When it comes to adding character to a lean, clean, minimal scheme, it's all about the details. Simple lines, uncluttered spaces and pared-down colour palettes create serene living spaces and can help Hong Kong's boxy apartments feel larger but (whisper it) minimalism can be dull.
"I hate spaces with all-white walls; you see it again and again," says designer Yu-Chang Chen, founder of interiors company hoo. "I'm a fan of minimalism, but you need to live a minimalist lifestyle to make it work - it's not practical for everyday life."
And it doesn't mix well with children and all the cheerfully coloured toys and paraphernalia that accompany the average primary schooler.
So when the Lai family of four acquired a 2,028 sq ft, all-white apartment in Jardine's Lookout last year they called in Chen and his team, led by designer Arsan Law Wai-san, to remodel the colourless space and give the three bedrooms and public areas much-needed personality as well as extra storage.
"We kept it simple and clean over-all, but we wanted to add character," Chen says.
While the colour palette is dominated by shades of grey sandwiched between crisp white ceilings and pale oak flooring, the hoo team adopted a diverse collection of materials to create unexpected pops of interest. There are striking patterned tiles in the master en-suite shower, an opaque glass-and-steel sliding door into the kitchen ("the Lais' favourite piece," Chen says, demonstrating its soft-closing feature), luxurious white-marble kitchen countertops, stainless-steel splashbacks and two mismatched pink dining chairs to break up the tasteful grey. A large contemporary Chinese abstract in the dining room - a gift - adds a welcome splash of colour.
There's still a lot of white paint but there is now a feature wall in each room, with different treatments to add texture, colour and interest in keeping with the space. The living room has different but complementary treatments on two walls: small, dark tiles behind the television face a hand-painted grey wall behind the sofa (see Tried + tested). One wall of the master suite features fabric-like grey floral wallpaper, while the children's bedrooms each have one coloured wall with hand-painted details and stickers: dusky pink with a funky fairy for the couple's five-year-old daughter and grey with a panel of blue stripes and red stars for their seven-year-old son.
"We didn't want to overdo it in the children's rooms - so many people go overboard with pink and blue," Chen says. "We kept the colour tone clean and the decoration simple; toys and books add colour and interest. The family brought very little with them from their previous place - almost everything is new - but they did bring the children's furniture. We built in the wardrobes and the bookshelves in the boy's room."
Elsewhere, there's more storage behind a wall of discreet white cupboard doors in the dining room and an L-shaped swathe of wardrobes in the master suite. A floor-to-ceiling shelving unit in the study has just one door that slides to reveal a grown-up book collection on one side and children's games on the other.
Immovable structural walls define the living and dining space, so the remodelling work focused on reorganising the bedroom areas.
Chen added extra square-footage by reconfiguring an air-conditioning utilities area to create a new master bathroom. The old guest bathroom is now a dressing area in the master bedroom and the former en-suite and walk-through wardrobe has been turned into a study nook and a family bathroom. The internal walls of both children's bedrooms were moved further into the hall to accommodate built-in wardrobes.
However, Chen wasn't the only person the Lais rang when they acquired their new home. They also called in a feng shui master.
"There were quite a few feng shui requirements," Chen says. "They were mainly related to colour - some black in the entrance, grey in the bathroom and red in the study."
Accordingly, the front door now opens into a small entry foyer created by a floor-to-ceiling cupboard with glossy black doors; there are red chairs in the study; and the family bathroom has been swathed in large grey ceramic tiles.
"We used different tiles from the same range to add texture to one wall of the bathroom and create a subtle feature," Chen says.
It's all in the details.
Living room The pale oak floor, by Hain, was HK$1,750 per square metre from Equal (23/F, 111 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066). The custom-made rug was HK$38,000 from Altfield (11/F, 9 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2524 4867). The Exclusif sofa (HK$68,000) was from Ligne Roset (16 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2891 0913). The Fredericia 1250 Icicle coffee table (HK$12,560) and Louis Poulsen AJ floor lamp (HK$6,800) were from Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The Laval side table (HK$3,800) was from Amelie & Tulips (56 Sai Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2291 0005). The Tom Dixon Beat ceiling light was HK$4,800 from K+I (93B Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2810 0646). The Dare Studio Katakana Chair (HK$29,000) came from Lane Crawford Home Store (Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2118 3652). The television console (HK$26,000) and wall cupboard (HK$20,000) were custom designed by hoo (33/F, Southmark, 11 Yip Hing Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2979 0600; www.hoo-residence.com). The wall tiles were HK$50 each from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 3013).
Dining The Secto 4200 Pendant lamps were HK$5,220 each from Manks. The bespoke cupboard (HK$50,000) was designed by hoo. The HAY About A Chair dining chairs were HK$3,000 each from Establo (4/F, Kwai Bo Industrial Building, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 3565 5207). The table was bought years ago.
Daughter’s bedroom French artist Assia Bennani created the whimsical wall art. The bed, chair and cushions all came from the family’s previous home.
Master bedroom The bed (HK$12,800) and headboard and side tables (HK$20,000 in total) were designed by hoo. The Birdy bedside lamps (HK$2,500 each) came from Northern Lighting (northernlighting.no), in Norway. The Rubelli Lady Hamilton wallpaper (HK$4,400 in total) was from Altfield.
Study The desk (HK$13,000), overhead cupboard (HK$18,000) and floor-to-ceiling shelving unit with sliding door (HK$32,000) were all custom designed by hoo. The chairs were the clients’ own. The prints were gifts.
Family bathroom The sink unit (HK$9,000) and overhead mirror unit (HK$12,000) were designed by hoo. The Vasco heated towel rail (HK$13,000) came from Oscar Bath & Kitchen (342 Lockhart Road, tel: 2988 1904). The floor tiles (HK$225 each) and wall tiles (HK$200 each) were from Tai Yick (213 Lockhart Road, tel: 2511 3078). The Dornbracht shower (HK$35,200) was from Colourliving (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2295 6263). The Kohler bathtub (HK$16,800) and toilet (HK$8,500) were from Hop Hing Lung Material (298 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 2296).
Kitchen The total bill for the kitchen was HK$350,000, including appliances, marble countertop, units, sink and mixer tap from BonKuchen (87 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2117 3008). The floor tiles were HK$248 each from LS3 (Capital Building, 183 Lockhart Road, tel: 2827 0388). The wall tiles were HK$5 each from Hop Hing Lung Material.
TRIED + TESTED
Different strokes French artist Assia Bennani hand-painted the living room wall. "We were going to create a cement wall in the living room, but that was expected and this wasn't," says Yu-Chang Chen, of hoo. "We supplied a grey wall and she sponged extra layers of paint over it. Everyone loves the pink." Bennani can be contacted through Marguerite & Gribouilli (14/F, Greendale, Discovery Bay, tel: 6698 0870).