect that nature provides.' Examples of the organic origins of his design principle abound throughout the bi-level super junk, which has a formal living room and dining room, a kitchen, master suite and four en suite guest rooms, as well as numerous sun decks. Its teak-panelled and intimate interior is inviting without being overly nautical and complements other natural touches such as the Brazilian blue-quartz bathroom fittings.


To achieve the boisserie look, Tabar suggests installing natural teak floors, with no stain or varnish. 'Just wash them and let nature do its work,' he says.


Ceilings should be covered with square wood tiles and walls in vertical panelling with recessed window frames. Niches - important on a boat that may rock and pitch - can be created for paintings, lighting and bookshelves.


'Fresh water kills wood,' Tabar says, which is why he advises taking extra care with piping when installing timber features in a home. To combat Hong Kong's humidity, Tabar suggests regulating the temperature. Dehumidifiers can also help.


Although there's no need to cancel your favourite interior magazine subscriptions, the myriad design elements in some of Hong Kong's commercial venues can provide valuable inspiration.


And you can actually see and feel the materials and textures - without worrying about clever lighting, fancy styling or flattering photography.


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