Renovating a home shouldn’t be so hard. But the fact is, almost any kind of residential construction is stressful, perhaps more so in Hong Kong, where dizzying property prices alone cause unease. So when clients fall out with their architects or contractors for any number of reasons, projects can be left partly or poorly finished because of limited funds, patience and hope.
Willpower and vision saw through the completion of this three-bedroom Clear Water Bay duplex, created from the ground- and first-floor units of a three-storey village house built in the mid-1970s. But its transformation took time, and a toll, according to Gaelle Gognau Koerckel, who lives in the 1,400 sq ft seaview property with husband Fred and their children, Anton, five, and Stella, two. The couple, who left France for Hong Kong 14 years ago, are behind Bakehouse, in Wan Chai, and Bread Elements, in Chai Wan.
Bought at the end of 2014, The Broken House, as the family once called it, is now a cheerful, relaxed home with industrial touches softened by warm hues. Large, double-glazed windows brighten interiors that flow effortlessly outdoors. Beyond a tiled terrace on the ground floor is a turfed garden where the children play. A level above, overlooking this 1,500 sq ft outdoor area, are two seaview bedrooms, with balconies. Also on this floor are the third bedroom and television area.
“It was a giant hole,” remembers Anton, who came up with the graphic name because their home remained a construction site for months owing to work hold-ups. His description was apt for a more poignant reason.
“At some point the house broke me,” says Koerckel, explaining that after a short break, she returned to the house only to realise, “I hated this place so much. If we’d been able to move, we would have moved instantly.”
The couple worked for a year with a company they chose because it had offered the most efficient floor plan. But, she says, “accommodating our desires was not their priority”. So, while their contractor took care of the main construction (including installing an internal staircase), the couple found themselves responsible for a lot of other work essential to creating a home.
“We ended up sourcing a lot of stuff ourselves,” she says, including their Kohler kitchen, with classic, black-moulded cabinetry and a large butler’s sink.
The open kitchen segues into a dining area and lounge. Beside the stairs a double-height display cabinet, accommodating books, African antiques and other keepsakes, links the floors.
To complete the home, the Koerckels brought in other professionals, including ID-entity Design’s Candace Campos, who helped create their unusual downstairs flooring. Campos reinterpreted a feature the couple had fallen in love with in Hoi An, Vietnam. “We noticed most of the houses in the old town had marble patchwork flooring,” says Koerckel. Campos sourced different hexagonal stone tiles and organised them into a pattern that is dark by the lounge but progressively lighter in shade towards the kitchen and dining areas.
Koerckel hired artist Assia Bennani to create a pink, cloud-like mural for the living area. And, in January last year, Koerckel brought on board Helen Vandeweghe, from The Home Stylist, to finesse the overall look. Apart from sourcing furniture and lighting, Vandeweghe helped to change aspects of the design that grated on her client.
She redid the tiling on the custom-built tub in the ground-floor bathroom and removed a trough-like concrete basin upstairs. “It had cracked and stained, and was too deep,” Vandeweghe says.
Koerckel also wanted more storage space around the counter. In its place now is a two-basin set-up with cabinets above and below the counter. Spanish arabesque tiles on the walls of the shower, and vintage Hong Kong mosaics on the floor, personalise the room. Black-framed French doors take the place of regular shower barriers. The look is repeated in the other bathroom for consistency.
In fact, everything in this house is now just so (minus a side table to replace a couple of temporary pallets doing the job).
With the sea in the background, sun knocking on the windows and garden with space for a trampoline, it is little wonder Koerckel did not give up on the home she felt would be “perfect” the first time she saw it.
And will her children grow up in this house?
The answer seems to be an unshakeable yes. “I don’t want to think about moving any more,” she says.
Dining area Nature Evolution was the source of the chandelier (HK$8,398) and Normann Copenhagen Form chairs (and armchair), which cost HK$1,980 each and HK$2,250, respectively. The artwork, Rain, by Frederic Belaubre, came from The Art House Asia.
Living area Assia Bennani, from Marguerite & Gribouilli, created the mural. The Togo sofas (HK$51,000 in total) came from Ligne Roset (16 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2891 0913); the round coffee table (HK$7,990) and floor lamp (HK$2,990) from Indigo Living; and the Lahaina hemp rug (HK$3,100) from Miss Amara. The marble flooring was designed by Candace Campos. The Thoughtful Man sculpture, by Gwyn Faenol, came from The Art House Asia.
Kitchen The Kohler kitchen, with Technistone top, cost about HK$130,000 (not including the granite-top bar counter, sink and appliances). The Normann Copenhagen stools (HK$1,980 each) came from Nature Evolution. The photograph is by Peter Steinhauer. The wicker tray came from Products Simplified, in Hoi An.
Stairwell Helen Vandeweghe, from The Home Stylist, recommended the lighting for the stairwell, plus the large mirror (HK$1,190, from Ikea). The pendant bulbs (HK$5,488 in total, including installation) came from Light With Shade. The Turkish games table was bought years ago through Asiaxpat.com. The oak dressing table (HK$6,880) came from Nature Evolution and the artwork, Infinite Circles No 5, by Eleni Pratsi, from The Art House Asia. The round mirror (HK$1,500) was from Casa Capriz (1/F, Kwai Bo Industrial Building, 40 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 9318 1730). The Moroccan lamp was bought years ago.
Bathroom The upstairs bathroom features patchwork wall tiles from Family Tiles (280 Portland Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2392 2302). The sink cabinets (HK$30,000) were by Mplus Contracting. The cowrie baskets came from Milu by Nook, in Bali, Indonesia.
Master bedroom The Tears from Paradise silk wallpaper (£212.80/HK$2,290 per roll) came from Houseology. The abstract artwork, by Nikolai Gritsanchuk, was from The Art House Asia.
Outdoor area The sofa came from the Koerckels’ previous home. The striped mat (HK$306) came from Etsy shop SavonEarthyHome and the floral tablecloth on the lawn was a gift. The cushions (HK$121 each) came from Urban Afrique.
Tried + tested
Steps to safety To childproof the staircase, Gaelle Gognau Koerckel installed lighting overhead and a baby gate in addition to panels on the backs of the treads. The glass risers, which prevent a child from slipping through by accident, give the impression of an open-backed staircase design.