Text Adele Brunner / Styling David Roden / Pictures Edward Wong
Although James and Olivia Ma moved to Hong Kong from Vancouver, Canada, about 15 years ago, it wasn’t until last year that they decided to invest in a home of their own in the city. They had a look at various areas but they knew immediately when they first viewed the 1,650 sq ft Repulse Bay flat they eventually bought that they had found “the one”.
“This apartment is a rare find,” says Olivia, who owns a pet crematorium. “It’s not too far from the city but we get a real feel of nature – even the air quality seems better. We have fantastic views of the sea on one side and the green of the hills out the back. We looked at other towers in the complex but this one definitely had the best views.”
The existing decor wasn’t to their taste, so the Mas decided they would renovate and put their own stamp on the two-bedroom, two-bathroom home. The only problem was that they found it hard to agree on exactly how it should look, so they called in the professionals – architects Ivan Wong and Agnes Lee, of In-between Design Office.
“My husband and I both wanted a simple look but from that point on we actually had different ideas: I’m more practical and very into storage whereas James likes everything open,” says Olivia. “Ivan and Agnes helped us to find a balance between the two. They kept feeding us ideas – offering conservative options as well as more wild suggestions – until we hit on the ones we could agree on. They also gave us room to personalise our home ourselves.”
The design duo gutted the apartment and changed the room configuration. Windows posed a challenge because those in the original layout were in multiple panels, which broke up the stunning view. Wong and Lee decided to use fewer but larger panes of glass – but because the flat is on the 18th floor, they couldn’t be hoisted up from the outside. Nor would they fit into the lift.
“The glass had to be carried upstairs,” says Olivia. “I don’t know how they managed it but the results are amazing.”
Storage was a priority – “It’s all about hiding stuff in this apartment!” – and Wong and Lee came up trumps here, too. There are hidden cupboards everywhere: a floor-to-ceiling shoe cabinet in what looks like a partition wall between the living room and entrance area; shelves behind sliding doors on either side of the wall-mounted television; a raft of wardrobes, disguised as wall panelling, in the master bedroom; and cupboards galore along the corridor and in the living room.
And to cement the illusion that there is nothing behind the walls and panelling, Wong incorporated several niches in which the couple display artwork and treasures picked up on their travels.
“Normally, new owners go into a home and demolish everything but we try to keep existing features and materials wherever we can,” says Wong. Unfortunately for Hong Kong’s full-to-bursting landfills, there wasn’t much they could salvage here other than a stone wall in the dining room. “The wall was a really nice, natural colour that fitted with our design ideas and brief. We found similar stone tiles and used them beneath the television to echo the effect and provide continuity between the dining and living room areas.”
Although the apartment is open plan, James and Olivia each have their own multifunctional space for when they need a bit of time to themselves. For James, this is a compact study that doubles as a guest room thanks to a pull-down bed housed discreetly in one of the purpose-built cupboards.
“It’s his man cave – he hides in here,” says Olivia.
Her area lies off the master bedroom and functions as a walk-in wardrobe-cum-dressing room as well as somewhere in which she can relax and watch television.
“Rather than shutting it off with a sliding door, Ivan suggested a curtain to divide the space with the sleeping area,” says Olivia. “It works perfectly and makes it very cosy despite the minimal furniture. All I need is my TV and a comfy armchair and I’m perfectly happy.”
Window dressing To minimise the amount of furniture in the master bedroom, Olivia Ma uses the wide windowsill as a dressing table. Ivan Wong and Agnes Lee, of In-between Design Office (20C, Gaylord Commercial Building, 114 Lockhart Road, tel: 2117 3973; www.in-between.hk) built drawers into the sill for make-up and accessories, and added a mirror. The drawers and mirror were built by Winfull. The valet stand cost about HK$1,200 from Homeless. The armchair was from Ma's previous home.