Office ours

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am

An ability to think outside the box has resulted in the transformation of a grotty commercial space into a strikingly cool abode.

Christian and Kristyna Banck's home is undeniably striking, but one compliment from a lift occupant peeping in when the front door is open confirms this apartment is special for another reason.

'Is it a restaurant in there?' the stranger asks.

'Why do you say that?' comes the retort.

'Because it looks so nice,' the curious man replies.

His question is wide of the mark but also apt considering the Bancks live in a commercial building. In this old, multistorey edifice fronting a main road, about half the 'offices' are occupied by residents, they say, adding that they're just the latest to move in and, besides, their home is their office.

Workspace, home or both, the Bancks' 850 sq ft investment is a study in raw, minimalist chic juxtaposed with luxurious elements such as, at one end, a gleaming oversized bathroom with a standalone tub and, at the other, a cool, contemporary open kitchen featuring steel and wood. Concrete flooring and white walls give it an art-space atmosphere, as do its overall rectangular shape and sparse furniture, the focal points in a space still devoid of paintings, photographs and sculpture.

'We're not collectors ... yet,' says Kristyna, who deserves full credit for transforming a dusty office into a home. 'I always think in 3D and decided in two minutes to buy the place,' she adds, remembering how she and her husband had despaired of the tiny flats agents offered in their price range. Once the space was theirs, she contacted a contractor whose stylish, simple windows she had seen in a decor magazine. 'They're important to me because I hate Hong Kong windows, which are built to fit air-conditioners,' she says. 'These are also double glazed and block out traffic noise.'

After design meetings, some conducted using body language, Kristyna, who is from the Czech Republic, started measuring, sketching and shopping. 'Symmetry is important,' she says, adding that with proper drawings and dimensions, her contractors had no trouble achieving what she wanted.

Instead of tearing down walls to make room - as many space-challenged Hong Kong people do - she built one to divide living, cooking and sleeping areas from a light-filled bathroom that is the apartment's highlight. It was to this room the Bancks alloted the biggest proportion of their renovation budget, allowing themselves brand-name fixtures and custom-made cabinetry, which also hides a water heater (see Tried & Tested).

The living areas were designed to exact measurements to afford ample room for guests to dine and move around without bumping into furniture. 'This had to be 40cm from the wall,' Kristyna says, referring to an off-the-ground entertainment unit housing audio-visual equipment, which rests at an angle to save space.

A natural designer with no formal training, she was also the creative brains behind the T-shaped kitchen counter-cum-dining table, which accommodates four. Behind the kitchen is an alcove into which the main door once opened. After shifting the entrance to the left, the contractor built roomy, floor-to-ceiling cupboards, which hold everything from kitchen appliances to books to crockery. On the dog leg, an adjoining closet hides a washing machine and dryer.

Welcoming as the space has become, there remain visual reminders of its commercial heritage: a sprinkler system newly painted fire-engine red; and emergency lights, one of which illuminates the entrance. 'I was scared the sprinkler system would go off when I was cooking, but the contractor assured me that wouldn't happen,' says Kristyna, who nevertheless opens the windows while preparing food. What are some other drawbacks to living in a former commercial space? 'Other than water pressure [so low she had a pump installed], nothing,' she says, pondering the question further, then grimacing at the thought of the relative grime beyond her clean haven. 'Oh yes, the lobby and the lift. Oh my God!'

1 Touches of red add vibrancy to an otherwise subdued palette of grey, brown and white. To complement the sprink-ler system, which she painted red, Kristyna Banck bought two red German Weco chairs ($8,750 each) from Giormani Luxury (shop G03, Man Yee Arcade, 60 Des Voeux Road Central, tel: 2259 5368). The coffee table ($880) is from G.O.D. (various locations; Below the 37-inch Sharp television ($28,800 from Fortress, shop 5, Hopewell Centre,183 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 3138) is a custom-made cabinet, the dimensions of which Banck insisted be 40cm x 40cm x 230cm to ensure unrestricted passage through the flat. The stainless-steel bed was designed by Banck and made by her contractor (Chit Shing Aluminium Window Engineering, On Cheong Building, 38 Mei Kwong Street, To Kwa Wan, tel: 2362 7309 or 9104 0075) for $3,500. Flooring throughout the flat is concrete, which enhances its industrial look.

2 & 3 Banck chose her contractor after seeing pictures of the French Technal windows (118cm x 117cm) the company supplies. The cost for each window was $4,000, including frame, frosted glass and installation. Being double glazed, the windows provide noise and temperature insulation, she says, and are easy to clean. The free-standing bathtub ($10,800) and mixer ($7,780) are from Sunny Building and Decoration Materials (345 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2893 9118; www.ebon., as are the Sunset 90 shower cabinet ($5,600), the Axor by Hansgrohe shower head ($3,385) and the wall-mounted Philippe Starck for Duravit toilet ($3,800). The glass-topped table ($900) is from Kai Ngai Furniture and Decoration (328 Lockhart Road, tel: 2572 3739). The Delong soap dispenser ($198) and towel rail ($148) are from Bo Crown Building Materials (286 Lockhart Road, tel: 2588 1212). The red vase ($88) is from G.O.D.

4 The brushed hairline stainless-steel counter was designed by Banck and made to order for $6,800 by Regent Steel Gate Products and Construction (shop D, Lucky Plaza, 315 Lockhart Road, tel: 2395 2885). The Gessi tap ($1,800) is from Kuchen (shop A1, Lockhart Centre, 301 Lockhart Road, tel: 2845 9822; www.

5 The Zens Isola 90 exhaust ($11,800) is from Kuchen, which also supplied the Smeg integrated grill with volcanic rocks ($5,450) and Smeg hob ($2,750). Banck designed the kitchen-island-cum-dining table, which consists of a teak veneer top and painted brick -and-concrete base. The chairs ($1,000 each) are from Kai Ngai Furniture and Decoration (328 Lockhart Road, tel: 2572 3739); the Sothis pendant lamp ($5,680) above is from PLC Lighting (210 Lockhart Road, tel: 2519 6275). At the back, where the entrance used to be, Banck built spacious floor-to-ceiling cupboards to accommodate kitchen utensils and other items. Also concealed within the cabinetry are the washing machine and dryer.

6 Most of the furniture in the home is custom made, including this shoe cabinet, which is illuminated by a sconce ($2,399) from PLC Lighting. Across the hall from the front door is the lift.

7 The B&B and Frette bedding is from Bed and Bath (shop 206, Prince Building, Central, tel: 2522 5151). Flanking the bed are matching tables ($1,299 for the pair) designed by Banck and made by her contractor. The vase ($68) is from Wing On Department Store (211 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan, tel: 2852 1888). The lights ($3,800 for the pair) are from PLC Lighting.

tried & tested

water works

Because gas services are not available in Christian and Kristyna Banck's building, they installed a 55-litre electric water heater in the bathroom. Rather than leaving it exposed the way many Hong Kong people do, Kristyna suggested hiding it behind the mirrored vanities. Her contractor, Chit Shing Aluminium Window Engineering, explained this was not feasible because of the size of the unit, so suggested concealing it above in custom-made cabinetry. The Winba water heater (model WHP 15) cost $7,800, installation included. The wood veneer cabinet cost $5,500.