The beauty of boutique
An ambitious drive for comfort is behind The Putman hotel and serviced apartments, writes Tim Metcalfe
The Putman's grand, eye-catching exterior in multicoloured stained glass on Queen's Road Central could be mistaken for an art deco-inspired church.
The first impression is not far from the truth, for this sublime new boutique apartment complex is a temple of taste.
Opened earlier this year with breathtaking views over Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour, it is the vision of iconic French designer Andree Putman, who was recently described by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung as 'above taste'.
Putman's first signature design on Hong Kong's skyline joins a distinguished global portfolio of work, including New York's first designer hotel, Morgans, and the breathtaking Blue Spa at Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich.
She has styled spectacular private residences from Brussels, Dublin and Miami to Paris, Rome, Shanghai and Tel Aviv - including a home hanging from a cliff in Tangiers for actress Arielle Dombasle and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.
Her work has embraced fine arts museums in Rouen and Bordeaux, movie sets for director Peter Greenaway, a new flagship store on the Champs-Elysees for Helena Rubinstein and Guerlain, and even an office building for pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
With boundless versatility, the author of Putman Style has even designed Christofle silverware and jewellery, Gaia & Gino porcelain, a Veuve Clicquot champagne cooler and a Louis Vuitton bag.
The first serviced apartment project in the world bearing her name - commissioned by luxury local developer National Properties Holdings - is an exceptional landmark on the edge of Central, opposite Millennium Square.
Beyond the unique stained-glass facade, the reception to a private lobby for high-speed lifts is in black granite.
All but three of the 28 apartments are full-floor, 1,300 sqft suites, averaging HK$50,000 a month.
Three smaller studio apartments are HK$19,000 upwards.
In 'chic neutral' decor with contrasting white walls and light, brushed woods, high ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows running the length of the apartments present the most spectacular views imaginable.
A more intimate atmosphere can be created at the flick of a switch, with sun and black-out screens along the windows and a state-of-the-art dimming system for lighting.
Interior decor, hand-selected by Putman, includes her famous Crescent Moon sofa and is otherwise a roll-call of the world's leading no-expense-spared designers.
Bathrooms are in Bisazza Italian mosaic, with standalone bathtubs by Villeroy & Boch and, behind frosted glass doors, separate Dornbracht rain showers.
Bathroom products are by L'Occitane.
In the kitchens, built-in Siemens refrigerators, microwave ovens, electric hobs and integrated washer/dryers can be meticulously concealed behind an electronically controlled screen.
The coffee and blender appliances are Krups; the cookware by Jamie Oliver.
Tableware is Aura and the wine glasses are crystal. Bed linen and towels are Frette, while duvets and pillows are goose-down.
Hi-tech amenities range from Marantz music systems and statutory wireless broadband, DVD and cordless phones, to two wall-mounted, 42-inch high definition LCD televisions - one for the bedroom.
Service includes standard housekeeping, laundry and dry cleaning, porter and concierge, VCD and DVD library, complimentary access to a nearby gym and continental breakfast.
According to the innovative French designer, the end result is 'a sentiment of opulent yet understated elegance'.
She adds: 'By creating a dialogue between the facade and the interior, the outside and the inside, I aimed to create an oasis of calm amid the bustle of Hong Kong.
'The design represents a fresh and subtle energy driven by an ambitious desire for comfort.'
For the developer, the general vision is 'executive accommodation for discerning long-stay business travellers looking for comfort, space and designer-style in Central'.
National Properties managing director Loewe Lee says: 'For our first luxury serviced apartment project, we envisioned a stylish yet inviting space with all the comforts of home through Madame Putman's inspirational and innovative designs.
'The Putman is unique in this sector as it is a purpose-built designer property that reflects a home environment.
'Wholly conceived by Madame Putman, the design is an entire concept from the facade to the furniture, something that is lacking in the market today.'
National Properties Holdings has a distinguished record in Hong Kong property development for creating exclusive high-end residences and unique commercial buildings.
Working with some of the world's top architects and designers including Robert Stern, Remo Riva and Joseph Fung, the developer has focused on a niche for refined and elegant properties with spectacular views.
Among them, 37 Deep Water Bay, built in 1998, is known as 'The Dream House', and remains one of Hong Kong's most expensive single house residences - with soaring Corinthian columns, crowning balustrades, grand staircase, antique French oak floors and European marble.
The Bluewater development of 14 sumptuous flats in Tai Tam made history as the most expensive residential building of its kind, and the first to feature floor-to-ceiling picture windows in all principal rooms overlooking the South China Sea.
The 25-metre infinity pool was also a first for a residential development.
With commanding 360-degree views of Toronto and Lake Ontario, One St Thomas is a grand luxury apartment building incorporating a European-style spa and indoor swimming pool.
'We wanted to extend our expertise in luxury developments,' says Mr Lee, and the firm's first foray into the boutique serviced apartment sector with The Putman, backed by Citigroup Property Investors, is proving a remarkable success.
'Demand has been positive since our launch in May and we are fully occupied, with a waiting list for prospective guests. The market is obviously strong, evidenced by the quick uptake in our apartments.
'We are also already seeing extensions from our current guests who appreciate the concept of a home within a designer setting.
'Our strong rental rates suggest that there is a definite demand for our type of product that is unique in the market today.'
The market is, not surprisingly, top-end. 'Our guests range from executives of financial institutions to pilots of major airlines,' he says.
'But the one thing they have in common is appreciation for a comfortable yet stylish living environment with attentive yet non-intrusive service.
'Many of our guests and prospective guests understand and appreciate our approach to design and development, as evidenced by our previous projects.'
The Putman is the firm's first step into the boutique hotel apartment sector, but not its last. 'We are looking to expand in the boutique hotel apartment sector with high-end products that are missing in the market,' Mr Lee says.
'We have several projects in the pipeline and will be opening more boutique hotel apartments in Hong Kong in the near future.
'There is a growing trend in the Hong Kong market for boutique properties that offer a more comfortable setting for guests staying for extended periods. We feel that while this focus will be an increasing trend in the market, the main attraction for guests is the ability to make the apartments feel like home, and that is accomplished through offering a wholly designed property with more extensive services in a very personalised manner. We were not hindered by existing structures and we were able to plan every detail with an uncompromising mindset.'