Text Adele Brunner / Styling David Roden / Photography John Butlin
If ever there were a competition for rooms with a typical Hong Kong view, Valeria Stockford's Ap Lei Chau apartment would be a strong contender for the title. From every window of the 605 sq ft apartment is a photo-perfect vista of Aberdeen's busy harbour.
"I fell in love with the view," says Stockford, an American-Italian graphic designer married to banker Andrew, also from the United States. "It is classic Hong Kong with its sampans and junks. We originally wanted something quite centrally located but prices in Central are extortionate. This is slightly off the beaten track but more reasonable and much more charming."
When the couple initially looked around the apartment, "charming" wasn't the description that sprang to mind. A textbook Hong Kong flat, it managed to accommodate three tiny bedrooms, two even smaller bathrooms and a closed-off kitchen.
"We have lived in Hong Kong for 11 years so we knew what to expect from an older flat [built in the 1990s]. It was dark and dingy, and you couldn't move in any of the rooms but we managed to look beyond the state it was in and see its potential," says Stockford.
She enlisted the help of French interior designer Peggy Bels, who demolished everything she could to open up the space and capitalise on the windows overlooking the harbour, which had been blocked by air-conditioning units and partitioning.
"The main challenge was the structural wall," says Bels. "We couldn't knock it down, of course, so it prevented us from making the living area even larger. We had fewer options when it came to positioning the various rooms but we worked around that."
The area behind the structural wall was turned into a second bedroom-cum-television zone. Rather than shutting off the room with walls and a door, Bels installed sliding doors made of iron sheets stuck onto plywood and topped with glass panels.
"Sliding doors are ideal when space is tight - Andrew and Valeria wouldn't have been able to open and close a regular door leading to this second bedroom," says Bels. "In small apartments, it is all about making them as light as possible and feel bigger than they actually are. I used glass panels to allow the light to flood the corridor and even if the doors are shut, you can still see the magnificent views."
That said, Bels took out a window at the back of the flat where the bathroom is now situated. It overlooked another apartment block, she explains, and would have been closed off anyway with a blind for privacy.
"Now we can say there's not an ugly view in the entire apartment," she says.
With Stockford, Bels decided on a neutral palette of white, grey and black - "The view of the harbour provides the colour. It is like a piece of art," says Bels. Together they chose the furniture, keeping it minimal and functional, chic and comfortable.
There is a surprising amount of storage space, from the built-in, metal-finish kitchen cupboards to the double bed with a specially designed hydraulic mattress that lifts to reveal space beneath it. Instead of making the master bedroom larger, Bels created a walk-in wardrobe - a godsend for keeping the flat clutter-free.
"You can make do with a cosy master bedroom and bathroom but having a good-sized closet for your things is all important," says Bels.
Stockford says the neighbourhood has yielded some nice surprises (such as an Italian delicatessen that even sells Italian washing powder, and a gluten-free, wheat-free Jewish bakery) but the transformation of her flat has been almost unbelievable.
"In Hong Kong, sometimes the layout and decor don't optimise the flat," she says. "This originally looked so bad it couldn't have got any worse. But look at it now!"
Living room Interior designer Peggy Bels (tel: 9854 3112; www.peggybels.com) used a cement finish on one wall to give the room a modern, minimal feel. The Kivik sofa (HK$3,790) and Morum rug (HK$1,490) came from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The SCP pouffe (HK$4,800) was from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com). The coffee table (HK$4,000) was from Taobao (www.taobao.com) and the bookstand (HK$300) came from Taschen (www.taschen.com). The Eames DAR rocking chair was HK$5,000 from Aluminium (10/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2375 0298). The large photograph, taken in North Point, was by John Butlin. The black-and-white print came from Picture This (Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2525 2803).
Corridor The engineered-oak flooring along the corridor and throughout most of the apartment cost HK$80 a square foot from Wonderfloor (271 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2728 9373). Bels designed the matt-black sliding doors, made of iron sheets stuck onto plywood (HK$250 a square foot).
Master bedroom Bels designed the bed (HK$11,000). The bedside tables (HK$450 each) came from Ikea. The throw was HK$2,500 from Maison de Vacances (www.maisondevacances.com) and the bedside lamps cost HK$650 each from Decor 8 (various locations; www.decor8.com.hk). The photograph, of people in a Sapporo snowscape, was by Butlin.
Bedroom-cum-TV room In the second bedroom, the bed came from Ikea and the pillows, bedlinen and blinds were made by Belle Curtains (78 Bonham Road, Mid-Levels, tel: 2559 4759).
Kitchen The tap cost HK$1,300 at Fu Kee Metal (252 Lockhart Road, tel: 2877 2728). The Nicolle stools were HK$3,500 each from Chaises-Nicolle (www.chaises-nicolle.com). The picture on the counter came from Picture This.
Bathroom The bathroom unit (HK$10,000) and mirrored cabinet (HK$6,000) were designed by Bels. The tiles (HK$66 a square foot) were from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 3013) and the toilet came from Duravit (www.duravit.com.hk).
Between the lines Interior designer Peggy Bels created a multifunctional kitchen island incorporating a breakfast bar, a hob and a built-in oven. She covered it (and the sink surround) in inexpensive white tiles but used black grouting instead of white.
"The tiles are practical and easy to clean," says Bels. "The black grouting is nothing special but it makes the countertops look interesting and more expensive than they actually are. I like to mix black and white and it echoes the colour scheme throughout the apartment."