Text Charmaine Chan / Styling David Roden / Pictures John Butlin
Knocking together two apartments to build a home often doubles the trouble. So imagine combining eight units into one.
For interior designer Peggy Bels, however, the pros far outweighed the cons when it came to putting together the fourth-floor, 2,200 sq ft Sheung Wan property that now accommodates her, her husband, who works in finance, and their two daughters, Sasha, five, and Anna, one.
Parisian Bels, who had been looking for a suitable home since she arrived in Hong Kong five years ago, recognised the possibilities after having been shown just a single unit.
Knowing that the then owner was keen to sell the entire level, she immediately studied the plans for all the apartments together.
“I worked on the layout the same night,” she says of planning the five-bedroom flat, which her family moved into last October, although she continued to apply finishing touches for months afterwards. Because the structural walls were the exterior walls, she adds, “I could do what I wanted inside.”
First, though, Bels had to gut every unit, remove all the rubbish that had accumulated on the terrace, figure out how to conceal eyesores, such as pipes, beams and two light wells, and give the property a modicum of privacy.
Surrounded by tall buildings, with its 3,000 sq ft terrace overlooked by flats on higher floors, the apartment is now partially obscured from view by tall bamboo trees on the perimeter and by retractable awnings, which also provide protection from sun and rain over the teak-decked space abutting the lounge and dining areas.
Enjoyed by all – and that includes neighbours on upper floors who now look down on an expanse of natural beauty – is a lawn big enough for Sasha to ride her bike around on.
Indoors, the design incorporates Bels’ trademark dark metal surfaces and bare concrete walls.
“Every flat I do has a bit of metal inside because I really like the material: it’s dark but not too black, and it has a bit of texture.”
The material announces itself mostly in the open kitchen, where the sink area can be concealed with metal doors. These then lie flush with similar panels on either side that provide access to a guest room, toilet, laundry and helper’s room.
Similarly, on the dog leg of the dark-metal “wall” is what feels like a secret door. Push it open and you enter the kids’ zone. Although each daughter has her own room, large sliding metal doors dividing them can be left open, allowing the girls to enjoy the other’s space and company.
The metal surfaces in this area also serve a more practical purpose. “They can use magnets to stick things on the doors instead of on the walls,” says Bels.
In these rooms and elsewhere, double-glazed exterior glass doors help muffle street noise from below. The sisters’ rooms, like the master bedroom on the other side of the apartment, enjoy outdoor space.
Their part of the flat is as girly and charming as their parents’ suite is handsome and romantic. Bamboo in concrete planters provide a leafy fringe around a private courtyard on one side of the master bedroom. On the other is a walk-in dressing area that leads to an open bathroom, the focus of which is a tub and an enormous Philippe Starck mirror filling a central niche between a shower room and a toilet cubicle.
The beauty of the apartment is that although it feels like a leafy refuge in the middle of the city, it just as easily becomes party central.
“You can open all the doors and people can be inside or outside,” says Bels, who designed the kitchen with guests in mind. When they throw parties, she explains, the backdrop for the long kitchen island can be made to look neat and uniform simply by closing the panels “so we don’t see the mess”.
“I love this open kitchen,” she says, preparing drinks behind the counter the way she would for friends milling around it during get-togethers. “It’s super nice because it’s very casual and clean [in look].”
Nine months after the flat was completed, is there anything left to do to make it perfect?
Bels surveys her home inside and out and says with confidence, “You can say it’s finished now.”
Let there be light Separating the flats that made up her home were the building's two light wells, which Peggy Bels turned into skylights, each measuring 1.2 metres by five metres. For safety reasons plastic glass was used for the skylights, each of which cost about HK$58,000, including installation.