Text Charmaine Chan / Photography K.Y. Cheng / Styling David Roden


Who in subtropical Hong Kong needs a fireplace?

Friends of Vincent Ng often ask him that question, but the lawyer, who trained in Britain, is adamant the built-in bioethanol-fuelled hearth in his living room is an important feature of his Chai Wan flat.

"Practically, it doesn't serve a purpose," says Ng, who owns the 550 sq ft, sea-view apartment with rooftop. "But I really enjoy sitting there looking at the fire. I find it very soothing and therapeutic."

The flueless fireplace satisfies the fondness for roaring fires Ng developed during frigid winters at Oxford University. It is also undeniably eye-catching. Set within a purpose-built niche underneath the stairs -- a space that otherwise would have been wasted, and painted black, it enthralls when its flames lick the darkness. Furthermore, the void in the wall makes more floor space visible from certain angles, creating the illusion of a bigger flat.

"That space beneath the staircase was awkward," says Ng. "Something had to be done."

Ng - who insisted on all-white walls throughout - placed a television above the niche. Elsewhere, favourite pieces of art are hung in strategic locations: for example, a painting of a taxi by local artist Chow Chun-fai, a friend, decorates the wall above the sofa. Besides injecting a burst of colour into an otherwise neu-tral palette, it complements the vintage vibe for which Bugs Design Consultants is known.

"I liked Bugs because they are sensitive about combining styles, especially 1950s, 60s and Scandinavian styles," says Ng. "They do well blending furniture and objects into contemporary settings."

Although he had firm ideas about many aspects of his flat - which he rented out for two years before moving in - Ng heeded Frankie Lam from Bugs' advice on a crucial layout decision.

Both agreed the two small bedrooms would be better as one large space for Ng, the flat's sole occupant, but they differed over whether to integrate the bathroom and staircase into it.

Lam, whose layout Ng concedes was the right one, suggested having a discrete bedroom with a concealed door (for a clean look), and using the corridor leading to it to accommodate a store room. In the end, the bathroom and staircase up to the roof were left as they were, allowing guests to use them without having to enter the bedroom. Ng also heeded Lam's advice on gardening matters. The grapes growing up a trellis by the outdoor dining area should bear fruit next year, accord-ing to Lam, who harvests his own grapes at home.

To make the roof more welcoming, a raised wooden floor was installed. The planks stop about 30cm shy of the sides of the roof, allowing space for plants to be accommodated in the troughs without the plastic pots they're in being seen.

Creative solutions elsewhere were the joint work of Lam and Ng. By installing a sliding door to the kitchen, the room can be made to feel part of the dining area, again enhancing the feeling of space. And above the counter a wall of subway tiles stands out for one simple reason: Lam darkened the grout.

Ng says: "I originally wanted [the grout lines] to be white but Frankie said, 'Why not make them bolder?'"

In the dining area, Lam bought drawers from Muji to incorporate into a bookcase that was built to Ng's specifications.

"I wanted to display small things, and for the pictures and bowls to be part of the decoration," says Lam. "Also, when people come over it starts conversations when they say, 'Oh you've read this book,' or 'Oh, you've got this.'"

Doesn't the fireplace tend to break the ice?

"You can say it's a waste of space," Ng says, laughing. "But I like it."

So much so he turns it on even in summer … along with the air-conditioning.

Now that should warm the room with heated discussions.



Living area The sofa (HK$16,800) was from Ovo (16 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2526 7226) and the trunk-cum-coffee table (HK$4,800) from Lane Crawford Home Store (Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2118 3668). The small, round coffee table (HK$480) came from G.O.D. (various locations; www.god.com.hk). The EcoSmart fire was HK$14,000 at Design Link (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2838 8299). The painting on the wall is by Hong Kong artist Chow Chun-fai (www. chowchunfai.com). It is illuminated by a spotlight from Eurolux (56 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2572 6118). The tripod lamp (US$1,100) came from WRK Design in New York (www.wrkdesign.com). The engineered oak flooring (HK$59 a square foot) was from Karlian (17/F, Yue On Commercial Building, 385 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2388 3938).





Stairwell Vincent Ng took the photos of cherry blossoms in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan. The black-and-white photos, also taken by Ng, feature some of his favourite cities, including Paris, London, Havana and Kyoto. The pendant lamp was HK$1,000 from SofaSale (2/F, Tung Kin Factory Building, 196 Tsat Tsz Mui Road, Quarry Bay, tel: 2541 1230).







Bedroom detail A work nook in the bedroom was created from a tabletop (HK$500) and a chest of drawers (HK$699), both from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk), which was also the source for the cube shelving (HK$390) above the desk. The chair (850 yuan/HK$1,060) was from www.moderndesign100.com. The desk lamp (HK$1,600) came from Mooi Trouve (6, Lane 1, Qingtian Street, Taipei, Taiwan, tel: 886 2 2322 2059).









Kitchen Dark grouting defines the subway tiles, which cost HK$2.30 each at Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 3013). The cabinetry was built for HK$23,400 by Anex Furnishings (5/F, Block 1, Chun Shing Factory Estate, 85 Kwai Fuk Road, Kwai Chung, tel: 9099 3112). The ceramic sink (HK$1,610) came from Ikea.






Dining area The table (3,120 yuan), chairs (380 yuan each) and lamp (830 yuan) on the sideboard were all bought from www.moderndesign100.com. The sideboard was purchased for 18,000 baht (HK$4,700), including shipping, at Joe’s BO in Bangkok, Thailand (www.joe-bo50.com). Also bought in Bangkok was the pendant lamp (HK$1,000), which came from Y50 (24 Ekamai Soi 21, Sukhumvit Road, tel: 66 2 711 5629). The bookcase was built by Anex Furnishings for HK$9,000. The Muji drawers in the bookcase cost HK$800 for each set of two. The print on the wall, Approaching Shadow by Ho Fan, is available for HK$155 at www.allposters.com. The Philippe Starck speaker beside the tripod lamp cost HK$13,800 (for a pair) from Lane Crawford Home Store.





Bathroom The tiles (HK$256 per 60cm by 60cm tile) came from Pacific Tiles Collection (187 Lockhart Road, tel: 2866 9980). Anex Furnishings made the mirror vanity for HK$3,900 and the sink cabinet for HK$3,570. The toilet (HK$40,150) was from Leisure Plus (239 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2186 8288).









Rooftop The outdoor table (HK$2,390), white chairs (HK$299 each) and blue chair (HK$459) all came from Ikea. The raised wooden flooring was made for HK$134.50 per square foot by Anex Furnishings. On the wall trellis is a grape vine.






Bedroom From his bed, made for HK$9,500 by Anex Furnishings, Ng enjoys what a friend of his calls a Lost in Translation view. The picture on the wall, a gift, is a Japanese print from circa 1900. It came from www.
. The spotlight above it cost HK$500 from Eurolux. The bedside lamp cost HK$1,800 at Artemide (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, tel: 2523 0333). The Chinese wooden panels were bought years ago in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.



Pipe dream To overcome the eyesore that is the kitchen exhaust pipe, Frankie Lam, of Bugs Design Consultants (27/F, Winsan Tower, 98 Thomson Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 0279), had a cover made that complements the home interior. Made by Anex Furnishings, it cost HK$2,200.