Smart thinking inside the box
For many Hongkongers storage, or the lack of it, is a big problem.
On paper, the solution to the limited space in a typical apartment is simple. Reduce the clutter and keep decorations to a minimum.
But that is easier said than done, especially for residents who are fond of shopping. Now interior designers are moving towards creative solutions that hide away the clutter and also look good.
Clover Lee, director of design firm davidclovers, says: 'I actually find it quite surprising that more modern developments don't come with built-in wardrobes. Most property developers try to sell apartments without wardrobes because the space looks larger. But it's a false economy: you need to have storage; so why not put it in the original design?'
With more than 15 years of experience in interior design in Asia and America, Lee has a cosmopolitan view of the Hong Kong challenge.
'Hong Kong has a unique problem. Local landlords and property developers regularly include the space around bay windows when they quote the square footage of a building, for instance.
'It's a really sneaky trick because that space is technically outside the perimeter of the building.
'If you look up into any high-rise in the city, you'll see the windows are stuffed full of all sorts of junk.'
Lee's architectural practice recently designed an apartment in the Tregunter Towers residential development on Old Peak Road as a property destined for the rental market.
'Essentially we thickened the walls,' Lee says. 'We lined them with hidden cupboards. This left much of the living area open.
'We then focused the rest of the design on the ceiling and, by changing the height, we were able to aesthetically divide the room, without the need for an intrusive physical feature such as a wall. This allowed the entire floor plan to remain fully open.'
In the Tregunter Towers apartment, the storage areas are disguised and none of it comes in the form of stand-alone furniture. This means that the available floor space is dedicated to the living area. The recessed ceiling has an LED lighting surround and the highly polished wood helps to reflect the light back into the room.
Lee says more developers should consider installing storage at the construction stage. 'The rental market in Hong Kong is so vibrant that just giving 600mm of space over to wall storage can only have a long-term positive impact on the value of an apartment.'
Pal Pang, chairman of local design practice Another Design International, agrees: 'All storage can, and probably should be, hidden. The space in Hong Kong apartments is very limited. It's often better to have one huge fitted closet than several small items of furniture.'
Pang's preference for built-in storage has been channelled into the luxurious interior of a contemporary show flat at the Mount East development in North Point.
'In the original layout there were a lot of enclosed compact rooms along the walls of the apartment,' Pang says. 'All those enclosed spaces made the apartment feel closed and claustrophobic but offered hardly any storage. The first thing we did was to take down these divides and build new ones incorporating storage.'
Most of the available floor area is dedicated to the main living space, including a dining area that leads to a compact but perfectly composed galley kitchen.
'Opening up the kitchen completely into the main living space gave us more opportunity to build in cupboards and extend the usable area,' Pang says. 'In order to maximise the feeling of space, we tried to disguise the storage by hiding it behind aspects such as mirrors or feature glass. As you enter the apartment, for instance, there is a large shoe cupboard that is accessed through a movable glass panel that looks like it forms part of the wall.'
Pang says a common mistake among Hong Kong homeowners is to acquire more furniture in order to fulfil storage needs. This, he says, seldom works here. 'In places like Europe and America, where space is much more readily available, people are able to buy beautiful wardrobes and dressers for storage but that is just not practical here.
'People should first consider the layout they have and then buy custom-made furniture for the space.' Anderson Lee of Index Architecture is a firm proponent of this philosophy. Lee, a prominent local designer, specialises not only in interior design but also custom furniture. In his designs Lee explores the potential of space and structure with an approach that is not just about meeting needs but also about having fun.
'What we try to do is to integrate storage into the space and allow it to serve multiple purposes. It brings some life to the design, rather than just creating a place to put things.
'I think the best way to approach storage in a restricted space is to invest in custom pieces.
'They'll be highly functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Lee says his firm created an ingenious storage space for a client who needed somewhere to keep her more than 200 pairs of shoes.
'Rather than just making a boring old shoe closet we installed a movable dividing wall between the dining area and living room. This closet also acts as a way to subdivide the space.
'It looks just like a wall but it's actually a Pandora's box of shoes.
'It's really a piece of functional sculpture.'
The same apartment, in Fo Tan, also makes use of something few would think of as providing valuable space for stashables: the stairs. Two sets of adjacent stairs were built, one of regular proportions, the other double the normal depth and height. Under the oversized steps, which can also be used as extra seating, are units large enough to store goods as large as fold-up chairs. Now that is neat.