Vicky and Henry Lai have well-read fish. An aquarium accommodating exotic discus freshwater fish is a key design feature in the couple's well-stocked library.
The tank was one of solicitor Henry's few requests when the couple renovated their 1,600 sq ft Pok Fu Lam apartment last year.
'Henry's easy-going when it comes to decor, but he had an opinion on the major things,' Vicky says. 'He finds the fish relaxing and has kept them since he was a child.'
Spatial Concept director Gary Lai (no relation) says the tank required a lot of preparation to install.
'We needed to be careful with the loading of the apartment and the tank also had to connect to the water system and pipes,' he says.
In addition to incorporating the water feature into the layout, Lai was tasked with brightening the interior. Built-in laminate cabinets that made the place feel cramped and dark were replaced with handleless white oak units to provide a seamless finish and reflect light. The Lais moved into the flat when they outgrew their 1,000 sq ft home in the building next door.
'We liked the area so it was only natural that we would find something close by,' Vicky says. 'The sea view is what we fell in love with - it's so relaxing to watch the sea and the boats, plus it's really quiet here. So we made a quick decision and bought it.'
They then left it to a professional to give them the interior they wanted.
'Vicky and Henry gave me the flexibility to come up with the design,' Gary Lai says. 'The only challenge we faced when doing the layout was the location of the en-suite bathroom, which could not be changed or enlarged because one of the walls is structural.'
The result is a contemporary but comfortable home with ample storage space and simple decor that will stand the test of time.
One of three bedrooms was turned into a study for Vicky Lai, who is enjoying her retirement after working as a Japanese interpreter for the Adventist Hospital.
'I spend a lot of time in this room,' she says, explaining that she plays the piano and practises newly learned computer skills in the study. 'It's like my retreat.'
Her connection to Japan is reflected in this room, with pillows covered in Japanese fabric and a photograph of her when she was a student in the country.
'I'd never hired a designer before but it has made everything so much easier and enabled me to achieve the look I wanted,' she says. 'Pink is my favourite colour and if I had my way our bedroom would be girly and pink, but Henry wouldn't be happy with it.'
The compromise was burgundy.
A bedroom for a daughter studying in Edinburgh, Scotland, has been painted a relaxing, pale green. There is also a daybed in the study for their other daughter to use when she visits.
'Even though the children are gone, it was important to us that they have somewhere to sleep and relax in when they come to stay,' says Vicky.
The Lais' cosy pad was designed with family get-togethers and entertaining in mind: walls have been demolished to create open-plan living and dining areas. And, after the dinner plates have been cleared away, the family can retire to the library to watch the fish swimming happily among the thrillers and the classics.
1 The dining table (HK$41,200) and chairs (HK$9,500 each) were from Armani Casa (1/F, 111 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2882 2239). The light fitting above the table cost HK$21,440 from Apartment (62 Leighton Road, tel: 2882 2198). The L-shaped sofa cost HK$77,700 from Ligne Roset (16 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2891 0913). The white-topped side table was bought for HK$7,500 from Le Cadre Gallery (11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2526 1068). On either side of the sofa are KEF speakers that are part of a home theatre set that cost about HK$20,000 from the company's Causeway Bay store (8/F, Times Square, tel: 2877 1778). The Noguchi coffee table cost HK$12,000 from Aluminium (8 Kingston Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 2577 4766). Gary Lai of Spatial Concept (22/F, Tai Yau Building, 181 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, tel: 8120 3101) designed the bookshelves, which were made for HK$29,600 by contractor Juggle Decoration (5/F, Block 1, Yip On Factory Estate, Wang Hoi Road, Kowloon Bay, tel: 9818 4240).
2 The Yamaha piano in the study was bought from Tom Lee Music almost 20 years ago. The Herman Miller chair cost HK$4,310 from Lane Crawford (Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2118 3668). Lai designed the desk (HK$13,200), cupboards (HK$11,000) and daybed (HK$7,800), which were all built by Juggle Decoration. The cushions and mattress were HK$5,000 from Ito Futon (46 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2845 1138).
3 The apartment opens directly onto the lounge. The natural white oak flooring in the living and dining areas cost HK$132,000 from Equal (3/F, Phase 2, Ming An Plaza, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066).
4 The kitchen cabinetry (HK$49,800) and the countertop and splashback (HK$12,375) were all made by Juggle Decoration. The floor tiles cost HK$10,000 from Chun Cheong Ceramics (162 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2598 8656).
5 Lai designed the cabinetry in the master bathroom, which was made by Juggle Decoration for HK$11,000. The Duravit bath (HK$10,000), sink (HK$7,500) and toilet (HK$5,800) came from Sunny Building and Decoration Materials (345 Lockhart Road, tel: 2893 9118). The floor tiles cost HK$109 per square foot from Pacific Tiles (187 Lockhart Road, tel: 2866 9980).
6 The bed and cabinetry were designed by Lai and made by Juggle Decoration for HK$33,600. The pair of bedside lights cost HK$7,120 from Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The carpet cost HK$5,000 from Reform Building Material (18/F, Loong Wan Building, 8 North Point Road, North Point, tel: 3529 2819). The curtains were HK$20,000 from Cetec (18/F, Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, tel: 2521 1325). The stool was HK$1,790 from Ovo Home (16 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2526 7226).
7 The balcony affords ever-changing water views. The chairs (HK$11,960 for two), the table (HK$750) and the cushions (HK$500 for two) were from Everything Under the Sun (9/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2554 9088).
Tried + tested
A fish tank about one metre long was built into a bookshelf designed by Gary Lai of Spatial Concept and built for HK$29,600 by contractor Juggle Decoration. To keep the humidity at bay, the inside of the wooden cabinet surrounding it has been finished in plastic laminate.
Styling David Roden