The view, through an aluminium window frame, is of foamy cascades tumbling from Niagara Falls. Nearby, nine red-crested chickens roost among scholars' rocks. Overhead is a metal space dock that would not look out of place beside the Starship Enterprise. To the side is a pretty floral canvas that, on closer inspection, contains the sentiment 'Allwordsf***'.
Welcome to the world of William Lim, an architect and art collector who has created a private gallery exhibiting his own paintings, sculptures and installations, as well as the work of others, some of them household names. Among the 30-odd pieces scattered around the 3,500 sq ft loft in Wong Chuk Hang are mainland artist Ai Weiwei's Marble Plate, a paperweight by Japan's polka-dot princess, Yayoi Kusama, and Briton Julian Opie's minimalist portrait of his assistant.
Lim, managing director of CL3 Architects - the firm behind EAST in Taikoo Shing and Hotel Icon in Tsim Sha Tsui - also shows off the work of his 26-year-old son, Kevin, who, like his father, studied architecture at Cornell University in the United States.
'I originally bought this space to use as my own art studio and to show my collection and entertain,' says Lim. 'But it will soon become my son's work studio.'
One corner of the space - housed inside an industrial building with a watch factory next door and printing companies on other floors - will be the office of OpenUU, established by Kevin and fellow Cornell architecture graduates Eddy Man Kim and Edward Yujoong Kim.
The trio were the brains behind the loft's defining structure - a four-sided open rectangular shelving unit that artfully breaks up the space while creating a semi-enclosed 'room' of about 500 sq ft within.
'I asked them to do something almost as an installation piece that would be a statement and divide the space,' says Lim. 'They came up with this piece, which became the focal point and separated the living space from the exhibition area [while adding] another living zone in the middle of it.'
Made from inexpensive plywood in tongue-and-groove pieces, the ribbed unit, in black and natural brown, is not unlike a giant Korean step chest, albeit one that has undergone a 21st-century design transformation.
'It is intricate and quite functional,' says Lim. The unit provides storage space for books and objects, but also contains a nook for naps and benches for seating.
It also solves a design problem few Hongkongers have to face: having a vast open area. 'You'd think it would be nice to have space, but when it's too large you start to feel a bit lost,' says Lim. 'With this structure in the middle, when we have people over, different groups can occupy different spaces.'
While art lovers might gather around specific exhibits in the gallery end of the loft, guests are also encouraged to mill around the open kitchen. The domain of Kevin, who is also a cordon-bleu chef, the kitchen segues into a dining area beside a newly created balcony that overlooks what will become an MTR station.
At the opposite end of the loft, in what feels like a different time zone, are windows providing natural light for Lim's art collection, which includes photographs taken by Kevin when he was in high school.
To one side, a commercial-style bathroom showcases rough concrete walls and exposed brick. This rawness is accentuated by glossy, black, mosaic tiles on the floor and the modern bathroom accessories of the large sink, shower unit and three toilet cubicles. 'We want to have parties and thought this was a good way of not having male and female bathrooms,' says Lim of the unisex bathroom.
While guests might leave the loft waxing lyrical about the industrial-chic bathroom, the kitchen worthy of a celebrity chef, or the eclectic art, it is the standalone shelving unit that will probably stick in their minds.
'The only requirement was that this was to be an exhibition and entertainment space,' says Kevin, who touches on a trend among Hong Kong's square foot-hungry residents. 'But it's such a common thing now to convert these industrial units into residential spaces, so we decided to put a living area in here, with a bed and some seating. It's not a straight-up gallery and entertainment space. You could, if you wanted, sleep here once in a while.'
The wooden recliner and bench are loft owner William Lim's creations. The mobile sculpture, by Korean artist Lee Bul, came from the Lehmann Maupin Gallery (www.lehmannmaupin.com) in New York. The black table and artwork, both by Krijn de Koning, were from Amsterdam's Slewe Gallery (www.slewe.nl). The four black-framed photographs, by South Ho, came from Blindspot Gallery (24 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2517 6238). The lightbox window with 'view' of Niagara Falls is by Nadim Abbas and came from Faux (3/F, Harbour Industrial Estate, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2851 4040).
2 Main living area
The open living area accommodates a sofa (HK$25,999) and cowhide rug (HK$9,999) from The Hamptons (27/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2553 2888). The black stool was bought at a garage sale, the Wassily chair was a gift and the coffee table (see Tried + tested) is one of Lim's creations. In front of the glass-brick wall are: (from left) Book - 4, a sculpture by Ren Sihong, from Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery (20 Ice House Street, Central, tel: 2580 0058); a vase from a gallery since closed; an antique found in a Hollywood Road shop; a painting by Lim; and Ai Weiwei's Marble Plate, from Galerie Urs Meile, in Beijing (www.galerie-meile.ch). Behind it is a sculpture called Merry Christmas, by Jiao Xingtao, from Anna Ning Fine Art (1/F, St George's Building, 2 Ice House Street, tel: 2521 3193). On the floor is Sky of Festival Walk, a painting by Tsui Wai Ling, from Chinese University's Department of Fine Art. The doll figure is by Lim. The wooden latticed shelving was designed by novelist and art critic Hu Fang.
3 Dining area
The open dining area in front of the balcony (not seen) features two aluminium Maoli di Maurizio Fardo tables bought for Euro2,945 (HK$30,700) each from the Maison & Objet show in Paris, France, last year. Providing contrast are traditional Chinese chairs from William Lim's previous loft.
4 Shelving unit
Made up of 163 pieces of plywood that fit together without nails or screws, the shelving unit was designed by OpenUU (19/F, Sing Teck Factory Building, 44 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 9138 1497) and is the centrepiece of the loft. The chickens came from Chan Yue Kee (140 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2540 4500).
On a table designed by Lim and made by contractor Man Hing (tel: 9439 8396) are scholars' rocks from Man Wo Yau Antique (176 Hollywood Road, tel: 2540 6585) and chickens, by artist Duan Jianyu, from Tang Contemporary Art (www.tangcontemporary.com) in Beijing. The painting on the left, by Lam Tung-pang, was from Hanart TZ Gallery (4/F, Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, tel: 2526 9019). On the right is inject (+with), a seating plan of a theatre, by Ho Sin Tung, also from Hanart TZ Gallery.
6 Second living area
The bookshelves create a snug living zone with a raised floor that hides storage space underneath. Beside the Sleepover lounger (HK$1,390) from G.O.D. (various locations; www.god.com.hk) is a wooden recliner designed by Lim.
Beside the entrance is a shop-display kitchen, which Lim tailored to his needs. The kitchen (HK$300,000) came from Hacker Kitchen (51 Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2805 6128). The vase on the floor is from Chan Yue Kee.
Bare concrete and brick are a feature in the unisex bathroom, which has three toilet cubicles and one shower stall. The honeycomb mosaic tiles and regular mosaic tiles on the sink unit (both HK$80 a square foot) came from Premier Construction Materials (291 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2598 8711). The Corian custom-made sink was installed with taps from colour.living (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2510 2666). The hat stand cost HK$850 from G.O.D., the mirror came from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk) and the small table beneath it was picked up at a market in Central.
Tried + tested
In keeping with the industrial origins of his loft, William Lim, of CL3 Architects (15/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2527 1931), created coffee tables out of two flat-bed trolleys. Over the metal bottom, Lim fitted acrylic plates to provide flat, sturdy tabletops. The trolleys were acquired for HK$550 each from contractor Man Hing (tel: 9439 8396), who supplied the acrylic plates for HK$2,000 each.
Styling David Roden