Getting it right the bespoke way

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am


Traipsing around town for that 'just right' furnishing item can be time-consuming and frustrating. There is no guarantee that you will find it or, if you do, that it will fit in your flat, make it up the stairs, or any other number of variables that arise when you do not live in a standardised, mass-produced apartment. But when in Rome, as they say.

Having your interior pieces custom made in Hong Kong is as easy as having clothing tailored: simply take a sketch or magazine tear sheet of the object of your desire to an interior designer, custom-made furnishings shop or tradesman and ask them to copy or adapt it. Given the resources available in Hong Kong and across the border, it can cost no more - sometimes less - than ready made.

Designer Lucie McCullough says one reason her clients consider bespoke (or custom made) best is a yen for originality. 'When it comes to a key piece for their home, clients encourage me to design something unique for them,' she said. 'An original piece is their story to tell. And it avoids the scenario where someone comes in and says, 'Oh, I have the same at home'.'

The possibilities are endless for putting a stamp of originality on a tried-and-tested design. In one project, McCullough juxtaposed a traditional elm dining table with chairs custom made from Perspex. This material is perfect for local flats, she said. 'It can light up a dark corner, and doesn't have the feeling of taking up space.' McCullough's Ming-inspired Perspex chairs are made in Shenzhen and cost HK$8,900 each. Custom tables, trays and shelving can also be made from this material, which, for best effect, the designer often combines with a rough wood.

Bespoke can make a statement. A Pok Fu Lam client of McCullough wanted a cocktail bar as the signature piece in the living room. Heeding that request and wanting to play on the flat's sea view, she cladded it in shagreen, a hide of the marine stingray (costing around HK$65,000).

And it can be practical. An eye-catching, stainless steel tray filled with candles and suspended above a dining table created a gorgeous lighting effect in another project (HK$5,200), and saved the expense of installing electrical cabling in a room where none was present.

McCullough has a fashion background working with Valentino, Ralph Lauren and British Vogue, so she knows how even the choice of fabric can deliver a one-off look. Hence, she would 'normally always' have a client's sofas custom made, usually by Hong Kong's Altfield Interiors, which, she said, 'have wonderful carpenters' and a wide range of designer fabrics, including her personal favourites Pierre Frey, Fadini Borghi and Manuel Canovas.

Bespoke also gives flexibility of size. Agnes Lee Man-yuen, design associate at Altfield Interiors, said sofas made in Europe or the United States may not be a perfect fit for Hong Kong homes, while 'two inches shorter' could be just right. Yuen said sofas can be made locally in four to six weeks - less than the waiting time for pieces ordered from Europe - and the price is 'generally a bit less', depending on the fabric chosen.

Rugs are easily made to your own design and this can be an emotional choice, according to Yasmina Kossmann, design director of the New York design studio of Tai Ping Carpets. 'Our customers want to have in their homes products that are specifically made for their lifestyle and taste. They have homes in different cities, by the beach or in the countryside; they own a yacht or a private jet, and they want each rug to reflect a particular style and need.'

She said rugs could be made from all kinds of luxury fibres, from the most refined wools, silks and flax, to different blends of cashmere and silk. 'We are also using exotic textiles like soy and bamboo, and novelty fibres such as shoe laces.'

These can be woven into any design desired. Tai Ping has even replicated for doting parents the scribble of their child. The cost seems surprisingly affordable - from HK$6,000 to HK$15,000, depending on size, materials, pattern, number of colours and finishing.

For anyone living in a space-challenged home, the true beauty of bespoke is the way in which it enables you to fit more into less. Through his custom furniture business Xpat Cabinets, designer and builder Mark Fraser has squeezed much into many a child's tiny bedroom. His 'ingenious solutions for small-space living' include platform bunk beds with drawers tucked into the steps and a desk and wardrobe beneath (costing about HK$6,000 to HK$12,000); a pull-down hidden wall bed that sits flush against the wall when not in use; and a nifty bookcase, invisibly hinged at the back to fold in half. Why? So it fits in a lift or narrow staircase, and can be downsized if ever you move to a smaller flat. Using these fold-up, hideaway concepts, Fraser managed to fit all of life's necessities into a one-room, 280-square-foot Sheung Wan studio, without its looking cluttered.

'You just need to play around with the design,' he said. Another benefit of this approach is the control it gives over what goes into the furniture. This is a priority for most of Fraser's clients, who cannot abide things like toxic glues and paints, or timbers of uncertain origin. With bespoke, what you ask for is what you get.

Lucie McCullough Design:, tel: 64093434

Altfield Interiors: Room 1102, Nine Queens's Road, Central; tel: 2525 2738; www.

Tai Ping Carpets: 213 Prince's Building, 10 Chater Road, Central; tel: 2522 7138;

Xpat Cabinets: tel: 9219 8169,