Text Annabel Nourse / Pictures Jonathan Wong / Styling Fox Daniels
It’s not often the police are called in to help with a home renovation, but Kimberley Mills and Justin Gregory ended up dialing 999 when a revamp of their 900 sq ft Wan Chai flat turned nasty.
The couple had bought a cramped, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with dreams of transforming it into a spacious, light-filled home. It was at this point that the first of three contractors entered the scene.
“We hired a South African guy who came in with lots of big ideas and claimed to be an interior designer,” says Mills. “We’d never done anything like this before; I showed him pictures of stuff I liked and he went ahead and knocked out everything, drilled into walls, took out pipes … and then vanished.”
He took with him a lot of their money and left behind a lot of mistakes. His subcontractors then turned up claiming they had not been paid and tried to remove everything they had put into the flat – at which point the pair phoned the police. “The police said they could take their tools but not start pulling out pipes,” says Mills.
A second contractor was then brought in to make the apartment habitable. He renovated the bathrooms and moved the kitchen to improve the layout. But when the original kitchen was ripped out, it revealed a tangle of pipes, which was eventually concealed by what is now a reading nook.
Cabinets from Ikea were used for the new kitchen on the contractor’s recommendation. “He said their kitchens are really good quality and much cheaper than anything we could get custom made, so we bought one and they cut it to size,” says Mills, who was less than impressed with the second contractor.
With a budget drained by the first contractor, the couple tackled the interior design themselves and shopped for affordable fixtures.
Mills, an account manager at PR company Plug, and Gregory, an equities trader, wanted a comfortable living area in which to relax as well as a guest room-cum-study and a small second bathroom. They built an open-plan master bedroom, with en-suite bathroom and dressing area, to replace the warren of small rooms crammed with oversized furniture the previous occupants had left.
“We both have busy lives and don’t get to see that much of each other so we want as many opportunities to chat as possible,” says Mills.
“So it’s nice that one of us can be showering and one brushing their teeth and we can still have a conversation.”
The shower was designed to be completely open. Gregory’s grandmother was not amused but the young couple stood their ground – until winter set in. The open cubicle proved rather chilly, so they heeded granny’s advice.
No relatives had any say in what came next.
Having lived in the flat for nearly two years, during which time they had saved and planned for their future, the couple finally found a contractor to finish the job. This time they were prepared.
It helped that Mills was working for homeware chain TREE and found inspiration in managing director Kate Babington’s home, which has been featured in Post Magazine.
“When I walked in I thought, ‘Oh my God, I just love it,’” says Mills. “What Kate’s place had that I loved was that everything was very uniform. She’d built cupboards all the way along the walls so they looked completely straight and she has plenty of hidden storage. It looked perfect.”
Their third contractor, Philip Yuen, sat down with the couple for hours and went over every inch of space in the apartment.
“He was the person we needed in the beginning,” says Mills. “Anything that we were going to put away I had to measure. He made me measure my books, my sunglasses, my nail polish and Justin’s shoes. The detail was amazing.”
The relief at finally finding the right man for the job registers again on Mills’ face.
“We’ve gone through so much and made enough mistakes that it was good to have someone point out what we should be doing,” she says. “He was always one day ahead of schedule. I still can’t believe he exists.”
Kitchen (top): the cabinets (about HK$11,000) were bought from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The tiles for the splashback, the marble countertop and tap were bought from Lockhart Road two years ago. The lights (HK$500 each) were sourced on the mainland by a friend.
Walk-in-wardrobe: the cupboards were custom built by the contractor Philip Yuen (tel: 9027 0656; email@example.com), who also sourced the mirror tiles for the ceiling.
Bathroom: the bathroom was put together on a tight budget with fixtures bought from Lockhart Road and installed by the second contractor.
Dining area: the cupboards around the photographs were custom made by Yuen for HK$20,400. The extendable teak dining table (HK$16,950), bench (HK$2,950), pink tray (HK$950) and vases (HK$495 and up) were all from TREE (various locations; www.tree.com.hk). The dining chairs came from a shop in Horizon Plaza in a closing-down sale. The armchair (HK$7,000) was from Indigo (6/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 0540).
Television zone: the sofa (HK$7,950) came from TREE. The cushions for the window seat were from Attic Lifestyle (12/F, Sungib Industrial Building, 53 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2580 8552). The map picture (HK$800) was from Allure Living (1/F, 54 D'Aguilar Street, Central, tel: 2153 1022). The cupboards around the TV were custom made by Yuen for HK$4,200.
Study: Yuen custom made the shelving and desk for HK$3,800. The Union flag picture, by British artist Peter Blake, was a gift, as were the boxes on top of the shelving. The curtains were left by the apartment’s previous owners. The chairs came from a shop in Horizon Plaza during a closing-down sale.
Bedroom: the headboard (HK$4,000) was from Artura Ficus (15/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 3105 3903). The king-size bed set (HK$2,200) was from Sleep Naked (www.sleepnaked.hk) and the throw (HK$5,040) from Attic Lifestyle.
TRIED + TESTED
Sound effects Kimberley Mills had a shower speaker installed that is connected to the television in the bedroom, so she and partner Justin Gregory don’t miss anything while washing. The TV, at the end of the couple’s bed, swivels so it can be seen from the bathroom. Mills borrowed the idea from luxury hotels and a client’s home and the plan is for the speaker to be connected to a sound system. Their second contractor fitted the speaker for free to compensate for not meeting a deadline.