It's not big, but it is clever | South China Morning Post
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It's not big, but it is clever

Savvy and surprisingly stylish space-saving ideas turned a 440 sq ft apartment into a haven of luxury


Text Charmaine Chan Pictures K.Y. Cheng Styling David Roden


Gavin Tu’s one-bedroom, Mid-Levels apartment is small but perfectly formed. It’s special for a more important reason, however: the 440 sq ft flat was kitted out with materials and fixtures that would otherwise be landfill.

Take, for example, the mosaic tiles cladding his outdoor bench: they came from a home Tu designed for a friend years ago. Bathroom fixtures? From a more recent project in which his client decided to make do with two, instead of three, bathrooms. Tu snaffled the extra loo and bathing hardware – which is why his shower mixer comes with a bath tap (although he doesn’t have a tub). The leather bedhead materials? Again, leftovers.

Not only did the bedhead work out less expensive than it would have been with new upholstery, but the design is testament to the Vietnam-born interior designer’s practical use of space: it has a ridge at the top that allows it to function as a picture shelf.

Proving that small flats can yield innovative ideas borne out of space constraints, Tu’s bedroom boasts other features that boost roominess.

They include a pull-out work desk, heavy curtains in lieu of a door and the pièce de résistance: a set of drawers that open inside the room but extend onto the balcony as concrete seating. Above it is a window through which morning light streams in.

To maximise the light, Tu – having blocked out windows behind his bed because the view was only of other flats – created a floor-to-ceiling internal window as part of the shower cubicle.

In the wet room itself, he designed another show stopper: a two-door vanity cabinet in a window opening. The door at the front, which has mirrors on both sides, opens on hinges to allow access to toiletries on shelves within. The other, at the back, opens out like a normal window to provide ventilation and slivers of light.

Probably inspired by Tu’s inventiveness, his contractor rose to the challenge of making the smallest room in the home feel comfortable.

Instead of a toilet-roll holder on the side of the basin cabinet – which would have made sitting on the throne feel cramped – he fitted one inside and cut a neat hole in the cabinet through which the paper could be extracted. Genius.

Not surprisingly, given the size of the flat, mirrors are used liberally to bounce light around. They can be found on the sliding bathroom door and on the splashback in Tu’s galley kitchen.

Cool, subdued colours enhance the sense of space, with some walls painted white and others a pale green (see Tried + tested).

Then there is the entertainment unit into which the television seems to disappear because the shelves, sides and back are painted black. This, too, is multipurpose, and we’re not just talking about the books housed on shelves above the set.

“I have a fireplace, too,” says Tu, pointing to the lowest shelf, into which he has installed a flueless hearth that burns on ethanol.

A contented Buddha smile spreads across his lips as he sits on his sofa, looking out at a timber-decked balcony rimmed by pretty potted plants. There’s one further detail to show off – the intercom phone accommodated discreetly on the side of a cabinet instead of by the door.

Is there anything his little flat is missing? Tu looks at his self-designed coffee table, which a carpenter made with the wrong type of wood so it had to be painted to hide the mistake. “I wish I had a dining table,” he says wistfully.



Living room Homeowner and interior designer Gavin Tu of TuSpace (tel: 9648 8565; designed his television unit and the coffee table – which he then painted in bright colours because the wrong wood was used. The table was made for HK$5,000 by Pong Kee Sofa (2/F, Century Industrial Centre, 33 Au Pui Wan Street, Fo Tan, tel: 2697 1757). The mosaic-tile-clad seating on the balcony accommodates drawers, accessed from the bedroom, and a recessed area with drainage for a large potted plant. The tiles were salvaged from a previous project of Tu’s. The wooden decking cost HKS$95 a square foot from Poly Chance (Asia) (271 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2802 9819), which also supplied the wood (HK$60 a square foot) used on the floor in the bedroom and living area. The flueless fireplace, built into the bottom shelf of the TV unit, was bought years ago. Tu made the metal mesh sculpture on the bottom shelf, and the hanging sculpture, by French artist Thierry Dufourmantelle, was a gift.






Sofa phone Instead of hanging it in a prominent position, Tu placed his intercom phone on the side of a storage cabinet built behind his sofa.










Bedroom The bedhead was clad with salvaged leather from another project. The bed and bedside tables were designed by Tu. Beside the Philippe Starck alarm clock, purchased a long time ago, is an Illums Bolighus Sverige lamp acquired in Stockholm, Sweden, for about HK$1,850. Tu painted the still life pears and the nude.










Bedroom drawers Facing his bed are drawers accommodated in seating on the balcony. Metal weights from scales acquired in Myanmar make interesting sculptural objects on the window ledge.










Kitchen The cabinetry (HK$25,000) in the narrow kitchen was made by contractor Living Space (tel: 9643 9688). At the end of the corridor is a laundry room, behind curtains made with linen (HK$800 a panel) from Tu’s shop EDGA Atelier (1/F, 5B Tai Ping Shan Street, tel: 9648 8565). The rug, from Bhutan, was a gift and the fishing trap on the floor came from Vietnam.









Bathroom vanity unit For light and ventilation, Tu designed and had Living Space build a two-way mirror cabinet, with a window at the back that opens and a door at the front with mirrors on both sides. The mosaic tiles (HK$30 a square foot) were from Mosaic Tiles Building Materials (tel: 2116 3002), which is moving to a new location in Wan Chai. The fixtures were salvaged from a previous project.







Shower A glass panel in the shower cubicle allows light into the bedroom and vice versa. The shower fixtures were from a previous project.












Hiding your light Interior designer Gavin Tu of TUspace (tel: 9648 8565; had the light switches and covers painted the same colour as his walls so that they blend in and almost disappear. He painted the Buddha artwork on the wall.









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