Text Jane Steer / Photography John Butlin
Interior designer Anji Connell has a mantra: "a place for everything and everything in its place." It's a phrase she chants several times as we tour her open-plan showroom in the Southern district.
Airy and spacious, it feels larger than its 1,200 square feet, thanks to Connell's knack for cleverly designed storage. The kitchen disappears almost entirely behind glossy cupboard doors. A narrow gap becomes a permanent home for an ironing board; a towel rail is tucked out of sight behind the bathroom sink; even the tap folds neatly away, leaving only clean lines and sleek surfaces.
Connell's philosophy stems from her early years, designing interiors for boats, squeezing creative storage solutions into small, awkwardly shaped spaces. There's something intensely pleasing about discovering a secret pocket of purpose-built utility in an unexpected place, but that's not the only way in which this show home delights. Like Connell herself, the place exudes humour and energy.
Splashes of turquoise and electric orange add zing to industrial materials, such as weathered, acid-etched iron and polished concrete. Giant printed-glass cupboard doors bring a pop-art aesthetic to the bedroom and quirky artwork - Barack Obama and a bottle of Coca-Cola in the living area; retired Brazilian footballer Pelé overlooking the toilet - raises a smile. Press a button and a biofuel fire, set into a glass window between the bathroom and living area, flares to life (see Tried + tested). Painted on the floor is a tiny blue pawprint.
"Oh, that's Fifi's," Connell says of her Yorkshire terrier. "She's 15, my only daughter. We spent a year quarantined in Paris with her before we could enter the UK."
If Connell's name sounds familiar that's because this is her second time in Hong Kong. She lived here from 1989 to 2000 before leaving for Britain, where she studied landscape design, and returned last year.
"We missed Hong Kong, and so many of our old friends who had left had already come back," she says.
Since returning, she has embarked on a master's degree, renovated the showroom, founded her company, ACID+ ("it stands for Anji Connell Interior Design, and the + is for landscaping"), and hired a great contractor.
"That was key. Before taking on any clients, you need a fantastic contractor. Now I'm ready," Connell says.
"I wanted the studio to showcase my work. The concept was a luxurious hotel suite with lots of ideas for clients. I wanted it to be sophisticated but with a nod to industrial style. It's highly finished with lots of detail and a pared-down palette of mainly glass, metal, concrete and mirror. The kitchen appliances, lighting and sound systems are hi-tech. Clients can imagine how their space might look and feel. It's a great starting place."
As well as being a showroom for clients, Connell's unit is also used for regular designer get-togethers and for lunches, being based in a part of Hong Kong notorious for its lack of restaurants.
With clients, collaborators and staff frequently using the space, it's a relief to see the toilet is safely hidden in the only room in the unit, encased in orange glass. The bath sits next to a mirrored wall that reflects light and views, its only privacy afforded by the bedroom's huge spiderweb of open ironwork doors.
"They're really heavy; it took six men to lift them," Connell says of the doors, which slide effortlessly on runners attached to the ironwork to keep the floor unsullied by tracks. "The contractor kept saying it couldn't be done, but I love solving problems."
Which is lucky, because she had a few to tackle. The space had previously belonged to a sofa maker.
"I knew him! When I walked in, there was Mr Kwan, so I immediately had a good feeling. It was full of stuff - piled floor to ceiling with fabrics and frames. And because it's a corner unit, there were two walls of windows, which slide completely open, so it's bright."
But hiding unnoticed behind all that sofa-making apparatus was a large structural column and, just as immovable, a soil pipe.
"I was devastated!" Connell cries. "But it turned out to be a good thing."
The column acts as separation between the living and dining areas. It accommodates the audio-visuals, as well as the plumbing and cabling, which are all neatly hidden behind sheets of acid-etched iron.
Another issue was that the unit had only one water inlet. No problem. Connell simply ran the water pipes under raised flooring in the dining area to the kitchen and through the living space to the bathroom.
"It took a fair bit of engineering," she says. "But the raised floors help define the space and it means you can see out of the windows from the dining table, which is where I work. You can also see the sea from the bath."
Ah, the bath. "I fell in love with it!" Connell says of the double tub by Antonio Lupi. "I saw it on a recce and it was so expensive. But when they dismantled the set I got it for a 70 per cent discount. It was fate! The basin is impractical but I love that, too. The angle echoes the angle of the bath."
It's that eye for detail that wins prizes. So far, Connell has been shortlisted for three design awards for the showroom, at the International Design & Architecture Awards, the Society of British and International Design (SBID) excellence awards and, in Hong Kong, the Perspective Awards.
"I'm proud of the SBID nomination. It's the Oscars of the design world," Connell says. As she speaks, she adjusts a vase to sit exactly in the centre of the kitchen island, keeping it in place with a lump of Blu-tack.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
Dining room (above) The raised floor defines the dining area and kitchen, while also accommodating the plumbing. The large iron-clad structure hides a supporting column and audiovisual equipment. The square Geneva Sound Model XL (HK$23,800) came from K11 Design Store (18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3110 5898). The dining table (HK$57,000), by Lema, was from Mod (7/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2580 8178). The Eamesinspired dining chairs (HK$1,950 each) were from Tree (28/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2870 1582). The RockCoco chandeliers (£439/ HK$5,700 each) came from Fat Boy (www.fatboy.com) in the Netherlands. The floor lamp (HK$45,200) in the far corner was from Zodiac (Amber Commercial Building, 70 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2882 9082). The bespoke chair (HK$10,990) and footstool (HK$4,950) were made by Choi Designs (4/F, Dominion Centre, 43 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 0781). The side table next to it was made by Anji Connell (tel: 2580 0113; www.anjiconnellinteriordesignacid.com) from found objects. The epoxy metal table with glazed and lacquered top (HK$16,500), which is part of the Hamptons Collection by Roberti Rattan, was from Zzue Creation (7/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2580 0637). The red wire bowl cost HK$170 from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk) and the red coral inside it was from the Mong Kok flower market.
Living area (above) A freestanding glass-fronted wall and biofuel fireplace (see Tried + tested) defines the living area. The sofa (HK$32,380) was designed by Connell and made by Choi Designs. The side table was made by Connell from found objects. The Alouette table lamp (HK$5,500) is by Atelier Areti and was bought from Lane Crawford Home Store (Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2118 3668).
Living area detail (right) The Obama painting is from a gallery in London called Scream (www.screamlondon.com). The bespoke cupboard (HK$65,700) was made by Yick Tai Design & Engineering (25/F, Golden Dragon Industrial Centre, Kwai Chung, tel: 2790 8272).
Bedroom (below right) Conceived as a hotel design, the bedroom is almost entirely bespoke and constructed from commercial materials. The heavy ironwork doors define the space while retaining the open-plan ethos of the showroom. The doors (HK$65,700), bed (HK$11,500), breakfast table on wheels (HK$6,500) and glass cupboard doors (HK$62,500, including the bespoke handle) were all by Yick Tai Design & Engineering. The image of the woman was from an advertising campaign for a jewellery designer. Connell had the image enlarged and made into an image transfer, which was then stuck onto a cupboard door with glass placed over it.
Kitchen (below right) Connell’s preference for sleek minimalism comes to the fore in the kitchen. Hi-tech appliances are tucked away behind a row of bespoke turquoise-glass cupboard doors (HK$203,150) and a Corian island (HK$70,925) by Yick Tai Design & Engineering. The cupboards have pocket doors that slide away for ease of access. The Cappellini Ribbon barstool (£500) and the LaPalma LEM barstools (£315 each) were from Nest (www.nest.co.uk).
Bathroom (below) From colourliving (333 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2510 2666) came the double bath (HK$144,000) and basin (HK$42,500), both by Antonio Lupi, and the free-standing bath tap (HK$2,950) and ceiling-mounted basin tap (HK$3,870), both by Gessi. Connell made the side table and the candleholder (HK$180) was purchased at the Mong Kok flower market. The statement handle on the glass toilet door came from Philip Watts Design (£262.50; www.philipwattsdesign.com) 7 Entrance The ironwork doors were constructed to Connell’s design in industrial, acid-edge iron with rollers embedded into the door rather than the floor (as before). The design is echoed in the chair (HK$1,700), which came from Le Carpet Studio (26/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2525 2338).
The good hearth In the wall between the living area and bathroom is a biofuel strip fire from Ignis Products (£895; www.ignisproducts.com). Fuelled by eco-friendly ethanol, which burns without producing soot, smoke or fumes, it is encased in glass: from the bath, it offers a flickering flame through which to appreciate the sea view. From the living room, it adds a cosy glow to Anji Connell's regular evening get-togethers.