Text Adele Brunner / Styling David Roden / Photography John Butlin
Many people have cautionary tales about working with friends but not so Catherine Chang and interior designer Gabi Ho, who’ve known each other for years. When Chang and her husband, James, who works in finance, decided to renovate, Ho was the person Chang turned to for help.
“I love the interiors Gabi has done, so it was a nobrainer that I went to her,” says Chang. “She would come up with ideas, I’d have my comments and we would go back and forth, exploring and discussing all the options.
“Being close friends, we talk all the time anyway, so we didn’t worry about bothering each other during outof- office hours.”
Which isn’t to say the project was straightforward. After buying the apartment they had been renting on the third floor of a block in Hong Kong East, the couple discovered their former landlord owned the flat directly below it. A year later, when he decided to sell that, too, they jumped at the chance to own a 3,600 sq ft duplex. Ho not only had the task of unifying the two apartments, she had to do so in a limited time frame – Chang was pregnant with her second child and wanted her home to be ready before she gave birth. Speed was essential and, as both the apartments had to be gutted, the Changs moved out for six months.
“The layout wasn’t at all like it is now,” says Ho. “We were dealing with two separate flats and the stairs between the two floors didn’t exist. We had to … link them – both physically and design-wise.”
Ho suggested a non-conventional duplex layout and positioned the living areas on the upper floor with the bedrooms beneath them. The top-floor entrance was retained so you enter the unit on the level that has the best views.
Unlike a lot of properties in Hong Kong, the stairs are in the centre of the space. There are windows on all four sides of the flat and Ho wanted to capitalise on the light rather than blocking some of it with a stairway.
“James and I are both from the United States so we love open-plan living with lots of light,” says Chang. “Spatial planning was important to us as was the flexibility of the home. We needed solutions for the way we live now, with little kids, but also wanted the home to be designed with the long term in mind.”
The children’s playroom is a case in point. Situated behind the living area, it contains all the toys and allows the Changs to be busy in the kitchen or relax in the living room while still being able to keep an eye on the little ones. When two-year-old Valerie and eight-week-old Tyler are older, the space might become a study for them, a music room, an extra bedroom or a den. Doorways on both sides provide a good visual connection between the playroom and living area but sliding glass doors (patterned to prevent the children running into them) ensure the two spaces can be shut off from one another when needed.
“Gabi also has kids, who are slightly older than mine, so that helped with the design process because she knows what works and understood what we would need,” says Chang. “She came up with certain details I’d never have thought about, such as rounded corners on a low table in the playroom, slip-resistant flooring and blackboard paint on the cupboard doors for the kids to scribble on.”
The en-suite master bathroom, which leads to a walk-in wardrobe and a spare room that is currently a gym, is another tour de force. The room is fitted with his-andher rain showers in a double shower stall, twin sinks that can be partially covered if extra space is needed, a builtin laundry basket and electric sockets hidden in a drawer.
“We liked the idea of dual facilities in the bathroom and gained some of our inspiration from the hotels we’d stayed in,” says Chang.
Another clever design idea is the fireplace in the master bedroom. Backed by glass, it visually connects the bedroom and the adjacent study. An extra-wide flue is concealed by a television wall in the bedroom and narrow bookshelves in the study.
“I have a lot of conference calls,” says James Chang. “I need privacy and quiet but I didn’t want a small, blockedoff room – I wanted to sit and be part of the action.”
The Changs say they couldn’t be happier with their four-bedroom home and, despite the challenges presented by turning two apartments into one, the friends have grown even closer.
“It was a great, collaborative process. It is really nice to design for somebody you know because you’re already aware of their character, tastes and habits,” says Ho. “It just made the whole
Master bedroom The flooring throughout much of the duplex is Boen Oak Castle Barrel engineered wood (HK$1,560 a square metre) from Equal (3/F, China Taiping Tower, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066). The Avery bed (US$2,199) was from Room & Board (www.roomandboard.com), in the United States. The bedding (organic cotton pintuck duvet cover, US$139; pillow case, US$29) and bedside table were from West Elm (www.westelm.com), also in the US. The Maki pendant light, by Foscarini, cost HK$3,680 at PLC Lighting (210 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2519 6275). The stool from the Modular series, by Verner Panton, cost HK$3,666 at Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115) and the dressing-table mirror (HK$220) came from Muji (Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 3971 3120). The brushed stainless-steel BK5 fireplace (HK$23,800 per unit), by EcoSmart Fire, came from DesignLink (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2868 0991).
Living area The Urbani sofa (HK$68,800) was from Ligne Roset (16 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2891 0913). The CH24 chair, by Verner Panton, cost HK$8,400 at Manks. The rug (HK$6,800) and the circular Dori footstool (HK$2,800) came from Ovo (16 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2526 7226). The Noguchi coffee table (US$1,599) came from Room & Board. The floor lamp was bought years ago. The outdoor furniture (chairs HK$2,750 for the pair; table, HK$2,150) on the balcony came from Tree (28/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2870 1582).
Valerie’s room The bed was about HK$8,000 from Inside (Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2537 6298); the curtains around it, the Ruffle Collection bed linen (quilt, US$149; pillow case, US$23) and the Bunny Plush rocker (US$149), all came from Pottery Barn (www.potterybarn.com), in the US. The rug (HK$2,880) was from Francfranc (Festival Walk, 80 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, tel: 3106 8958) and the Around coffee table, by Thomas Bentzen for Muuto, was about HK$6,000 from Flea + Cents (1/F, 36 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2528 0808). The Miffy light cost about HK$2,500 from Homeless (29 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2581 1880). The bespoke bookshelves were designed by Gabi Ho (tel: 2793 2166; firstname.lastname@example.org) and made by Leung Cheung Shing Construction & Engineering (tel: 2395 6778) for HK$16,000.
Stairs Downstairs, the Serpentine pendant lights (HK$3,800 each) and the Wall Figure console table (HK$8,600) came from Ligne Roset. The painting, by Phuong Quoc Tri, was from Apricot Gallery (www.apricotgallery.com.vn), in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Kitchen The countertops were designed by Ho and made by Kitchen Planner (9/F, 315 Lockhart Road, tel: 2940 9430) for HK$61,610 (including those in a separate kitchen that is not pictured). Kitchen Planner also supplied the stainless-steel Miele side-by-side fridge (HK$68,600). The Caravaggio pendant lights (HK$2,170 each), by Lightyears, were purchased from Manks. The fruit bowl (HK$1,920) came from Alessi (Prince’s Building, tel: 2869 6377). The Jolie bar stools (HK$6,600 each) came from Ligne Roset.
Entrance The armchair (HK$7,800) and the silver KF Owl jug (HK$320) came from Ovo and the rabbit cushion (HK$725) was from Grange Interiors (3/F, One Island South, 2 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2110 4814). The AJ floor lamp cost HK$8,880 at Manks. The Around coffee table is the same as before.
Dining area The CH339 extendable Hans Wegner dining table (HK$42,980), the CH24 chairs (same as before) and the sideboard (HK$50,570) all came from Manks. The Raimond pendant light (HK$27,080), by Moooi, came from DesignLink.
Master bathroom The dual Hansgrohe Axor rain showers (HK$11,800 each) were from Sunny Building & Decoration Materials (345 Lockhart Road, tel: 2893 9118) and the Kohler Tercet bathtub (HK$25,700) from Arnhold Design Centre (315 Lockhart Road, tel: 2865 0318). The bespoke “Glacier White” Corian sink units (HK$16,000 each) were designed by Ho and made by Leung Cheung Shing Construction & Engineering, which also supplied the mirror (HK$5,500) behind the sinks. The circular wall-mounted vanity mirror cost HK$5,264 at H2O Pro (343 Lockhart Road, tel: 3106 6008). The Canadian marble flooring cost HK$1,500 a square metre at Sing Fai Marble (242 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 8375). The containers by the sinks came from G.O.D. (various locations; www.god.com.hk) and the pendant lamps (about HK$4,000 each) were from PLC Lighting.
Baby steps Gabi Ho came up with a solution for accommodating baby stair gates, which can be hard to match to the exact width of a stairwell and can ruin banisters and walls with their screws. She designed four steel posts to be clad in the same oiled oak used for the flooring and had them fixed to the risers with stainless-steel bolts. Once Valerie and Tyler are confident walkers, the posts and gates can be removed without leaving a trace.
The natural hardwood extendable safety gate, by Lindam, was HK$425 from Bumps to Babes (5/F, Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, tel: 2522 7112). The bespoke posts in solid oak (from HK$9,000) and the vertically cantilevered balustrade in clear tempered glass (HK$60,000) were all designed by Ho and made by Leung Cheung Shing Construction & Engineering.