Text Nadine Bateman / Styling David Roden / Pictures Jonathan Wong
Graphic designer Simon Ho tries to live according to the eco-warrior’s mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. But he also appreciates a little luxury.
So when he bought a flat in a 1980s walk-up in Happy Valley last August, his brief for designer friend Gavin Tu was to make the best use of natural resources but also to allow him to indulge in athome pampering and create a pleasant, green area on the roof where he could entertain friends or simply lie back and look at the sky.
Originally, the 650 sq ft flat comprised three small, dark rooms. Now there is one bedroom, with an en-suite bathroom, and an open-plan living room and kitchen.
When it came to creating the illusion of more space, Tu employed the tried-andtested formula of neutral colours and clutter-free windows with plain white blinds that allow light to flood in. He also replaced the skirting boards with shorter ones and placed light switches lower than eye level, which, he says, makes the ceiling appear higher. In addition, although the walls look as though they have been stripped back to bare concrete, they are, in fact, covered in a convincing wallpaper design that Ho feels looks natural but is nicer to touch and low maintenance.
Constantly seeking ways to save the planet, Ho installed LED lighting and energy-efficient air conditioners, both of which, he says, have cut his electricity bill by one-third. Other “eco” appliances include a low-flow shower and a kitchen tap with built-in purifier.
“These are all simple but effective measures that every home should have [in order to reduce wastage],” he says.
Instead of a typical rainshower, which can be heavy on water use, he opted for a water-saving hand shower that mixes three parts air with one part water, in addition to a “cute cloudshaped overhead shower”.
Ho also made the most of the small bathroom. “It’s only about 40 sq ft, which is quite modest, but there are a lot of glass [walls] and windows because I wanted to have the natural light and a feeling of spaciousness,” he says.
Ho chose shrewdly when it came to materials.
“The first thing I consider when I try to live a ‘green’ life is that I should reduce.
That means I try not to buy things that are unnecessary.” It also involves cutting down on things that have to be replaced, which is the reason he insisted on highquality furnishings: “They last,” he says.
Those furnishings include a custommade shelving unit made from plywood with oil-finished walnut veneer, which he also used for the sliding-partition wall between the living area and the bedroom; and leather doors on his builtin wardrobes, which, Ho says, he likes because “they are a little bit of luxury but not loud, and the neutral colour is pretty timeless”.
When it came to the roof, Ho’s aim was to create a tranquil oasis in a location that, though quiet, is surrounded by towering buildings. He wanted to grow vegetables and herbs despite, at 650 sq ft, the limited space and absence of earth.
By building a vertical hydroponic garden (where plants are grown using mineral nutrient solutions, in water) along one side he not only saved space and solved the soil problem but also gained a little privacy, which is bolstered by a line of trees, such as pine, planted in pots opposite.
A self-confessed “lazy gardener”, he has had a sprinkler system with a timer fitted so the plants are watered twice a day. Solid Lapacho wood was used for the decking because Ho prefers the way it looks as it ages. The final touch was a faux-leather two-person spa tub – another small measure of luxury Ho couldn’t resist.
Blind spot The striped window film on the frosted windows, which gives the appearance of a blind, affords privacy while also allowing natural light into the shower room. Designer Gavin Tu says it is more creative than the traditional dull designs seen on many frosted bathroom windows. The product came from 3M (5/F, Victoria Centre, 15 Watson Road, North Point, tel: 2806 6111) and cost HK$276 per square metre.