When buying his first apartment, one man chose to start with a clean slate in an older flat rather than a cookie-cutter new development. Creating a home from scratch was a new experience for doctor Robert Speke when he moved into his Mid-Levels apartment last August. Having shared a succession of rented flats for seven years, his decision to buy was a huge leap. 'I was living like a student, taking over what someone else had left behind and trying to adapt it,' he says. He eventually settled on a 1,400-square-foot flat with contrasting city and mountain views at the front and back, and regular-shaped external walls. 'I quickly realised the structure of new buildings strongly dictated how [each room in] the flat would be used,' he says, expressing a preference for more flexible older buildings with high ceilings. The apartment also fulfilled another must-have. 'I definitely wanted a balcony, and in a lot of places it's nothing more than a glorified shelf jutting out into the air,' he says. 'Here, it's enclosed and feels quite private, but is very much part of the living space. I can sit there without all the neighbours looking at me.' Speke accepted that whichever property he bought would require gutting. 'Most places are built for families, with lots of small rooms, and that wasn't what I was after,' he says. A former flatmate introduced him to several architects and he eventually hooked up with Andre Fu of AFSO (tel: 2523 6998; firstname.lastname@example.org ). 'He seemed to be the most enthusiastic, wanting the challenge to make something interesting,' Speke remembers. 'He started with what I wanted and tried to make the budget fit rather than ... telling me what I could have for the money.' Making the most of the views and the balcony were priorities. Speke also wanted an area to relax in, an office and a master bedroom that was 'only a bedroom, nothing else'. The office, however, serves several purposes. When guests are in town it can be sealed off from the living space with folding doors; otherwise its broad expanse of windows bring daylight and mountain greenery into the apartment. Fu took further advantage of this light source by creating a floor-to-ceiling, bronze-tinted, frosted glass 'wall' between the study and master bathroom. Forming the back of the shower enclosure, the wall filters natural light into the otherwise dark en suite bathroom to invigorate early morning showers; at night, the opposite occurs when the shower becomes a light box feature in the study. Speke is wary of surroundings that are too fragile, feminine and flowery, but Fu introduced muted - almost pastel - colours and materials. 'I didn't want anything too bright, strong or contrasting,' says Speke, opting instead for an ambience that is more relaxed and peaceful. However, rather than coffee-table-book perfect, he wanted the space to evolve and grow with him. 'I didn't want the apartment completely finished on the day I moved in,' he says. Apart from personal possessions, he started with basic furniture, including a bed, dining amenities and sofas, which were mostly custom-designed by Fu. Bearing in mind the layout and dimensions, the architect tailor-made the pieces to become an extension of the space. 'I wanted things that fitted properly,' says Speke. Trusting an architect to design something as intimate as furniture takes courage, but Speke is a firm believer in trusting the professional. He is convinced that giving his designer ample leeway produced better results than if he'd dictated exactly what was required. 'If you decide to use a designer, but then tell them what to do and how to do their job, it's obvious that they're not going to enjoy it or put as much effort into it. And in the end you're not going to get as much out of it either... That's the way I approached it.' 1 In the dining and kitchen area, a kitchen counter extends to become a high-level dining table. Bar-height chairs were custom designed by Andre Fu in European oak with olive leather upholstery ($3,600 each). The Arch floor lamp (at right), also designed by Fu ($4,600), is in matching wood. Fu enlisted kitchen specialists The Essentials (shop 4A, UG/F Leighton Centre, Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2142 1409) to build the cabinetry, which is finished in a faux blond timber, and Corian countertops. Units along one side hide the microwave, oven and fridge; a hob and hood plus further storage are located on the other side. The overhead light in European oak veneer with a matt lacquer finish (designed by Fu) unifies the kitchen and dining amenities. 2 A floor-to-ceiling screen of softly tinted bronze smoked glass (on the left-hand side of the corridor) acts as a backdrop for the living area, and makes the sleeping and bathing quarters semi-private. Fu chose it because it projects a soft, tinted silhouette, rather than a harsh reflection, and gives what he calls a 'visual threshold'. When guests stay, it also offers a private passage between the study/guestroom and the guest bathroom (pictured at the end of the corridor). A lowered ceiling plane covers a structural beam, accommodating down-lights and concealed fluorescent tubes that give a daylight glow. In the study, Fu designed a built-in book and display case using European oak timber veneer, with the shelves in a pattern of variable heights. 3 Thai silk-effect polycotton curtains (not seen; $155 a yard) and a sisal-looking Tibet wool carpet ($27 a square foot including underlay and fitting; all from Rowena's Decor, room 352, 13 Hok Yuen Street, Hung Hom, tel: 6059 9045) lend a soft ambience to the master bedroom. Behind the bed, textured wallpaper (style BT125 from the Flax volume 12 collection, $1,600 a roll from Tat Ming Wallpaper, 16/F Kwan Chart Tower, 6 Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2893 2337; www.tatming.com ) provides a uniform backdrop to the custom-designed European oak timber bed frame and is illuminated by a backlit headboard with integrated bedside tables. The bedside lamp is available from Emico Illumination (300 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2574 2299). 4 Many spare rooms become dead, unused spaces, but here it has been assigned other functions such as a study and storage area. When guests are in town a sliding timber 'wall' concertinas out from a hidden recess. Space is maximised with built-in shelving and a wall-hung desk system of European oak timber veneer (designed and made to measure by Fu). The classic Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner (manufactured by Danish company Carl Hansen & Son; www.carlhansen.com ) was purchased from Cale Associates (58 Holywell Hill, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 1BX, England, tel: 44 8702 202055; www.caleassociates.com ). Silver perforated Venetian blinds ($16 a square foot excluding installation) are from Rowena's Decor. 5 Robert Speke wanted his balcony to feel 'like a boardwalk at the seaside', so Fu's contractor PDA (tel: 2851 1810) decked it in Bulau timber (about $40 a square foot, excluding installation, supplied by Hop Sze Timber Company, 421 Lockhart, Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2833 6069). The sofa ($10,800) and daybed ($7,000) were custom-designed by Fu. The European oak coffee bench ($4,600, also by Fu) is inset with cushioned leather, doubling as a seat and footstool. The Hohns oak floor (about $45 a foot from Equal, 12/F First Commercial Building, 33 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066) has a 'white oil' finish. 6 The basin (about $2,000 from Classic Bathroom Accessories, 171A Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2877 0870) with a Delong tap (about $1,000 from Delong Bathroom Collection, 286 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2588 1212) sits on a white Corian and European oak vanity unit, custom-designed by Fu. 7 A Sony 42-inch flat-screen television sits on a storage shelf (see Tried and Tested), which accommodates cabling in a hidden gutter. TRIED & TESTED Outside in The fusion of two clearly separate spaces is what Speke required for his balcony and living area. First, Fu promoted the visibility of the outdoor area by minimising obstructions. The original multiple windows were reduced to a double French window ($20,000, made to measure by Chase Aluminium Windows Engineering Company, 604 Shanghai Street, Mongkok, tel: 2789 8313), which folds in half, then back to one side against the wall, thereby not cluttering the view. Features extending beyond their initial function to serve a different purpose is a common theme in the apartment, a technique that Fu describes as 'playing with linearity'. Drawing the eye from inside out and giving a sense of continuity, the cantilevered audio-visual shelf clad in polished limestone tiles ($130 for each 600mm square tile from Luen Tai Marble Company, 244 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 5570) appears to pierce the glass and transforms into a balcony bench. Contrary to the expected seamless floor running from the living room to the balcony, Fu created a raised threshold between the two. This 'platform', which is on the same level as the decking outdoors, allows the balcony to become an extension of the living space and the stone tiles also neatly hide the bottom track of the folding doors.