Good interior design should not only be beautiful but also reflect the personalities of its owners. By either measure, George and Hay Lam’s home in Tai Po is a roaring success. Bright, modern and well organised, the apartment has oodles of character, which derives from charming details, unexpected materials and a strong sense of fun. This is a home with a smile on its face and a wink in its eye.

And yet many elements of the design came about by happy accident. Some features were fortunate discoveries (see Tried + tested) or caused by suppliers sending the wrong materials while others were a result of interior designer George – an associate with Bugs Design Consultants – throwing a professional eye over the work in progress and saying, “Stop!” The concrete wall running the length of the living room and kitchen, for example, was to be smooth and even in colour. But after the contractors had completed a section of the kitchen wall, George decided he preferred the different shades and textures of the unfinished concrete slapped onto the living room wall, so he called a halt to the work and declared it good.

“The contractors couldn’t believe it,” he says. “But I liked the organic grid pattern of the raw concrete left by the building works. We tried to achieve the same look in the bedroom, but concrete isn’t easy to work with and it took a few attempts.”

Removing the false ceiling throughout the apartment led to other serendipitous discoveries. As the 900 sq ft apartment is on the top floor, the contractors uncovered 12-foot-high ceilings, often sloping at unusual angles, adding drama and a feeling of airiness to even the smallest rooms. The ceiling of the sole bedroom, with en suite, is an intriguing collection of planes and angles. Positioned in a corner of the building, the roof slopes in two directions and the Lams left a section of the false ceiling for storage and to hide ducting in the ensuite bathroom.

A high-gloss white epoxy floor gives a sci-fi gleam to the space. In contrast with the shiny floor, George specified industrial materials, such as those raw concrete walls and black steel doors with panels of opaque safety glass to allow light to pass between rooms. The guest bathroom has a wall-sized sliding door covered with blackboard paint where George and Hay, a product designer, get busy with chalk: their latest creation is a doodle monster.

The blackboard is echoed in the bathroom floor tiles, which have an intricate black and chalky white design, “almost like graffiti”, says George. His specifications for the en-suite bathroom tiles, however, did not go entirely to plan.

“I like classic design and Hay prefers modern. When it came to picking the bathroom tiles, I wanted classic dark green and she wanted something brighter [pale terracotta with a raised blue design]. I ordered the green, but the others arrived. Then we also had to change the wall tiles to a warmer colour to match,” George says. “The same thing happened in the kitchen. We picked out two colours for the cabinets – British Racing Green and a lighter blue-green. We ordered the green, but the paler colour turned up. It’s not what we planned, but it’s how it was meant to be.”

“It’s perfectly imperfect!” Hay says. “We went with the flow because we wanted to get in quickly. It just evolved.”

Formerly a three-bedroom apartment, the couple now use one bedroom as a study and converted the third into a dining room. While the kitchen and living area are open plan, George left most of the dining-room wall intact beneath a structural beam with two large openings into the living space. This provides a wall for the television and, by placing a bench against the wall, gives more space for the dining table.

Open steel stairs have replaced the original spiral staircase to an extra living space on a mezzanine deck.

“Because of the way the roof slopes, the spiral staircase meant you had to duck at the top – this made more sense,” George says.

Serendipity came into play again: a silver line in the black steel defines each tread, but while this may look like a carefully considered design, it was another happy accident caused by the machine that bent the metal.

Offsetting all those industrial and shiny materials is a warm and playful array of colourful possessions, vintage furniture and original artworks that the couple have collected over the past decade. They’re big Snoopy fans, with a huge collection of vintage Peanuts toys, with guest appearances by Mickey Mouse, Bruce Lee, Chinese tin toys and Playmobil figurine portraits of their extended families crowding shelves, sideboards and other surfaces.

“Everyone has their own colour palette. At work, it’s important to help clients find their own personality and preferences and we took the same approach here. Space was the priority but we kept it neutral and let the objects and furniture provide the colour,” George says. “I’ve been collecting vintage furniture for years. We used to live in a studio apartment, so most of it was in storage or we gave pieces to friends and family. Now it’s starting to come back. That’s rare in Hong Kong, where most people buy new or buy vintage for a look.”

Styling: David Roden

Living room The Marshmallow sofa was HK$18,950 from TREE (various locations; www.tree.com.hk). The handmade Turkish rug was HK$7,000 from Shambala (2/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 2997). The vintage 1950s copper-leg coffee table, Bla Station beech chair by Borge Lindau, Sori Yanagi Butterfly stool and George Nelson Eye wall clock were all acquired years ago from Flea + Cents (2/F, Comix Home Base, 8 Burrows Street, Wan Chai, tel: 2528 0808), which was also the source for the Muuto Carrara marble and oak television unit (HK$6,200), Flower metal stools (HK$680 each) and Tolix bookshelf by Normal Studio (HK$6,350). The Vitra Nest side table was bought years ago from BW (9/F, Cheung Wah Industrial Building, Shipyard Lane, Quarry Bay, tel: 2121 8516). The Carl Hansen CH28 armchair was HK$28,700 from Manks (14/F, Cheung Tak Building, 30 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The glossy epoxy flooring cost HK$40,000 and was done by Connion International (13/F, Chung Shing Industrial Building, 89 Kwai Fuk Road, Kwai Chung, tel: 2612 2890).

Kitchen The kitchen cabinets (HK$60,500) and Silestone worktop (HK$28,000) came from Omm Kitchen Studio (15/F, 111 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2972 2992). The subway tiles were HK$6 each from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 3013).

Stairs The steel staircase (HK$35,000) was built by the contractor, City Decoration Works (5/F, Long To Building, 654 Castle Peak Road, Lai Chi Kok, tel: 2893 8638). The Artek Pirkka bar stools (HK$6,680 each) came from Flea + Cents. The Dornbracht Pivot mixer (HK$14,300) was from Colourliving (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2295 6263).

Living room detail The vintage sideboard was about HK$12,000 from Mooishop (16/F, Harbour Industrial Centre, 10 Lee Hing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2882 1384). The Picasso print on the floor and Le Corbusier poster were both purchased in France. The dolls were collected over the years.

Dining room The dining table was custom made about 10 years ago from an old table from Muji (various locations; www.muji.com.hk). The green vintage chairs were HK$3,000 each from Mooishop. The vintage leather Eames chairs were acquired years ago from Flea + Cents. The pendant lamps in mint and yellow were HK$780 each from Latitude 22N (www.latitude22n.com). The sliding door covered with blackboard paint was custom made for HK$8,000 by City Decoration Works. The art was painted by a friend, Denny Tse.

Bedroom The Charles & Ray Eames Hang-It-All vintage coat hook was bought 10 years ago from Flea + Cents. The bed was custom made six years ago by New Fortune Decoration (12/F, Kin Fat Industrial Centre, 13 Kin Fat Street, Tuen Mun, tel: 9340 6696). The Finlay Fox rug (HK$1,200), by Sew Heart Felt, was from Okooko (26/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2870 1132). The bedside table came from Ikea years ago and the Modernica Bubble pendant lamp, by George Nelson, was a gift from Aluminium (various locations; www.aluminium-furniture.com). The 1970s transistor was bought years ago from Flea + Cents.

Guest bathroom Off the dining area is the second bathroom, with Kohler Delta Vessel basin (HK$2,670) and Toobi mixer (HK$3,000) from Arnhold (1/F, Dominion Centre, 59 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2529 7489). The 14 Ora Italiana floor tiles (HK$75 a piece) came from Anta (311A Lockhart Road, tel: 2180 6950). City Decoration Works built the teak countertop (HK$5,000) and George Lam made the light fixture for less than HK$100.

TRIED + TESTED
Concrete plan Removing the false ceiling revealed an unexpected detail in the guest bathroom: the concrete had taken on a wood-grain impression from the original formwork. Rather than resurface the ceiling, they decided to preserve it as a feature and tiled only the lower part of the wall. The Mutina wall tiles were HK$400 each from Anta. The custom-made steel-framed mirror (HK$7,000) was built by City Decoration Works.