Text Charmaine Chan / Photography John Butlin / Styling Candace Campos
The beauty of Gene Miao’s Ho Man Tin apartment lies in the thought that has gone into its design. From the entrance to each nook and cranny within, every detail seems to have been planned to test combinations of materials, to fit in with hobbies or simply to enhance the overall look.
Take, for instance, the corridor leading from the living areas into the private zones, which include a master suite and a study. In between is a guest bathroom that used to be bang in the centre as you looked down the corridor.
“My wife didn’t like that,” says Miao, an architect who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, in the United States.
“So I skewed it a bit.”
With the door moved slightly to one side, emphasis is shifted to other parts of the 2,100 sq ft flat, which is minimalist in design but not obsessively so.
Some aspects of the design succeed primarily because they conceal. Handles on hinge doors, for example, have corresponding wall niches into which they fit snugly when the doors are open (see Tried + tested). Wall panelling, in smart rectangular patterns, hides a television screen and storage areas. Even the entrance is partially obscured, with the door inched forward so that inside it is flush with floor-to-ceiling cabinetry on either side.
An exterior glass enclosure for the entrance was built, providing extra soundproofing, security and visual impact.
Also arresting is Miao’s incorporation of inexpensive materials.
“The combination of the high-end and low-end was the main experiment and making them come together was a challenge,” he says, explaining his use of relatively expensive stainless steel and back-painted glass with less-pricey plywood left exposed at the edges, coldrolled steel plates and plastic laminate.
Helping to keep costs down was the grey cement board used in the corridor, bedroom and elsewhere. Typically attached to walls as a substrate for tiles, the boards here were left exposed, their gritty surfaces adding to the industrial look of the interior.
Enhancing the loft-like feel is an open en-suite bathroom, separated from the sleeping zone by a divider. His-and-hers basins are on the side of the wet room, which also accommodates a tiled tub and a scenic shower cubicle. Both were built for two.
Although many of their accoutrements remain out of sight, the couple display certain items that work as reminders of their interests: in front of their bed is a large pinboard stuck with movie tickets, notes and suchlike, while behind the sofa in the living room is open shelving that holds CDs and DVDs.
“It’s nice when friends come over and select the things they want to listen to,” Miao says.
A keen audiophile, he chose wall panelling, with rectangular niches cut into the plywood, to enhance the acoustics.
“The randomness of the holes helps the reverberation.”
The veneers of the plywood were also left exposed, the parallel lines together resembling a layer cake. Speaking of which, Miao’s wife insisted on a long central island for food preparation in the gleaming stainless-steel-clad kitchen.
Because the space is now double its original size, having gobbled up an old mahjong room, it has the proportions and look of a professional kitchen in a modern restaurant.
The gleam of the steel is tempered effectively by the raw concrete ceiling troughs Miao “created” in the dining and living areas.
“We wanted maximum height,” he says, explaining why the ceiling was taken right up to the concrete.
Before exposing the rough surface, much cleaning was required, but measurements scribbled on the concrete by builders decades ago were left intact.
“We scrubbed it vigorously with steel brushes to get it to that state,” Miao says.
“I like the rawness, and the contrast with the finer materials used elsewhere.
“And I think it’s kind of nice having the history of the building on the ceiling.”
Living area The vintage Herman Miller Eames chairs were bought at a flea market in the United States years ago. The Flexform sofa is also old. The wicker shell chairs cost HK$1,200 each at Yue Kee Rattan (77 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2528 1560). The television console (HK$6,000) and coffee table (HK$10,000) were designed by Gene Miao of 1:1 (15/F, Pacific Trade Center, 2 Kai Hing Road, Kowloon Bay, tel: 2318 1501) and made by contractor Chung Shun Engineering (tel: 9015 9722). The industrial fan is available for HK$400 at SMC (1/F, Shell Industrial Building, 12 Lee Chung Street, Chai Wan, tel: 2558 0181). The engineered oak floor (HK$48 per square foot) came from Sunwood Building Materials (308 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2827 0990).
Office/study The office, which can be closed off to create a guest room, is furnished with desks (HK$1,230 each) and lamps (HK$499 each) from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). On the floor is a styrofoam cutting board left behind by the metalsmith who worked on the site and behind it is an artwork by Miao’s wife, Mimi Teresa Yu. The two black ash Grand Prix chairs by Fritz Hansen are available for about HK$4,000 each at Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The grey fabric office chair is a Capisco by Hag, bought years ago in New York.
Living area detail To enhance the acoustics of the living area, Miao installed a plywood wall with random niches, which he designed and had made by Chung Shun Engineering for HK$65 per square foot. The white surface panels are made of Formica plastic laminate, which cost HK$234 a sheet (four feet by eight feet) at Yick Tai Timber (355 Portland Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2394 1698). The affordability of the plastic laminate and ease of maintenance in Hong Kong’s humid climate were reasons Miao chose the material.
Dining area Made from salvaged timber door frames, the dining table, which has steel legs, was designed by Miao and made for about HK$10,000 by Chung Shun Engineering. The pair also designed and made the steel-plated console (about HK$8,000) with plastic laminate. The chairs were about HK$2,000 each at Shenzhen’s Modern Design 100 (www.moderndesign100.com). The vintage pendant lamp cost about HK$1,200 from 1950 (Mikiki, 638 Prince Edward Road East, San Po Kong, tel: 3971 0444).
Kitchen The Wow Kitchen System was built by Jia International (1A Neich Tower, 128 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2832 5000) for HK$220,000, which includes cabinets and an island with a Formica stone top and pop-up electricity sockets. The white stools were about HK$900 each from Come In (7/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building, 23 Tai Yip Street, Ngau Tau Kok, tel: 3107 8802). The Bulthaup stool with the wooden seat was a gift.
En-suite bathroom Flanked by a toilet and a shower is a large tub with seats at both ends. Black granite from the mainland was used for the floor and tub. The stone cost about HK$80 per square foot at Plenty Marble & Engineering (695 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2381 5388). The white wall tiles by Cotto were about HK$25 per square foot at GCH International (1/F, Liven House, 61 King Yip Street, Kwun Tong, tel: 2520 2988).
Master bedroom Cement board was used behind the Flou bed (about HK$15,000) from Desideri (7/F, Oriental Crystal Commercial Building, 46 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2950 4026). The bedside table (about HK$2,500) was designed by 1:1 and built by Chung Shun Engineering. The bedside lamps (HK$3,500 each) came from Orsjo in Sweden (www.orsjo.com). Facing the bed is a room divider that features a pinboard on one side and a vanity and basins on the other. The basins (HK$1,500 each) were from Toto (11/F, 3 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2861 3177) and the taps (about HK$1,200 each) from Grohe (39/F, AIA Tower, 183 Electric Road, North Point, tel: 2806 0611).
Corridor Rather than have the guest bathroom as the focus at the end of the corridor, Miao moved its door slightly to the side. The corridor is illuminated by fluorescent tubes behind acid-etched glass.
Creating a niche To keep the look of his flat neat, Gene Miao created wall niches to accommodate the handles of hinge doors. The Miwa handle with lock cost HK$1,100 at Tung Fat Ho Building Material (1/F, Gaylord Commercial Building, 114 Lockhart Road, tel: 3580 1118). The cement board was HK$250 a sheet (four feet by eight feet) from Wing Kee Building Materials Supplier (588 Reclamation Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2391 7709).