After 20 years as tenants in Hong Kong, Agnes Piras and her husband, Eric, wanted to buy a home. The challenge was to find something within their budget that could accommodate a family of four.
Piras’ search extended from Mid-Levels to Tin Hau, where she finally found what they were looking for: a top-floor, high-ceilinged flat in a classic 1950s Chinesestyle building.
“I fell in love with the building and I like being in a local area, close to the action. As soon as I walked into the flat I knew it was the place – there’s so much light,” says Piras, who runs a graphic design company called Calamansi Designs with her sister, Caroline.
Downsizing from a 1,800 sq ft Mid-Levels apartment, however, wasn’t going to be easy.
“I had to please two kids with different needs and desires, a husband and a helper – and wanted them all to be happy,” she says.
After years of dreaming about owning a family home, Piras had plenty of clippings from design magazines, and a good sense of the look she wanted, but the overriding issue was space: how to create four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a toilet and a generous living area within 860 square feet?
“I spent two months just on the floor plan. I needed to make every centimetre of space work,” she says.
That’s exactly what she’s done, making an absolute art out of saving space.
In the bedrooms of 21-year-old daughter Amandine and 10-year-old son Antoine, Murphy beds fold away into the wall.
“Antoine calls his a James Bond bed – he loves the way it disappears,” says Piras.
For her son’s drum kit, a contractor built a raised platform. Antoine climbs up a ladder to reach the drums, and does his homework at the desk underneath.
In the living area, the 2.85-metre-high ceilings afford roominess, but in the bathrooms that space is put to use by what Piras calls “the attic”: a false ceiling that houses ski gear and other rarely used equipment.
In the kitchen, the space beneath the oven accommodates a deep drawer filled with Piras’ spices and herbs. And the otherwise dead space on either side of the sink is used for two knife drawers.
It was important to Piras that her helper had her own space. Making the most of the high ceiling in the helper’s bedroom, she created a raised bed, with a living area underneath, and even carved out a small bathroom with a shower and toilet (45cm by 120cm).
The whole family accommodated, Piras was then free to infuse the home with warmth. Yellow features strongly – there are mango yellow tiles in the kitchen and the balcony is painted a sunny shade.
Several trips to Marche aux Puces de St- Ouen, her favourite flea market in Paris, France, turned up gems such as 1795 backgammon table and an old wooden school desk. The Moroccan lamps and vases are from two trips to the North African country.
Working with a contractor, Piras oversaw the renovation, which took six months. But before any work took place, she arranged two parties.
“We had a party for kids and another for adults and we made a real mess of the place, spray-painting graffiti on the walls; it was total fun. For me it was important to get good vibes into the house,” she says.
The light-filled flat with its sunshineyellow balcony is proof she has done just that.
Dining room The oak dining table (€2,000/ HK$17,000) was custom made by a vendor at Parisian flea market Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen. The 1960s French bistro chairs (HK$1,000 each) and 1795 backgammon table (€7,500) were also from the flea market. The dragon light (HK$500) on the middle shelf was from Sum Ngai Brass Factory (195B Kam Sheung Road, Kam Tin, tel: 2477 7202). The plates came from Loveramics (loveramics.com) and the bowls were bought in Vietnam years ago. The leather bench (HK$9,000) was custom made by Lux Home (80 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2528 3223) and fits discreetly under the dining table when not in use.
Living room The painting is by Pamphyle and was bought directly from the French artist. The sofa (HK$10,000) was custom made by Lux Home. The leather chairs (€1,800 each) were from Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen and the yellow lamp was from Morocco. The coffee table and stools were bought years ago in Ap Lei Chau. The red tray is from Tree (tree.com.hk) and the 1930 milk jug belonged to Agnes Piras’ grandmother. The mahogany engineered flooring cost HK$47 per square foot, including installation, from Sunwood Building Material (308 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2827 0990).
Kitchen The cabinetry (HK$123,000) was from KBL (HK) (1/F, Wah Hing Commercial Building, 283 Lockhart Road, tel: 3998 4200). The mango yellow tiles (HK$5.50 each) came from Nice Tile (181 Lockhart Road, tel: 2598 5909).
Balcony The wicker chair (HK$450), made by one of the last artisans working with the material in Hong Kong, was from Chu Wing Kee (26 Possession Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2545 8751). The bamboo furniture (HK$500 for the set) was bought in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Son’s bedroom The desk (HK$1,890), from Ikea, was customised by Piras’ son, Antoine. The Ikea lamp, bought 10 years ago, was customised by her daughter, Amandine, for Antoine’s nursery when he was born. The platform was made for HK$18,000 by Piras’ contractor, Paco Communications (pacohk.com), and houses Antoine’s Roland drum kit.
Hallway The old school desk (€400) was a flea-market find in Paris. The Chinese lucky chop painting was bought in Hong Kong 20 years ago, when Piras first arrived in the city. The woven bag was bought in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Toilet The mirror (HK$1,200) came from BHV (52 rue de Rivoli, Paris, tel: 33 977 401 400). The tiles (HK$52 per square foot) were from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 3013). The basin was custom made (HK$3,100) and came from Gobo Interiors (243 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 9908). The tap (HK$5,000) was from Margot (www.mrf.fr), in France. The stainless-steel stand was custom made for HK$3,800 by Chung Kee Stainless Steel Instruments (131A Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2527 9366).
Master bedroom The bed was custom made (HK$14,000) by Lux Home with plenty of storage space in its base. The colourful skull pictures were made by Amandine.
That sinking feeling Limited space meant a full-size bath wasn't possible in the children's shared bathroom, which can be accessed from both their bedrooms. The solution was to create a Japanese-style sinking tub (HK$40,000) in the shower cubicle. The red tiles (HK$34 per square foot) were from Hop Hing Lung Material.