When it comes to Hong Kong's tight living spaces, one rule applies above all others: keep it simple.
"Our flat is not big, so we didn't want to have too much detail, just a simple, warm feeling," says Emily Li Kwok-ching, who bought her 480 sq ft Sai Wan Ho apartment last year with her boyfriend.
Storage space is another key requirement.
"We thought more cabinets and wardrobes would be useful," says Li.
Designer Dylan Tan Dar-luen, of WOM Concept, had his work cut out for him. Like many recently built flats in Hong Kong, this one had a layout that couldn't be altered because of load-bearing walls. The living/dining room, galley kitchen, bathroom, balcony and two small bedrooms didn't leave him much to work with.
"Normally I like an open kitchen, especially for small flats, but when I got the floor plan I realised the overall layout couldn't be changed at all," says Tan. So he did what he could to make the flat more space-efficient. The kitchen was gutted and outfitted with ceiling-mounted cabinets that provided more space for storing food. And he installed a two-way glass swing door in the kitchen, creating a visual link with the dining area (see Tried + tested).
Despite the improvements, however, Li - who is a lawyer - admits that "in principle, I'd like to cook at home every night, but both of us work a lot, so we're home quite late every day".
A steam oven installed beneath the counter gives the couple the option of fixing a quick and healthy meal when they do have time.
For the dining area and living room, Tan designed a storage system that includes space for books, boxes and shoes. A large curved television takes pride of place in the middle of the storage unit.
"The whole thing is wall mounted," Tan explains, which creates room for LED lights beneath and above the unit.
Tan knocked down the wall between the two small bedrooms to create one large space. He designed two wall-mounted storage units for clothes, as well as an electrically powered hydraulic bed with storage space underneath. He also designed a small desk that wraps around the bay window ledge at the foot of the bed.
In the bathroom, a more expansive countertop was installed and a bathtub was replaced by a standing shower. Tan replaced the swing door with a less intrusive sliding door.
"Before, you pretty much had to stand on top of the toilet to close the door," he says.
The apartment was becoming more livable, but Tan had a more difficult task: making it look good.
"I'm a minimalist," he says.
Because of the low ceilings and limited floor space, he wanted to keep a simple, consistent look throughout the flat.
"We picked the flooring first," he says. Li chose a grey wood laminate, so Tan went hunting for materials matching the colour and pattern that he could use for the living-room storage unit, kitchen and bathroom cabinets and the waterproof floors in the kitchen and bathroom. "I went through the whole of Lockhart Road, every single shop, to find them."
Most of the flat's materials are meant to create a streamlined, homogenous look. The grey Roman blinds in the bedroom match the flat's overall colour scheme while avoiding the clutter of roller blinds or drapes.
"I hate curtain tracks," says Tan.
But a few flourishes keep things lively. In the bathroom, the wood-textured grey floor tiles travel up a wall in a narrow strip, providing contrast with the white tiles that cover the rest of the walls. Grey laminate shelves project outwards from the white cabinets of the living-room storage unit.
"If I pushed them all in so they were totally flat, that would be less interesting," says Tan.
Li says she is happy with the revamp - even if she and her boyfriend are too busy to enjoy the flat on weekdays.
Styling: David Roden
Dining area Dylan Tan, of WOM Concept (11/F, Block A, Viking Villa, 70 Tin Hau Temple Road, North Point, tel: 9828 9313), bought the dining table online from Taobao (www.taobao.com) for 925 yuan (HK$1,100), along with the chairs (640 yuan each) and pendant lamps (250 yuan each). The storage boxes (HK$79.90 each) are from Ikea.
Balcony The metal frame stand (HK$500) was custom made by Hung Hin (3/F, Kam Mong Building, 39A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, tel: 6018 4988). The wooden stools cost 1,200 yuan each from Taobao.
Living room The cabinet (HK$42,000) was built by Hung Hin. The sofa (HK$12,990) was from Indigo Living (6/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 0540) and the rug (HK$1,190) from Ikea. The coffee table (650 yuan) was from Taobao.
Bedroom The bed (HK$12,500) and wardrobe (HK$38,000) were built by Hung Hin. The pendant lamp (190 yuan), wall lamp (460 yuan) and paintings came from Taobao.
Kitchen The kitchen cabinets (HK$95,500) were designed by Tan and built by Hung Hin. The Alessi kettle cost HK$1,500 from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com).
Bedroom detail The desk was custom built for HK$38,000 by Hung Hin. The stool was HK$329 at Ikea.
Bathroom The toilet is a Roca Inspira (HK$3,130) from Hop Lung Building Materials (293 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2802 2273). The Axor bath mixer (HK$4,780) came from Happy Face Discount Depot (287 Lockhart Road, tel: 2923 5090), along with the Axor hand showerhead (HK$2,620) and Axor rainshower (HK$3,380). The mirror cabinet was custom made for HK$12,000 by Hung Hin.
Open secret Dylan Tan, of WOM Concept, wasn't able to create an open kitchen, so he installed a metal-framed glass door that swings both ways. It keeps out cooking fumes while maintaining a visual link between the kitchen and dining area. The door was custom built for HK$9,800 by Hung Hin.