Bigger on the inside: Tricks to create larger spaces in small Hong Kong flats
Remodelling doesn't necessarily mean having to demolish walls; instead visual tricks can make an existing layout work
So you've decided to remodel, and make that pokey flat more liveable.
The freedom to pull down internal walls is a renovator's dream - but if structural or budget constraints don't allow it, can a worthwhile result still be achieved?
Many flats in Hong Kong do offer scope to scrap the internal layout and start again, but Clifton Leung Hin-che, founder of Clifton Leung Design Workshop, is seeing less demand for it these days. It is partly due to the mess involved, and the general un-neighbourliness of all that jack-hammering, but also because it costs so much just to buy a flat now, there's less left over for remodelling.
Leung estimates that more than HK$100,000 can be saved on the total renovation of a 600 sq ft flat if existing walls are retained.
The key to "making" space within an existing layout is, he says, all about illusion. "If you elevate furniture, it appears lighter. You get more floor space, and the room feels bigger."
Leung has tried this trick in many projects. A tiny bedroom in a Wong Po Gardens flat magically felt more spacious after he "floated" the wardrobe (fixed to the wall from behind), continued the cabinetry to the night table and bed in one streamlined sweep, and up-lit the whole from concealed lighting below.
He'll routinely "float" a seating bench in a small dining area, to replace chairs on one side of the table. By eliminating a circulation space used only at mealtimes, the table can be pushed closer to the wall, cribbing valuable inches.
Storage platforms are another technique. Leung has used them everywhere from a small bedroom, where there's nothing else in the room except a tatami-style bed, and under-floor compartments hold all of the occupants' personal belongings, to a study, where the platform, again providing storage, doubles as seating for a low desk. It all flows as if one continuous piece of built-in designer furniture, turning a tiny space into something which is both functional and sculptural.
Leung says sometimes it makes sense to remove part of a wall, which is easily done without compromising its structural integrity (and at minimal cost). This works well to open up a kitchen, and gives scope to add a multifunctional island bench. Kitchens - notoriously compact in the average Hong Kong flat - are another place where he tries to "float" cupboards: anything which minimises interruption to one's natural line of sight will add to the feeling of space, he says.
On occasion, a window can be added to the internal wall of a small study, to continue the visual flow from the living room and, where it is possible, storage should be maximised: steps, for example, can be drawers.
Even if your renovation budget doesn't stretch to major works (or you're only renting), Jessica Van De Velde and Pier Djerejian-Shiever, the duo behind The Changing Room, an interiors and personal styling company, say all is not lost. "Hong Kong homes can be small and most have little rooms that are divided in illogical ways," says Van De Velde. "With some easy cues, these flats can be decorated to make them feel light and airy and full of personality."
Go for smaller-scaled furniture, she advises. Clean lines and mid-century designs lend themselves to smaller spaces, as do low coffee tables, nesting tables, and taborets that double as seats. Add decorative mirrors to reflect light or greenery.
Hang curtains or blinds well above window tops to give an illusion of wall height, and "create symmetry" with decorative items, allowing the eye to roam free. "With small spaces the key is about editing - clump purposeful objects together and colour code them, otherwise it can look messy and rather like a jumble sale," Van De Velde says. Moving the sofa away from the wall and placing a narrow console behind it can create a bit more depth, she adds.
What really lets small apartments down, Van De Velde finds, is the floor treatment - especially that ubiquitous dark lacquer on wooden floors. "I'd highly recommend sanding the floors back and leaving the raw finish, or a light wax cover. It's a great look and very easy to restore when you hand the apartment back," she says.