A visit to a designer's apartment helped a couple find their own practical yet modern aesthetic
Text Catherine Shaw / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling David Roden
It’s all very well using your home to express personal style and discernment, but for interior designers, theirs may also be a showcase for professional talents.
Take Cynthia Breit, who clinched a deal with clients who had recently bought a flat in Discovery Bay simply by showing them her own place.
“We met in her flat,” says Helen Lee.
“When we saw the white and dark grey palette, accented with warm wood, we knew she understood precisely what we wanted. Plus she had a wonderful kitchen, with a huge steel island that I
instantly fell in love with, so it was an easy decision to commission her.”
Breit homed in on the couple’s priorities: “[They] appreciate an understated elegant aesthetic but, for them, family comes first, so it was important to balance practicality and modernist design tastes.”
Fortunately, space was not a limiting factor: the previous owner had combined two units to create a 2,000 sq ft flat. That allowed for spacious bedrooms for the couple’s son, four, and two-year-old daughter, plus a master bedroom complete with a private living area. The living, dining and kitchen areas were combined in an open-plan configuration, to take full advantage of the flat’s size.
Lee, who is Korean, had worked for the Four Seasons hotel in New York before moving to Hong Kong, in 2006.
“I had project-managed the hotel’s renovation and learned some valuable lessons about investing in quality and creating an understated but luxurious feel in a room,” she says. “For example, the walnut timber shelves we used in the kitchen and master bedroom were expensive but worth it.”
Says Breit: “Helen is very decisive, which means it was possible to renovate the entire home in just 10 weeks.”
Much of the apartment was stripped back to its core and the window frames were sprayed a soft white.
“Not replacing [the window frames] saved a considerable amount of the redecoration budget … They look new [now],” says Breit. “We also laid a new wooden floor throughout the apartment and kept the windows fuss-free with simple white blinds.”
For Lee, the flat’s openness was crucial. “But I wanted each of the spaces to work on its own as well,” she says.
“Cynthia’s best advice was to focus on how each room would flow from one to another.”
The kitchen, to one side of the entrance, boasts a steel- and wood-topped island that doubles as a counter during parties or as a surface during the children’s mealtimes.
“I can prepare dinner but still be part of what is happening elsewhere,” says Lee.
“The space is also big enough to create a separate identity for each area so, for example, when we want to relax on the sofa and read or watch television, we feel like we are in a cosy place.”
A designer touch was introduced in the dining room, which looks out over Sam Pak Au Gap. Providing a dramatic contrast to the simple timber dining table is a dome-shaped Artemide pendant lamp.
Injecting colour into the kitchen are orange Poliform bar stools and open shelves displaying Lee and her husband’s collection of Swedish ceramics.
Lee says the couple agreed to divide design responsibilities: “I got the kitchen, living, dining and children’s areas while he was in charge of the master bedroom.”
In keeping with his preference for an uncluttered look, David Lee requested that the master suite have plenty of builtin floor-to-ceiling cupboards, a series of small walnut shelves … and a television.
A large grey, low-slung, L-shaped sofa from the couple’s previous home completes a comfortable private lounge.
The muted palette continues into the master bathroom, where dark grey floor tiles complement timber cabinets.
For the children, Helen Lee wanted to create bedrooms that would double as play areas.
“I overheard my son saying to himself one day, ‘My room is fantastic!’ It made me smile because I wanted to make their spaces special.”
Living area The sofa, which came with a matching ottoman, cost HK$33,900 at Tree (various locations; www.tree.com.hk). The flower-patterned cushions (HK$395 each) were also from Tree. The side table cost HK$2,200 at Marc James Design (various locations; www.marcjamesdesign.com) and the lamp was about HK$500 at Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The ceiling spotlights (HK$550 each) were sourced by interior designer Cynthia Breit’s company, Bricks & Mortar Design (37/F, 118 Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2333 8814). The vintage oak wooden flooring (HK$59 a square foot) throughout most of the flat was from Quick Step (various locations; www.quick-step.com.hk).
Kitchen The kitchen cabinets and bar counter (HK$153,000 in total), with stainless-steel tops, were designed by Bricks & Mortar Design and manufactured by Mogen (397 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2219 2260). Statement orange bar stools by Poliform were bought for HK$1,200 each during a sale at Via (3 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai, tel: 3102 3189). The collection of ceramics displayed on the open shelves came from Hoganas Keramik in Sweden (www.hoganaskeramik.se).
Dining room The painting on the wall was found at Yi Pin Gallery (26 Dafen Oil Painting Street, Buji Town, Shenzhen, tel: 86 755 8470 8455). The solid wood dining table (HK$8,960), wooden chairs (HK$1,950 each) and bookcase (HK$18,450) were all from Tree. The Perspex Tobias chairs cost HK$849 each from Ikea. The striking matt grey NUR Sospensione Alogena lamp came from Artemide (HK$7,000; 1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2523 0333).
Bathroom The wall tiles (HK$23 a square foot) and Kohler sink (HK$2,580) both came from Hop Hing Lung Materials (235 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 3013). The hand shower (HK$1,940) and rain shower (HK$6,628) came from Hop Lung Building Materials (300A Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 2274). The towel rails (HK$330 each) were from Vincent Sanitaryware (288 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 2687). Laminated cabinetry designed and made by Bricks & Mortar Design cost HK$15,750.
Girl’s bedroom The bed (HK$5,990) and wardrobe (HK$12,750) came from Indigo (various locations; www.indigo-living.com). The wall shelves displaying toys were from Ikea and cost HK$89.90 each.
Child’s coat rack The whimsical hat stand and coat rack (US$99) came from The Land of Nod (www.landofnod.com).
Master bedroom The built-in wood wall shelves, designed and manufactured by Bricks & Mortar Design, cost HK$10,500. The rug (HK$2,600) and sofa (HK$11,999) came from The Hamptons Furniture (various locations; www.hmfhamptons.com.hk). The round table cost HK$2,200 from Marc James Design. Lee designed the bed, which was made for HK$4,750 by Comfort Living Furniture Gallery (26/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2870 2611) and is flanked by side tables (HK$795 each) from Beijing Antique (10/F, Dah Chong Hong Motor Service Centre, 111 Lee Nam Road, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2554 8861). The reading lamp was HK$299.90 at Ikea.
Cutting edge Cynthia Breit, of Bricks & Mortar Design, devised a novel solution to protect door frames and wall edges. Strips of aluminium edging costing just HK$75 per metre from Honest Hardware (250 Lockhart Road, tel: 2598 6600) define doorways throughout the flat, adding a modern touch and mitigating damage by young children.