State of play

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am

An unorthodox renovation of a Kowloon Tong apartment has produced a home that reflects its owner's desire to experiment and challenge.

Herman Lee isn't kidding when he says he is a sucker for complex games. Although he makes the comment in reference to his previous position as an architectural project administrator, his preoccupation is evident on, a complicated company website that leads visitors via an iris-like guiding wheel to conceptual drawings, philosophical pronouncements and a menu with such baffling choices as 'polyspline' and 'sweep'.

Lee's affinity for play is also evident in his unusual flat, which has views of Kowloon Tong's charming low-rise buildings and the majestic hills beyond. Japanese in spirit but really an expression of the architect's proclivities and beliefs, the 900 sq ft apartment features movable floor seating, low tables and a mattress on a raised platform in an open bedroom. There is also a bathroom designed to ensure the stunning vista can be enjoyed even from the shower cubicle, situated in a far corner. Lee made this possible by building a bathroom entrance that is angled rather than straight. And where others might simply have installed a door, he devised a heavy, glass-centred, sliding panel inspired by what he says is his experience of public dressing areas. 'In changing rooms, there aren't any doors but partitions don't let you see in,' he says.

The apartment was redesigned by removing and altering walls: the main bedroom became an extension of the living area and a piece of glass replaced a regular wall dividing the spare bedroom from the entrance. Behind the glass, and under spotlights for effect, are welcoming plants. 'I wanted a double lobby,' says Lee, explaining that, upon entering the apartment, one sees the shop-style window display. A white blind forms the backdrop for the greenery and affords privacy to anyone using the spare room.

Between the bedrooms is the bathroom, the walls of which end 28cm shy of the false ceiling. The reason for this, Lee says, is that regular walls constrain lighting. 'By not having the walls go all the way up, you have freedom of lighting,' he says, likening his concept to stage design. 'I wanted to use lighting to divide the zones.'

Thought also went into the ceiling, which accommodates not only spotlights but also panels with arrow motifs to guide the eye around and out of the flat. A solid white screen next to a window to the right of Lee's bed provides privacy and is part of a directional loop (see Tried & Tested): its large dart-head symbol points to the postcard scenery beyond.

Having bought the flat because of its aspect and with his lifestyle in mind, Lee built a low platform along the apartment's glass front. He then designed Japanese-style zaisu, legless chairs that allow him to sit by the windows to read, eat and watch the world go by. The rigid seating, which allows banquette-style one-to-one conversation when placed on the platform, can be grouped around a table in the living area when Lee is entertaining guests. The table usually stands by the front door accommodating books as well as one or more of the chairs.

'People usually buy the most comfortable chairs they can find, but these aren't good for your spine,' says Lee. 'These seats have hard angles so the body adjusts to them rather than the other way around.'

Lee gives form to his ideas elsewhere in the flat, although it may not be obvious. The sloping bedhead capping his mattress, for instance, can be used for storage. Not only that, the angle of its longest side is replicated in the bathroom, directly behind: the edge of the hood of the vanity unit forms a parallelogram with the bedhead. 'I know no one cares but the whole thing is one piece,' says Lee, underscoring an earlier comment: 'I like games; if you know the rules you can play.'

1 To create a sense of division and to protect against dust, architect Herman Lee (tel: 2787 4326; site@; raised the floor of his Japanese-style bedroom, which consists of a mattress, a bedhead, which doubles as storage space, and low-angled cabinets to accommodate hi-fi equipment. Purple sandalwood, costing HK$26 a square foot from Supertrade Material (shop B2, 204 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2904 6982), is used throughout the flat except in the bathroom and kitchen. Downlights and floor-mounted spotlights (HK$40 to HK$120 each) are from PLC Lighting (50 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2836 3839). The green glass panels 'work as strips to tie up the big elements', says Lee, referring to the cherry-wood bedhead, bathroom door and sliding panel (see Tried & Tested). They also lend lightness to the design.

2 When guests come to visit, the low-level black-granite-topped table by the entrance can be used for dining; when Lee is alone, the table acts as a base for the legless chairs, which come in handy when he's tying his shoelaces.

3 Portable legless chairs resembling Japanese zaisu provide flexible seating at the entrance, in the living room and by the picture window. Designed by Lee to be rigid, which he believes is better for the spine than soft-backed chairs, they are covered with durable Curium vinyl (HK$571 a metre from Cetec, 2/F, Winway Building, 50 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2521 1325). Simple (58 Ventris Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2573 2966) made four chairs for a total of HK$5,700, vinyl not included. The round glass vase cost HK$578 from Lane Crawford, Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2573 2966.

4 Sago cycas, which can grow in water, are showcased under metal halide spotlights at the end of the guest room. The glass case, measuring 150cm x 70cm x 210cm, functions as a light box in a dark area. It also provides visual interest at the entrance. The blind behind the plants (HK$28 a square foot from Bedford Interiors, 101 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2529 0472) is used when the guest room is occupied. The ceiling design at the entrance is arrow-shaped, which starts a visual loop around the flat. Inspired by stage design, Lee installed warm and cold lights to define spaces in the flat.

5 A cantilevered shelf, an extension of the glass strips in the bedroom and bathroom, hugs the wall between the sleeping and living areas.

6 The entrance to the bathroom, sandwiched between the main and spare bedrooms, is angled to afford a view out of the flat. The sink cost HK$1,800 and the tap HK$1,090 from Designers Gallery (shop 3, Siu On Centre, 188 Lockhart Road, tel: 2598 0095). The toilet cost HK$2,100 from B.S.C. Boutique (shop 278, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2730 2661). The shower cubicle cost HK$25,000 from a shop now closed. The green glass affixed to the ceiling, part of a panel linking the bedroom and bathroom, protects against steam.

7 The overhead panel with fluorescent lighting is angled to co-ordinate with the sloped bedhead in front of the bathroom. Pure black granite for the countertop cost HK$50 a square foot from Yip Wah Marble Work (240 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 2932). The white tiles cost HK$3.90 each from a shop in Mong Kok.

tried & tested

making a point

Instead of blinds or curtains to provide privacy in the bedroom, architect Herman Lee (tel: 2787 4326; installed a white panel that moves along tracks. The wooden screen, made for HK$8,000 by Yet Fung Interior Decoration Engineer (room 3805, Kam Wai House, Kam Fung Court, Ma On Shan, tel: 2640 6889), helps create a visual loop. 'It is an inverted geometry of the ceiling plan at the entrance,' says Lee, explaining that the three-dimensional arrow near the front door points to another on the panel, which not only extends the 'dead-end corner' of the apartment but also directs the eye around the flat and out of the main window. His friends believe the panel serves a different purpose. When extended towards the bed, unsightly items can be hidden behind it in a jiffy.

styling Gloria Wong