Job for life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am

Often designers do their job and leave, never returning to see how clients settle into the spaces they've created. Not Joey Lau and Alex Ha of A-01 Designers. Over the years they have revisited clients Marianne Bray and Stephen Ezekiel, not only socially but to adapt the couple's home to suit their changing needs.

When Lau and Ha first started work on the pair's split-level house in Shek O five years ago, it was to convert a 'conventional' property into a sleek minimalist pad for two. After the couple became parents to twin girls a year later, the designers returned to install safety features and to turn a yoga room into an entertainment area (with a television, DJ deck and children's furniture). Recently, they were back again to discuss ways to accommodate the couple's third child.

While space was one of the primary concerns of their clients, so too was opening up the floors so the house felt less constricted.

'Originally this place was made up of small, individual rooms,' says Lau. 'It was all enclosed, and you couldn't really see out.'

Now the opposite is true. Bifold doors on the main floors have transformed the 2,200 sq ft property into an open house, literally, exposing the kitchen, sitting room and master bedroom, all on different levels, to striking views and sea air. 'In summer this is all open,' says Bray, adding that ventilation is enhanced by breezes that blow through the long, narrow structure.

Aiding ventilation is the staircase A-01 Designers built to replace one made of solid concrete. The oak-and-steel structure threads its way through the house, which has two mezzanine floors. The stairs are one of many highlights of the house, which combines bare concrete surfaces and wood with textured cement walls, stone tiles and granite. Hues include shades of grey, black and a flash of terracotta red on a feature wall that extends through the house from the ground-floor kitchen. The flooring and walls are made of concrete - polished, matte and speckled - which has also been used to create furniture and fixtures, including a bath, a basin and a long kitchen island loosely inspired by Bray's request for a 'mess-hall effect'.

On the upper level, a piece of glass was laid into a gap in the floor, abutting the feature wall. Before the arrival of the children, this gap - created by A-01, which cut through the floor - was left open, to allow a line of sight between the levels. Other safety measures added to the original design include vertical steel bars beside the staircase, locks on the bifold doors and child gates.

With input from their clients, A-01 has created interiors worthy of a coffee-table book. But help has also come from several masters of design, including Italian fashion maven Giorgio Armani and Japanese architect Tadao Ando, famous for his beautifully stark use of concrete.

'The owner had a book showing an Armani boat with a black ceiling,' says Ha, explaining the idea behind the dark ceilings in the master bedroom and sitting room. Although the designers fretted initially about light being absorbed, they discovered that the effect enhanced the view. 'We are in a darker space so during the day, the view is emphasised,' says Ha.

The black ceilings also look stunning from the outside. Standing in the neat concrete courtyard looking back at the house with its doors as open as wide-stretched arms, one sees, from top to bottom, the layers black, black and white (the colour of the kitchen ceiling) framed in black (the portico).

Fans of minimalist chic might want to give the house an appreciative hug.

1 The kitchen segues into a private courtyard (not shown). Up one level, behind the red feature wall, is an entertainment room. A polished grano concrete table accommodates eight people, and cookers at the far end. A-01 Designers (26/F, Morrison Plaza, 5 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2428 9568) built the kitchen for HK$220,000. The teak benches, also by A-01 Designers, cost HK$7,500 each.

2 Stainless-steel boxes inspired by late American artist Donald Judd decorate a concrete wall in the kitchen. A-01 Designers designed and built the boxes, backed with red glass, for HK$9,000. The pictures of Chinese girls came from a gallery in the 798 Art District in Beijing.

3 A-01 Designers replaced a concrete staircase with an oak-and-steel structure that doesn't obstruct air flow and adds to the openness of the interiors. Vertical steel bars were added as a safety measure when their clients had children.

4 Bifold doors allow for an open house by exposing the kitchen, sitting room and master bedroom.

5 Polished grano concrete also features in the master bathroom. The stainless-steel mosaic tiles on the wall cost HK$1,500 a square metre from Mosaic Tiles (353 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2116 3002). The Dornbracht tap and shower came from ColourLiving (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2295 6881) and cost a total of HK$35,000.

6 The sitting room has a black ceiling, which emphasises the view through bifold doors that stretch from wall to wall. The Minotti sofas (HK$59,000 each) were from Andante (shop D, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2537 9688). The entertainment unit was designed and built by A-01 Designers for HK$15,000. The black Twiggy floor lamp (HK$14,800) came from Desideri (7/F, Oriental Crystal Commercial Building, 46 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2950 4026). A colourful lamp called Titania (available through illuminates a vintage wood/rattan chair bought years ago. The rug came from Yams (26/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2525 2338). The painting, by artist Kelyne, was sourced through Opera Gallery, New York ( The coffee table (HK$2,700) came from Aluminium (36 Cochrane Street, Central, tel: 2546 5904).

7 Boen oak from Equal (HK$1,300 a square metre; 3/F, Phase 2, Ming An Plaza, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066) is used on the floor and on the wall behind the bed. A-01 Designers designed and built the bed for HK$9,000 and bedside tables for HK$3,000 each. The wall lamps, by Catellani & Smith, cost HK$6,000 each at Apartment (62 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2882 2198). The Panton chair (HK$2,000) was from Aluminium.

8 Balau hardwood (HK$1,300 a square metre, with installation, from Hop Sze Timber, 220 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2833 6069) was used for flooring on the roof, which features Dedon furniture bought years ago. Dedon's showroom is at 32/F, 248 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2529 7233. The umbrella was HK$2,400 from Suniture (26/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2580 1263).

Tried + tested

Through the looking glass

At the first stage of the redesign, a slab of floor in the sitting room was cut away from the red, textured wall that rises through the house. When the owners became parents, a piece of glass was fitted into the narrow cavity to prevent accidents but still allow upstairs/downstairs visual contact.

Styling David Roden



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