NOT many Hong Kong residents are lucky enough to have a garden and the few who do would not dream of calling in an architect to landscape the area, but the Chans in Hong Lok Yuen are different. Insurance specialist Johnny Chan and his wife Therese employed Joseph Sy, an architect and interior designer, to create a garden with an architectural rather than traditional feel. Taking a minimalist approach, Sy transformed the area into a talking point, and, although he designed the property's interior too, it is the outdoor space that attracts most attention. The result is a dramatic 2,500 sq ft courtyard that inspires endless compliments. However, such a venture comes at a price and the Chans' garden cost $500,000 for landscaping and lighting. But, as Johnny Chan explains, he and his wife thought it was worth the expense: 'It's a very special garden, even within the Hong Lok Yuen area. I told Joseph I liked anything out of the ordinary and then gave him a completely free hand.' And Sy, of Joseph Sy & Associates, says: 'It was a very exciting and fun project because I was given a free hand. I always like to take a new direction, but it all depends on the client. It's very difficult if they start dictating what they do and don't want. 'Originally, the garden was very green and straightforward, but the family wanted something simple and modern and did not want too much gardening work to do so they preferred paving areas for socialising and for the kids to play on.' As an architect, Sy's work emphasises careful planning of space and keeping lines clean. Colours were restricted in the garden area to shades of grey. Sy concentrated on keeping everything simple with straight, clean lines. What could have been a boring paved area turned out to be an inspired outdoor space set off by dramatic lighting. Terracotta tiles were used in place of traditional stone slabs and granite stones, sloping upwards, were placed towards one end of the garden for added interest. 'I placed the granite stones in an inclining position to create a feeling of dynamism. They look as though they are taking off,' says Sy. False pillars, sprayed with granite, were placed along the walls and set off by floor-level floodlighting. Although there are no flowerbeds in the garden, Sy realised a touch of greenery was called for. He opted for seven pine trees, the number determined by the fung shui master, which he placed in a uniform line at one end of the paved area. Because the house overlooks a hilly area, Sy placed turquoise sand-blasted glass panels behind the trees to make them stand out from the surrounding greenery. The fung shui master also said there should be some water in the garden to bring good fortune, so a carved stone fountain, chosen by the Chans, was placed in the centre of the paved area. Another important aspect was enhancing the approach to the split-level house, which was achieved by replacing featureless slopes with steps. Not many designers can turn a defect into a focal point, but this is one of Sy's strengths. Here, one of the main problems was hiding unsightly windows and air-conditioners in the courtyard area opposite the main entrance to the house. Sy masked this area with a curved wall. The wall, featuring vertical slats and sprayed with granite, not only shields the ducts from view but also acts as a design feature in itself, set off by back-lighting. In keeping with the futuristic look of the garden, Sy replaced the original wooden doors with stainless steel ones with frosted glass inserts. The doorway was also moved back to make way for a skylight to allow natural light into the area. The theme was continued inside the 2,500 sq ft house by using granite flooring in the hallway - an effective way of blurring the distinction between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Sy created another focal point in the courtyard by setting two bonsai-type trees inside concrete arched columns. Here, once again, clever lighting sets off the simple arrangement. He explains the importance of lighting by comparing it to a woman putting on make-up. 'Good lighting involves the combination of some high and some low lighting, and some areas of total darkness.' The approach reflects Sy's own keenness to keep everything simple. Although he shares his apartment with a wife and two daughters, Sy says: 'I'm a very tidy person and hate to see lots things cluttering a room. One big painting is enough. If I had my way, everything would be neat and tidy and fairly minimal.'