Laying down roots
First impressions matter, but sometimes second impressions matter more.
'When the property agent first brought me to Bowen Road, I said, 'I hope you're not showing me anything in that building,'' says homeowner Karina Trebbien.
'It is a rainbow from the outside,' says her husband, Anders Pedersen. 'I thought it was so ugly - all red and yellow, and the lobby is terrible. But then I noticed the interesting staircase, with the wrought-iron grilles and wooden railing and thought maybe it had potential. Then we walked inside and saw the amazing view of Central ...'
Next came the tricky part: turning the 1,500 sq ft, 1963 apartment into a chic, modern home while retaining its character. After 10 years in the city, during which they brought their pared-down, Danish aesthetic to the various apartments they inhabited, the couple were ready to give old-school Hong Kong design a go.
'We knew we wanted to keep that 'old' feeling, with the iron window frames and dark-wood floors,' Pedersen says. 'But there was so much wasted space and funny angles because the building is not square. We knew what we wanted to do but we needed help to do it.'
So they called in interior designer Andrew Bell of
Earth Home, impressed by his work in Hong Kong's traditional Chinese tenements and his ability to com- bine old and new while preserving the character of the building. A peek at his website (www.earthhome.com.hk) reveals a key element of his designs: hand- made, modern galvanised-steel versions of Hong Kong's old window frames.
Those grid-like frames are a major feature of the couple's apartment, used for every window and even some of the interior walls, including the master suite and the guest-bedroom-cum-study.
'It means we have to make the bed every day,' jokes Anders of the glass walls, 'but we really like the light and the interaction with the rest of the apartment.'
During the renovation, the apartment was stripped back to four walls and a few structural pillars, then redesigned from scratch. The floor plan gives the couple a large, open-plan living-dining-kitchen area and converted part of the living space into a triangular balcony.
'The balcony looks like it should have always been there,' Pedersen says. 'The railings are original but they used to be set against the windows.'
The balcony features another old-school city favourite: patterned floor tiles. They look like they could have been lifted from any post-war apartment block, but they were sourced from British tile company Fired Earth.
'We thought about installing an old-style kitchen, with wooden countertops and so on, but in the end we went for a minimal, modern white kitchen that 'disappears' into the back of the room,' Pedersen says.
The original teak floor was replaced with engineered walnut wood.
'We wanted to keep the woodblock floor but there were so many holes all over it that it had to go,' Trebbien says. 'This is our chance to have dark floors - we would never do this in Denmark. We have pale floors there because the winters are so dark, plus, pale wood doesn't show the dust.'
There is plenty of evidence of the couple's Danish heritage in the furnishings, which include pieces by Arne Jacobsen, Borge Mogensen and Poul Kjaerholm. The television and entertainment system is by Bang & Olufsen and the cutlery by Georg Jensen.
Ten years of living in Asia have left their mark, but the East-meets-West cliches are few.
'We always buy just one thing when we go on holiday,' Trebbien says.
So they have Little Willy, a Maori statue from New Zealand, a pair of tall carvings from Africa, a Turkish coffee table and a painting by Sichuan-born artist Zhu Yiyong. The large terracotta-coloured crowd painting above the dining table seems to have echoes of Hong Kong but it turns out to be by Spanish artist Juan Genoves and was bought in London.
Like the apartment it hangs in, the painting makes a good first - and lasting - impression.
1 The open-plan living, dining and kitchen area comprises the main space of the apartment. The walnut floor from Boen was supplied by Equal (3/F, Phase 2, Ming An Plaza, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066). The lounge chair (HK$29,170) by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen and the Gallery stool in walnut (HK$6,220) by Hans Sandgren Jakobsen came from Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The rug (HK$40,000), which is a reproduction of a Ningxia scrolling lotuses carpet, was from Altfield Gallery (9/F, Gee Chang Hong Centre, 65 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2552 1968). The spoke-back sofa, with ends that can be lowered on leather straps, was designed in 1945 by Borge Mogensen for Fredericia Furniture. It cost HK$53,000 from Kvadrat (Redoffice, Strevelinsvej 16, 7000 Fredericia, Denmark, tel: 45 7020 2002). The coffee table is an antique Ottoman copper tray bought in Istanbul, Turkey. The PK22 Easy chair in black leather (HK$32,000) is a 1956 design by Poul Kjaerholm and was bought from Paustian (Kalkbraenderilobskaj 2, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark, tel: 45 3916 6565). The white wall unit 'floats' a few inches above the floor, an effect emphasised by the ground-level lighting. It was made to order, for HK$22,000, by Wing Ki Decorations & Contracting (13/F, Sui Fai Factory Estate, 5 Shan Mei Street, Fo Tan, Sha Tin, tel: 9013 4137; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). All the galvanised-steel doors and windows in the flat were designed by Andrew Bell of Earth Home (LG/F, Po Lung Building, 91 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 9459 7174) and handmade by Wing Ki Decorations & Contracting. The total price for the ironwork, including doors for the balcony, master bedroom and guest bedroom, and all the windows, was HK$150,000.
2 The balcony was a key feature of the renovation and was carved out of the original living room. The retro-patterned tiles cost HK$31,000 from Fired Earth (24/F, Dominion Centre, 43 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2861 3864). The rattan-furniture set (HK$8,900 for two chairs and a table, unseen) came from Wicka Designs (1 Tai Mong Tsai Road, Sai Kung, tel: 2422 0885). The porcelain drum stools cost HK$880 each from Altfield Gallery.
3 The painting, titled Intermedio, is by Spanish artist Juan Genoves and came from Marlborough Fine Art (6 Albemarle Street, London, Britain, tel: 44 20 7629 5161). The Octo pendant lamp, from the Secto range by Finnish designer Seppo Koho, cost HK$7,690 from Manks. The Pharmacy floor lamp cost HK$4,010 from Altfield Gallery. The Super-Elliptical table, by Piet Hein, Bruno Mathsson and Arne Jacobsen (HK$34,000), and Arne Jacobsen's Series 7 bentwood dining chairs (HK$5,200 each) were from Republic of Fritz Hansen (www.fritzhansen.com), in Denmark. The crockery came from The Conran Shop, in London (www.conran.co.uk) and the Kartio water glasses are by Iittala (www.iittala.com). The Copenhagen cutlery came from Georg Jensen (HK$2,100 for 12 pieces; Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2868 0707).
4 The Rocky Mountain white-bronze door handles (HK$3,200 each) were from Altfield Home (12/F, 9 Queen's Road Central, tel: 2524 3066). The bed (HK$64,000), by Dutch company Auping, was from Paustian. The quilt was made by non-profit organisation Vietnam Quilts (13 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam, tel: 84 439 264 831; www.mekong-quilts.org). The antique wooden ceiling fan cost HK$9,500 from JLZ Arts & Antiques Gallery (233 Hollywood Road, tel: 2729 5181). The antique Tibetan dragon rug was HK$15,500 from Altfield Gallery and the Zero bedside units (HK$2,590 for a set of three) were from G.O.D. (various locations; www.god.com.hk). The painting, titled Music of Autumn, by Jia Juanli, was from Connoisseur Art Gallery (Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1 Hollywood Road, tel: 2868 5358).
5 The guest bathroom features a basin (HK$2,600), which was crafted by Thai artist Somluk Pantiboon and came from Earth Home. The Toto tap and mixer cost HK$1,390 from Galaxy Bathroom Collection (283 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2802 3008). The vanity unit (HK$3,500) and shower door were made to order by Wing Ki Decorations & Contracting. The Jericho limestone tiles (HK$2,100 a square metre) were from Fired Earth.
6 The white acrylic kitchen units and Corian glacier white countertop (HK$30,000) were from Play (41 Gough Street, Central, tel: 3427 8488). The old-fashioned bread cutter was from Raadvad (www.raadvad.com), in Denmark. Most of the appliances were from Siemens (13 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2511 2323).
7 The white wedding cabinet (HK$7,500; from Inside, 12/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2873 1795) is in a spare room that is soon to become a nursery. The Pinocchio felted wool rug (HK$7,800), by Danish company Hay, came from Aluminium (8 Kingston Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 2577 4766). The Eames Elephant in plywood cost HK$12,000 from Paustian. The Tolomeo lamp (HK$3,600) was from Artemide (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, tel: 2523 0333). The walnut blind was from Wai Kee Curtain & Furnishing (1/F, 30 Cochrane Street, Central, tel: 2544 3730).
Tried + tested
All aboard The vanity unit in the master en-suite bathroom has a distinctly nautical feel, with round steel handles, from Honest Hardware (232 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2598 6800). The unit is a replica of the cupboards on the homeowners' boat in Phuket, Thailand. The unit was designed by Andrew Bell and made for HK$3,500 by Wing Ki Decorations & Contracting (13/F, Sui Fai Factory Estate, 5 Shan Mei Street, Fo Tan, Sha Tin, tel: 9013 4137).
Styling David Roden