Yau Mei Tai's Temple Street market is an obvious tourist spot. The knock-offs, bustle and hint of seediness evoke nostalgia for a rough-and-tumble past.
Charmed by the area's vibrance and history, Tom and Doron Huang, bought a 700 sq ft flat overlooking the stalls five years ago.
'I grew up in Hong Kong but we nevercame to this side [of the harbour] because we were not allowed,' says Doron, a wealth management director who spent her youth in North Point. 'This area was only about gangsters, prostitution and drugs.'
But in 2007, Tom - an artist who grew up in Germany - decided to look for 'something retro', Doron says, 'and we ended up here'.
On the corner of a walk-up building that once accommodated families living cheek by jowl with sex workers, their apartment - which the couple uses solely for entertaining - was once carved into seven rooms, each providing privacy of sorts for transient customers.
'There were girls doing business here,' says Doron, who used to tip the building's madams, although she hasn't seen one for a year.
An insalubrious past is not hard to imagine when climbing the grimy stairs past cigarette butts and other detritus. But open the front door and you are delivered into movie-set surroundings that mix Chinese antiques with hi-tech glamour and tongue-in-cheek art (including sculptures from Tom's Mao Series).
An intricate chamber bed that is a room within a room occupies prime position in the centre of the flat. 'It is made up of 167 pieces of wood,' says Doron, describing its Lego-like construction.
Along the apartment's outward-facing perpendicular sides, through which chaotic market scenes are visible every night, Tom installed black-frame windows (with double-pane glass) to mimic originals in the area. At one end, an open modern kitchen, finished in stain- less steel and smoked glass, stands beside a daybed tucked into a corner filled with books. At the other end, there is a partially open balcony/storage area and a bathroom. This private zone, too, oozes Tom's distinctive style and sense of fun: on the counter beside an underlit amber-hued raised floor sits a bronze animal head that looks like it was borrowed from Beijing's Summer Palace.
Another replica is just metres away - a bulky granite Zhu Ming sculpture.
Along the corridor formed by one side of the antique chamber are artworks and memorabilia, including a photograph of the apartment before Tom waved his creative wand over it. About the only recognisable items in the image are the original red, white and black geometric floor tiles, which captivated Doron.
Although she credits her husband for the flat's interior design, she remembers declaring, 'Wow!' when she first entered the apartment. 'Right away I said I would agree to buy the apartment on one condition - that the floor was kept.'
With the help of a contractor who had worked with Tom on several of his other properties, over the course of four months broken tiles were repaired, the kitchen was moved from one end to its present position, the bathroom was created and built-in cupboards were installed to house everything from wine to mod cons such as a fridge and washing machine. After an incident four years ago in which a fleeing, minimally dressed woman clambered onto their balcony, the couple decided to make the flat more secure, installing, among other things, a sophisticated alarm system.
But, in retrospect, Doron says, 'Temple Street is very safe; you see police everywhere.' Not only that but it's also cleaner than many other parts of Hong Kong, she discovered. 'Because of the tourists, every morning the street is washed.'
The flat has so beguiled guests that some have tried, without success, to find similar properties to transform into their own playrooms. One friend loves the contrast in the apartment's style and location so much that he asks to use it whenever he's in Hong Kong.
'Some Europeans don't want to stay in hotels,' Doron says. 'They would prefer to be somewhere local, and this is local.'
Hidden inside the mirror-finish, ceiling-high cubicle is a large fridge. The cabinetry was built by contractor Ngai Fung Decoration & Design (19/F, Sui Fai Factory Estate, 5 Shan Mei Street, Fo Tan, tel: 9026 5808) for HK$68,000.
2 Antique bedroom chamber
The Qing-dynasty wedding bed and alcove (circa 1850), made from 167 parts put together without nails, came from Zhejiang province and was acquired for HK$92,000 from Mobilias Soi Cheong Hong (38 Rua de Sao Paulo, Macau, tel: 853 2836 8368). It measures 340cm (length) by 215cm (height) by 215cm (wide). The giant candle cost HK$2,700 at Gemma Mobilias (15/F, Block 1, Fab De Vestuario Ioa Kei, Avenida de Venceslau de Morais, 221 Edificio Industrial Nam Fong III, Macau, tel: 853 6679 9766). The stag head was bought during a sale at Aluminium (58 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2577 4066).
In one of two corridors in the flat, white sliding panels in front of the windows were installed for privacy. The panels were made for HK$1,600 each by Cheng Xin Furniture (Shen Tang Industrial Area, Shen Tang First Road, Tanzhou, Zhongshan, tel: 86 760 8663 5998). The sculpture in a Louis Vuitton coat is part of homeowner Tom Huang's Mao Series (www.tomhuang.hk).
4 Dining area
Around the dining area/work space are Konstantin Grcic-designed Miura bar stools (HK$1,900 each) from Axis Collections (47 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2858 6919). The figurine and bust are from Huang's Mao Series.
5 Entrance corridor
The painting is by Huang and was inspired by the work of artist Wang Guangyi. To hide the original front door, on the inside Huang installed a pair of ornate wood panels purchased for HK$13,000 from Mingei Antiques (27 Old Bailey Street, Central, tel: 2524 5518).
Decorating the counter of the bathroom, which features a raised glass platform, is a bronze ox head picked up at Shanghai's Dongtai Lu Antique Market. It is a reproduction of the traditional Chinese zodiac figureheads looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing during the second opium war. A court scene painted on wood cut to fit the space beneath the counter came from Mobilias Soi Cheong Hong. The tap (HK$3,300) was from colour.living (333 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2510 2666).
The Eames lounge chair and ottoman cost a total of HK$48,000 from Aluminium. The rug (HK$4,200) was from Indigo (6/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 0540). The mattress was made for HK$3,700 by Fabric World (182 Queen's Road East, tel: 2527 0999). Huang made the lamp with a ceramic figure within a plexiglass base. Beside the daybed is a white wall space used as a movie screen for an overhead projector.
Tried + tested
To match the windows and so as 'not to generate different levels for the eye', Tom Huang had the kitchen counter built to a height of 110cm, which was uncomfortably high for his wife, Doron. So he built an extendable step on which she can stand to prepare food.
Styling Fox Daniels