You might have seen Johnny Kember's 1,800 sq ft studio on television. No, the Hong Kong-based architect hasn't starred in a reality TV show. Rather, with his wife, June Cheah, the film aficionado has converted the space into a cinematic setting, which is hired out to studios.
"My family has a long history with film," says Kember, who moved to Hong Kong from London in 1992.
Four years later, he established architectural studio KplusK Associates with his twin, Paul, and Cheah, a lawyer specialising in commercial law and immigration, who is also a Londoner, of Chinese-Malaysian descent.
"Four of my uncles are involved in films and my grandfather was the chief construction manager at MGM Studios, in London, in the 1950s and early 60s. So I understand, from visual and practical perspectives, what is beneficial for a professional studio space," says Kember.
The couple, who met in Hong Kong and live with their two young daughters in Sai Kung, spotted a gap in the market for flexible sets in Hong Kong while living in Tin Hau.
"Our home there was a contemporary, open-plan space that Johnny had designed and was very popular with commercial and film directors, as it offered the perfect backdrop for a variety of shoots," Cheah says.
In 2007, the couple co-founded Studio 5, creating a number of production studios, including one in Ap Lei Chau, which are used by film and television producers, photographers and video artists.
"The goal with the Ap Lei Chau production studio [bought in 2007]," Kember says, "was to devise a space that would stand up to the needs of a professional studio but retain the look and feel of a glamorous residential apartment."
The most important modification was in the kitchen, where rails were mounted on the floor onto which film crews could easily set up cameras, to enable "tracking" shots around the space, and to allow the crew to navigate the perimeter of the room.
"The kitchen space looks completely different depending on where you are standing," says Cheah.
The front wall of the bedroom was also designed with flexibility in mind. A KplusK-designed retractable "wall", created with a white lacquer screen, glides along an industrial track suspended from the ceiling to reveal the bedroom, which features a "floating" Japanese-style bed. When closed, the screen provides a backdrop to the living area.
"The suspended wall was custom designed to glide seamlessly along its 12-metre-long track," says Kember, who took inspiration from historic tracery found in Shanghai's Yu Garden to create the intricate pattern on the screen.
"It slides back to cover a picture rail and so instantly creates a completely different mood. It takes just seconds to change the ambience of the room, which is useful for everyone, not just film studios."
Practical elements of a working film studio have also been incorporated elsewhere. In the living area, for example, a wall-mounted projector enables film directors to view scenes while working.
A projector is a practical design option, as it does away with the need for a bulky TV or cabinet, says Kember.
"The back wall also doubles as a blue screen, so any type of filming or photographic background can be shown on it, making the space more adaptable."
The trick to designing a studio space that feels authentic and is still versatile is understanding the different technical issues that might arise, he adds.
Lighting, for example, needs to be adaptable, so a large part of the budget was dedicated to a sophisticated system that allows complete control over the illumination of specific areas. The two main environments, the bedroom and the living areas, can thus be purpose-lit.
The studio is very deep, so Kember was careful to allow for maximum natural light, particularly in relatively confined spaces such as the bathroom.
"I created the bathroom environment with a series of clear coloured glass inter-layers and stainless-steel tiles and maximised the height of the space to create a great sense of volume in a location that is quite far away from natural daylight," says Kember.
"Natural lighting is just as important as artificial lighting systems," he adds. "We chose the space because of its wonderful natural light. It's so good that, when it is not being used by film crews, I use it as my own painting studio."
Kitchen The cabinetry (about HK$120,000) was designed by KplusK Associates (Studio 818, 8/F, One Island South, Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2541 6828) and built by Man Ho Decoration Engineering (13/F, Century Industrial Centre, 33 Au Pui Wan Street, Fo Tan, tel: 2690 4846). The solid acrylic kitchen work surface cost HK$19,500 from BonKuchen (87 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2117 3008) while the Squeeze aluminium panel on the wall is by Fractal and was imported by KplusK from Belgium for HK$6,000 per sheet.
Living area detail Johnny Kember designed the sleek picture rail to display the couple’s extensive art collection. The artworks are (from left) Blue Metropolis and Cityscape, both by Kember (www.johnnykemberart.com); and a Goddess water jug oil painting, by Hong Kong-based artist Richard Winkworth (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dining area and kitchen The white laminate breakfast bar top (HK$4,840) came from Infinity (9A, Cheung Wah Industrial Building, 10 Shipyard Lane, Quarry Bay, tel: 3765 0906). The frame (HK$16,500) was designed and made by KplusK. The white leather LEM stools cost HK$5,300 each at Desideri (7/F, Oriental Crystal Commercial Building, 46 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2950 4026). Kember added track lighting (lights, HK$700 each; track, HK$250 per metre) from Forma Lighting (5/F, Eastern Harbour Centre, 28 Hoi Chak Street, Quarry Bay, tel: 2516 6500) and, in the kitchen workspace, a hard-wearing flamed granite slab floor (HK$750 per square metre, from Infinity). Kember created a compact workspace with storage unit custom designed by KplusK. The Aeron chair (HK$10,600) came from Posh (Hong Kong Trade Centre, 161 Des Voeux Road Central, tel: 2851 0899).
Master bedroom The elevated tatami bed platform and headboard, plus bedside table, all designed by KplusK, were made years ago by Man Ho. The traditional tatami (HK$2,200 per three foot by six foot mat) was sourced from Ito Futon (1/F, Hong Kong Mansion, 137 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2845 1138). The reading lights (HK$592 each) and Iranian travertine floor tiles (HK$740 per square metre) were sourced from Infinity. The built-in shelving was made by Honest Hardware (250 Lockhart Road, tel: 2598 6600) and cost HK$3,000. The translucent glass wall and door leading into the bathroom was designed by Kember and cost HK$78,000 in total, with glass from Infinity, ironmongery from Tung Fat Ho Building Material (1/F, Yip Fung Industrial Building, 28 Kwai Fung Crescent, Kwai Chung, tel: 2847 6199) and construction by Man Ho.
Bathroom The vanity unit cost HK$13,300 at BonKuchen while the matching EOS egg-shaped basins (HK$3,300 each) were from E&I International (8/F, Block B, Chung Mei Centre, Hing Yip Street, Kwun Tong, tel: 2384 0682). The stainless-steel wall tiles (HK$1,700 per square metre) came from Infinity. The mirrored cabinets (HK$18,000 in total) were designed by KplusK and built by Man Ho. The opaque orange wall (HK$2,200 per square metre) was from Infinity.
Living room The L-shaped sofa (HK$70,000) and two leather-cord chairs (HK$18,000 each) came from Desideri. The cashmere-and-rabbit-fur cushions (HK$1,600 each) and shaggy silk rug (HK$53,000) were found at Faux (3/F, Harbour Industrial Estate, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2851 4040). Natural ash hand-scraped timber flooring installed throughout much of the studio cost HK$750 per square metre and was sourced from Infinity. The inbuilt shelving unit (HK$1,800) was designed by KplusK. The Op-la side table by Alessi cost HK$3,940 from Bluebell Hong Kong (21/F, Dorset House, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, tel: 2968 7350). Kember added a wall lamp (HK$3,400) from Artemide (Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2523 0333) and an Epson projector, which was a wedding gift. Kember painted the large artwork to the left of the window.
Photos: John Butlin
Screen icon The Chinese symbols for double happiness provided inspiration for Johnny Kember's bespoke white-lacquered screen, which conceals the entrance to the master bedroom. Weighing 160kg, the screen (HK$128,000) was designed by KplusK and built by CPM Decoration (3/F, Lucky Horse Industrial Building, 64 Tong Mi Road, Mong Kok, tel: 2398 9098), with ironmongery by Tung Fat Ho Building Material.