For Anthony Lei, the excitement of designing his own home was professional as well as personal. As a young architect at a leading Hong Kong firm, his days are typically spent working on large commercial projects, so he was eager to experience freedom of expression without having to answer to clients or bosses.
'That's a dream for architects,' he says with a smile.
'I love the views to the sea and it's a relatively quiet area,' he says of his first home, a small, bright apartment overlooking the Kennedy Town harbourfront. 'It's an old area in Hong Kong but it's got great potential because the MTR will open, hopefully, in two years. The price was on the rise but still OK.'
With a net area of just 350 sq ft, the flat didn't allow Lei much space to play with, so he had to be creative. Luckily, his is a simple and uncluttered style.
'I wanted to cater for my lifestyle, which is not too complicated. Basically, I try to store everything away to open up the space. Instead of focusing on features and objects, I put emphasis on space and lighting, and on material and detailing,' he says.
Most of the storage space is well concealed. Lei created a raised platform for his mattress, under which are several hatches. When lifted, these reveal wells full of books and out-of-season clothes. Both the slim-line kitchen and bathroom house lots of high cupboards.
Thought has also gone into shelving. In the square study, there's little to distract Lei and the walls are mostly bare. Behind the door stands white shelving that seems to fit serendipitously into its space. In fact, Lei created the nook specifically for this purpose, by moving the living-room wall a few inches.
'Because it is a small space, it takes more effort because you have to be very precise. Every inch counts,' he says.
Inches were also counted carefully in the bed- room, where shelves stretch from the ceiling almost to the floor - the bottom few inches form a recess that houses audio-visual equipment on the living room side of the wall (see The good and the ugly).
Borrowing a trick used in show flats, Lei removed the kitchen door to make the open-plan living space appear larger. Elongating the kitchen countertop around a corner into the living room created a seamless link between the two spaces.
The front door is covered with the same dark grey tiles as the wall in which it is set, creating a long, seemingly unbroken 'wall' that connects the living room and the kitchen.
The lighting throughout the flat is economical and environmentally friendly, which suits the owner's minimalist ideal. Slender white lights are barely visible on the white ceilings but shine brightly on a project that Lei is proud to call his own.
1 Architect Anthony Lei (tel: 9384 2110; email@example.com) removed a door to open up the narrow kitchen space. The small window and reflective materials, such as the stainless-steel worktop, also help create a feeling of space. The Delong tap was HK$780 from Bo Crown Building Materials (275 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2834 3730). The L-shaped kitchen counter extends around the corner into the living room, where matching cabinetry and imaginative shelving built around a small window provide storage space and a countertop that doubles as a buffet table. Lei designed the kitchen, including the cabinetry - timber shelves with aluminium-framed doors made of frosted glass - for a total of HK$39,000, including appliances.
2 The leather couch cost HK$8,800 from Muji (Cityplaza, Taikoo Shing, tel: 3971 3170). The European-maple floor cost HK$320 per square foot from Poly Chance Asia (271 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 9819). Three large rectangular panels made of frosted glass form the backdrop to the room. They were designed by Lei and installed by the contractor, Dopo (Pak Sha Wan Centre, Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung, tel: 2505 7981). The panels plus the made-to-measure shelving under the television cost HK$16,500. The acrylic coffee table was HK$1,140 from Muji and the Rado F lamp was HK$7,620 from Zodiac Lighting (32 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2832 9987).
3 At the foot of the bed, Lei built a white shelving unit with a glass panel at the end, which allows softly muted light into the bedroom from the living room. The shelving unit was designed by Lei and built by the contractor for HK$9,300.
4 The washbasin cost HK$480 from Bowin Building Material Centre (283 Lockhart Road, tel: 2824 2108). The Delong tap cost HK$780 from Bo Crown Building Materials.
5 The bed is simply a mattress placed on a purpose-built platform. It was designed by Lei and built by the contractor for HK$16,500. A desk in maple ven- eer, made by the contractor for HK$6,000, was installed at a lower-than-usual level. Lei removed the legs of a Gilbert chair from Ikea (HK$450; various locations; www.ikea.com.hk) to allow it to fit on the raised platform. The lamp cost HK$1,130 from Homeless (1/F, 17 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2890 8789).
6 The extra-wide timber-frame door was clad in the same dark grey tiles as the wall behind the couch in the living room, making it almost invisible from the inside when the door is closed. The door was designed by Lei and built by the contractor for HK$13,500. The tiles cost HK$47 a piece from Majestic Ceramics (156 Lockhart Road, tel: 2398 8183).
7 Lei created a light, minimalist study using simple furnishings. The table (HK$1,830), chair (HK$450) and notice board (HK$120) all came from Ikea.
The good and the ugly
Shelving is built into a custom-made recess below the television and allows for the audiovisual equipment to be stored flush against the wall. The wooden shelving looks lightweight but it had to be reinforced with steel to support the three glass panels on top of it.
Tried + tested
Three rectangular eye-catching lights are set into the dark grey wall behind the couch. Anthony Lei used blue LED strips set into folded sheets of stainless steel, which reflects the electric blue lights. 'I was trying to create mood lighting that would animate the tiled wall and the living room space,' Lei says.
Styling David Roden