Change of direction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

Henry Lau and Iris Lee had a sea view to die for: water glinted metres away from the front yard, boats bobbed beside moorings and, because of its easterly aspect, their Sai Kung house was rarely short of light. But the couple never felt at ease. It was often too warm inside and the scenery was a tad 'busy', says Lau. Not only that but it felt like a tourist trap, with noisy weekend traffic at the surrounding marina.

The couple, both artists, may have felt uncomfortable in the house but they liked where they were living. So they decided to remain in the complex and find a home with a different orientation. Early this year they bought and moved into what they call their 'dream house'. The fact that the 2,000 sqft, south-facing, seven-floor property was water-damaged, old-fashioned and termite-infested was no deterrent.

Because of its location, by a lagoon, the mood of their new home is completely different, they say. Not only that, they now have constant cooling breezes and a view of moving water and mountains, which scores fung shui points. Lee and her husband also appreciate the more peaceful scenery. 'Sometimes spoonbills and cranes fly by,' she says. 'And we see people fishing or hunting for crabs.'

Knowing their house needed a thorough revamp, the couple set about finding a contractor by snooping on their neighbours. On one of their strolls along a deck that runs next to the water, they spotted a house whose interiors appealed.

'That's how we met Keith [Lam, of Keith Company],' says Lee. He was the right man for the job because he had worked on about 40 other houses in the development and was familiar with the building faults shared by many of them, including leakage.

He also agreed to complete the renovation in 60 days, allowing the couple and their two young sons to move into their home by the Lunar New Year.

Because there was little time for plans to be put on paper, ideas were often sketched on walls, although Lau constructed a 1:50 model of the living room, which was enlarged by making the most of the balcony in front and removing the wall of an adjoining room at the back. This compact space, which is used to accommodate a fridge and entertainment equipment, opens directly into the lounge area, which looks past a garden terrace onto water. A strip of grass forms a neat boundary between the property and the lagoon.

While Lau devoted most of his effort to designing the living room, which he wanted simple and modern, his wife takes credit for the master bedroom. This area was enlarged by demolishing a wall and knocking two rooms into one. The additional space is used as a work area.

To make the most of the scenery, she reconfigured the adjoining bathroom and installed a picture window beside a spacious, Japanese-style tub.

'It's fun to play with the children in the bath,' she says. 'I tell them we're going to the swimming pool.'

Although it looks as though no expense was spared on the renovation, the couple insist they kept to their budget. Where did they save money?

'On the artwork,' Lau jokes, referring to the many paintings on the walls by him and his wife. Several of the pieces were painted specially for the house, including one by the entrance that was inspired by the lagoon's reflection.

Was the move worth it? 'Of course,' says Lee. 'The orientation is so much better and it is so comfortable.' Her husband agrees. 'We have two sons,' he says. 'But this is like our third baby.'

1 Large glass sliding doors and a dark-wood 'frame' make the most of the water view from the living room. At one end of the glass wall is a yellow Philippe Starck Toy chair, purchased 10 years ago, while at the other end stands a Buddha statue acquired at a trade fair in Hong Kong. The coffee table, bought for HK$4,990 from Sofamark (shop B118, New World Centre, 20 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2959 2939), was adapted for comfort and style. The legs were the wrong height and were replaced with a base made from the same material used for the television wall unit. From the same shop is the sofa, which cost HK$60,000. The rug (HK$2,250) came from the Chinese Carpet Centre (shop L021, New World Centre, tel: 2736 1773). Beneath one of the two tubular sconces (HK$3,740 each, from Zodiac, shop B, Tak On Mansion, 32 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2832 9987) is a Balinese wooden face sculpture whose expression the owners modified. The cube ceiling light cost HK$840 from PLC Lighting (8C Mong Kok Road, Mong Kok, tel: 2396 0077).

2 Glass barriers on the balcony ensure the panorama is not obstructed. The table and two chairs cost HK$5,980 for the set from House & Garden (16/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 8433).

3 Three-year-old Kenny practises his swing on the strip of grass that extends from the tiled terrace. The outdoor table and chairs came from House & Garden and cost HK$9,150 for the set.

4 Homeowner Iris Lee enjoys bathing the children in the bath-cum-'swimming pool' that was custom built for the en-suite master bathroom. The blind in front of the glass partition cost HK$32 a square foot from Tony Decorative Products (29 Bute Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2397 7290). The bath tap (HK$4,000) came from B&Q on the mainland ( Three still-life paintings of vases, by Henry Lau, hang above a bed made for HK$12,000 by contractor Keith Company (flat 1, 13/F, Block B, Fuk Keung Industrial Building, 66 Tong Mei Road, Mong Kok, tel: 2381 8837). The blackout curtains were made for HK$3,000 by Tony Decorative Products. The bedside lights were HK$360 each from Faddy Lighting (637 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2392 3808).

5 A painting by Lau called Glittering, inspired by the view, hangs in the entrance, off which is an equally sparkly powder room. The mosaic floor tiles cost HK$2,360 a square metre from Futura (300 Portland Street, Mong Kok, tel: 3591 9918). The bead curtain, used as a shower curtain, was HK$280 from G.O.D. (various locations; Behind a papier mache sculpture by Lau, made with the South China Morning Post newspaper, are uneven wall tiles that cost HK$1,500 a square metre from Sam's Material Supply (shop J, Lucky House Building, 64 Tong Mei Road, tel: 3583 4082). The Roca toilet (HK$4,800) was from Galaxy Bathroom Collection (332 Portland Street, tel: 2399 0028).

6 Occupying one level of the multistorey house are the dining room and kitchen, which can be closed with sliding glass doors. Contractor Keith Company made the cabinets, which cost HK$40,000, countertop included. The table (HK$6,000) came from Idea & Design Furniture (shop 619, Grand Century Place, 193 Prince Edward Road West, Mong Kok, tel: 2628 3436) and the chairs cost HK$3,000 each from Decor Collection (shop 603, Grand Century Place, tel: 2881 7272). The blind was HK$32 a square foot from Tony Decorative Products.

7 Sharing space with the master bedroom is a study. The contractor custom built the desk for HK$13,600.

8 The artist owners use a room at the top of the house for painting and weekly massages. The stool cost HK$300 from Ikea (various locations; The Chinese cabinet (HK$400) came from Ming Tai Zu (Old House, 24 Man Yee Street, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 7271).

Tried + tested

Mail order

So that they don't have to open the front door to collect their post, the owners dreamed up a solution with the help of their contractor, Keith Company (flat 1, 13/F, Block B, Fuk Keung Industrial Building, 66 Tong Mei Road, Mong Kok, tel: 2381 8837). Behind the slot for letters is a drawer, which forms part of a wall storage unit in the entrance.

Styling David Roden