Text Jane Steer / Styling Charlot K / Photography John Butlin
Tucked away on the upper slopes of Happy Valley is one of those hidden pockets of old Hong Kong that developers have yet to find. Its low-rise, late 1950s walk-up apartments are on a more human scale than the grandiose towers just down the hill. It’s a charmingly old-fashioned world of stucco, soft edges and gracious dimensions standing in gentle suburban contrast to the sharp-edged modern city.
It’s easy to see, then, why it would appeal to someone with a passion for vintage furniture. Interior designer Alfred Lam, owner of Lime Design and SoHo store L’s Where, which specialises in vintage and contemporary furniture, moved into his 1,300 sq ft flat in 2010.
“I like old buildings,” he says.
“They are more spacious and you can do more with them – they have character.”
Lam completely renovated the apartment, stripping out all the walls and reconfiguring the space to make way for a master bedroom and a guest room-cum-study, plus two bathrooms.
He replaced one wall with floor-toceiling bi-fold doors to make the most of the stunning view over So Kon Po and Hong Kong Stadium. With the doors drawn back, the alien curves of the stadium’s roof seem to invade the space, in startling contrast to the domestic scale of Lam’s apartment. It’s hard to tear your eyes away.
The sense of contrast continues inside the apartment, with different treatments given to the walls of the living and dining space. One side is lined with vertical wood panelling that falls about 30cm short of the ceiling, creating a light trough. On the opposite wall, Lam commissioned Italian artist Vittorio Locatelli to draw a freehand design of clouds in HB pencil.
“It took six hours and six pencils,” Lam says.
The result is a wall-sized work of art that shimmers gently in the sunlight yet is subtle enough to act as a backdrop to Lam’s impressive collection of paintings, sculptures and objects.
“I’ve been collecting for years,” he says.
“I thought the wall was a bit plain, but the idea for the hand-drawing really started with a 1960s brass bird sculpture I found in New York. That gave me the idea for the clouds. Vittorio was in Hong Kong doing some work for friends so I asked him to do the drawing.”
His New York birds now fly among the clouds on the living-room wall, alongside contemporary works by mainland artist Wu Guanzhong and French-Chinese artist Chu Teh-chun.
That mix of contemporary and vintage continues throughout the apartment. Lam travels to Paris twice a year, sourcing vintage furniture for L’s Where and confesses he keeps some of his favourite pieces for himself.
In keeping with the age of the building, most of his vintage furniture dates from the 50s and 60s, including a marble-topped Eero Saarinen tulip dining table, lime-green 50s dining chairs and a yellow Italian armchair.
“I had the chairs reupholstered,” he says. “I use lots of lime and yellow in my work – they’re happy colours. Lime is my good-luck colour; I even named my company after it.”
Acting as a counterpoint to the lime are complementary elements from the other side of the colour wheel: a purple patchwork rug he found in New York and, in the dining area, a purple wall featuring a large portrait by Qiu Yacai that slides back to reveal a compact kitchen.
Once again, colour is key and Lam’s choice of materials plays with traditional expectations – the soft-grey kitchen units are polished to glassy glossiness, while the glass splashback is a subdued matt black.
There’s a notable lack of doors in the living space. “I don’t like door frames,” Lam says. “So I hid the door to the bedroom by covering it in wood panelling – it doesn’t even have a handle, so it’s almost invisible.”
He doesn’t seem to like curtains much, either. Another wall-sized panel slides across the window in the master suite (see Tried + tested), which has a masculine, metallic theme. As well as textured bronze wallpaper, there are vintage metal lamps on either side of the bed and a large silver trunk that’s used as a bedside table – all treasures unearthed during Lam’s Paris buying trips.
A walk-through wardrobe separates the bedroom from the en-suite bathroom, which is stylish and practical – a bath and walk-in rain shower have both been squeezed into a surprisingly small space.
Toiletries are stowed away behind a frameless mirror, which also hides another light trough.
“There’s no direct light in the apartment – only indirect lighting, which is less dazzling, [as well as] accent lighting from side lamps. It’s softer,” Lam says.
“It’s important to get the lighting right.
No spots!” He does, however, make an exception for the oversized Ipogeo floor lamp, from Artemide, that hovers over the dining table and which he uses to highlight his artwork. Like every other carefully chosen piece in his home, it is a modern classic and something of a work of art in itself.
Living room The Flexform sofa (HK$58,000), Moroso coffee table (HK$32,000) and Zanotta entertainment cabinets (about HK$43,000) were from Le Cadre Gallery (Ruttonjee House, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2526 1068). The rug (HK$25,000) was from ABC Carpet and Home (www.abchome.com) in New York and the painting (left), by Chu Teh-chun, was acquired through Christie’s auction house.
Wall treatment Italian artist Vittorio Locatelli drew the clouds on the walls in HB pencil. The large painting is by Su Shengqian (3812 Contemporary Art Projects, 10/F, 12 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2153 3812). The smaller painting is by Wu Guanzhong and was bought at auction. The 1950s French lamp (HK$26,000) and 50s Italian armchair (HK$38,000) are available at L’s Where (10 On Wo Lane, Central, tel: 2838 1271). The two art deco glass vases (far left) were purchased in Istanbul, Turkey, and the sculptures were gifts from friends. The sideboard cabinet (HK$120,000) was from Le Cadre Gallery.
Dining area The marble-top Eero Saarinen tulip dining table by Knoll (HK$58,000) was from Lane Crawford Home Store (Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2118 3398). Lam sells the reupholstered 50s dining chairs (HK$38,000 for six) at L’s Where. The large Ipogeo floor lamp (HK$27,000) came from Artemide (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, tel: 2523 0333). The wooden wall panelling (HK$28,000) was installed by contractor Joe Chan (tel: 9818 4240).
Kitchen The glossy kitchen units cost HK$80,000 from BonKuchen (18 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang, tel: 2117 3008). The black glass splashback (HK$6,000) was sourced by Chan.
Dining area detail The white oak flooring was HK$120 per square metre at Equal Plus (3/F, Phase 2, Ming An Plaza, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7716). Chan built the sliding wall for HK$9,800. The portrait, by Qiu Yacai, was purchased at auction.
Bathroom The Duravit sink (HK$2,800) and bath (HK$22,000), and the Hansgrohe tap (HK$6,750) and shower (HK$8,250) were all from The Professional Depot (371 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3106 6008). The tiles cost HK$198 each at FEI Concept (177 Lockhart Road, tel: 2153 3288). The mirror and lighting (HK$6,000) were sourced and installed by Chan.
Bedroom Lam has had the bed for more than 15 years and the white side table (right) for more than 10 years; both came from B&B Italia (LG/F, 3 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai, tel: 3102 3189). The French 30s wall lamps are sold for HK$18,000 a pair at L’s Where, and the textured wallpaper (HK$100 a square metre) was from Wallpaper Plus (9/F, 256 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3525 1785).
Let it slide Instead of curtains, Lam went for a total blackout in the master suite, by using a wall panel that can slide across to cover the window. A small, vertical groove acts as a handle, and a painting, by Wu Guanzhong, reinforces the illusion that the panel is a wall. Contractor Joe Chan made the sliding panel for HK$12,000.