Text Adele Brunner / Stylist David Roden / Photography John Butlin
Home is where the heart is and that, for Vincent Chiang Chi-wai, is Kwun Tong. Not only does he live here with his wife of just over a year, Angel, he grew up in the area.
“When I was a baby, I lived in the tower next to this one,” he says. “Kwun Tong has always had a warm, friendly feel, and my family had a good relationship with our neighbours.”
He bought his apartment 10 years ago to be near his mother and it served as a bachelor pad until he got married last January. The compact 399 sq ft flat was originally filled with tiny rooms and, to the untrained eye, would have seemed a no-hoper as far as space was concerned. But Chiang relished the challenge. An interior designer by profession, he was named last month as one of Asia’s top 40 designers under the age of 40 by Hong Kong’s architecture and design magazine Perspective, which honours up-and-coming talent every year.
“I usually work on much larger apartments and houses, or big commercial projects like restaurants, where I have the luxury of being able to incorporate empty spaces into the design that are completely nonfunctional,” he says. “With my own flat, I had to consider every centimetre of space and use every nook and cranny.
And it is always much harder being your own client.”
He gutted the entire flat, knocking down all the walls and creating a bare shell before building it back up again into an open-plan interior: the only areas that can be closed off now are the bedroom, the bathroom and a storage/utility room. The renovation took two months to complete. Advantages of the flat, which is housed in a 40-year-old block, include windows on three sides and relatively high ceilings.
“One of the main challenges was to make this tiny apartment comfortable, functional and feel spacious,” he says. “Keeping everything light and bright helps to solve this problem.”
He also used a predominantly white palette with pale flooring, lending the flat a distinctly Scandinavian feel.
There is even an all-white painting of mountains that the Chiangs made using kitchen sponges.
“We love white and are huge fans of Sweden and Northern Europe, where we usually spend our holidays,” says Angel, who works in communications. “We like clean, uncluttered interiors, which echo the streamlined simplicity of Nordic style.
“We both paint as a hobby so we can add splashes of colour to our home with our art. The easel is permanently up; it displays the work in progress but also the end product, before we hang it or store it away. We could easily go to a gallery and buy a painting but we’d miss out on the creative process.”
Clever design details abound. When the bedroom door opens, for example, it slides across to cover a floor-toceiling bookshelf. The living room side of the kitchen counter has a recess into which the television is set at the eye level of viewers sitting on the sofa. The galley kitchen has a raised platform floor so that Angel, who is shorter than Vincent, can be the same height as her husband when he is standing on the other side of the counter.
“The kitchen is one of my favourite aspects of the flat because it is so interactive and useable,” says Vincent.
“We both enjoy cooking but even when only one of us is preparing a meal, the other one can sit on the sofa and give directions or just talk.
“I also added open shelves at the far end of the kitchen. These are a focal point when you come in through the front door. We display art and our goldfish on the shelves but also use them for practical purposes such as glassware storage.”
Small flats are usually fitted with custom-made furniture.
The Chiangs, however, managed to shop around and find items that not only had the right dimensions but were comfortable.
“All our furniture is a standard size and not very expensive because we had a limited budget,” says Angel. “Apart from things like the kitchen countertop and the shelves, nothing was tailor made. This makes it easier to change the various pieces when you feel like it. As well as the size criteria, comfort was a priority.”
When Angel moved in, Vincent had to cull a lot of his personal belongings to make room for her. But now the apartment seems to contain everything that makes them happy. Angel’s piano sits at one end, adjacent to Vincent’s desk and the dining table is the perfect size for romantic dinners à deux.
“Some people might struggle to live in such a small space but we haven’t been married long so we still like doing things together,” says Vincent.
Living area The sofa (HK$5,000) came from SofaSoGood (various locations; www.sofasogood.com.hk). The Frosta stools (HK$69.90 each) were from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The sand timer cost HK$500 at Lost & Found (The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2997 8191). Above the dining table hangs a painting of white mountains, which was a joint effort by Vincent and Angel Chiang.
Kitchen The kitchen units, counter and shelving (HK$60,000 in total) were all designed by Vincent, who runs In Cube Design (10/F, Metro Centre 2, 21 Lam Hing Street, Kowloon Bay, tel: 3464 0242). Vincent painted the plant canvas (on the shelves). The Juicy Salif citrus squeezer, by Philippe Starck for Alessi, was bought on a trip to Italy (and is available for HK$1,060 at Alessi, Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2869 6377).
Entrance The canvas near the front door was painted by the Chiangs. The easel (HK$1,000) came from Chung Nam Stationery (503 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei, tel: 2384 2430). The clock on the audiovisual unit cost HK$550 at Muji (Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 3971 3120).
Dining area The blue flower painting was by Angel. The tea set cost about HK$1,800 from Noritake (Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2175 0203). The Sockerart vase (HK$79.90), which can be used as a jug, Bjursta dining table (HK$1,290) and Norrnas chairs (HK$699 each) all came from Ikea.
Study The Rimowa suitcase (HK$7,000) was bought in Italy. The Galant desk top (HK$470) with Galant legs (HK$70 each) and the desk chair (HK$400) all came from Ikea. The globe light was bought in the United States. The Eiffel Tower statue was picked up in Paris.
Bedroom Floor-to-ceiling shelving outside the bedroom and wardrobes inside it were all designed by Vincent and made for HK$20,000 in total. White Kassett storage boxes (HK$39.90 for two), the Hemnes bed frame (HK$2,830) and the Tisdag lamp (HK$499) were all from Ikea. The throw on the bed cost HK$500 at Superdry (176 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2314 7515). The bedside table is actually a fireplace Vincent bought years ago and the stylish dehumidifier next to the bed was bought in Japan.
Bathroom The mirrored cabinets and sink unit were designed by Vincent and made for HK$30,000. Next to the sink is a tray, which cost HK$100 at Francfranc (Festival Walk, 80 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, tel: 3106 8958).
Steeling the show To give an illusion of light and space, Vincent Chiang covered the ceiling above his galley kitchen with a sheet of highly polished stainless steel. It doesn't need to be cleaned as much as a mirror but gives an equally clear reflection of the kitchen beneath it.
On the shelves are pink and blue mugs (HK$100 each) from Francfranc and wine glasses (HK$1,000 each) from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com).