When designing his own property, architect Roddy Murray knew exactly what he wanted and was prepared to go hands on to achieve his dream. When Roddy Murray says he was 'very hands on' with his latest project, he isn't overstating matters. Working on his own home - the first he has owned in Hong Kong - the Scottish-born architect had perhaps more reason than usual to want everything just right. 'It's the first time I've been able to design everything from the overall spatial arrangement down to the wall tiles,' he says. Murray can also claim responsibility for dreaming up or at least sourcing furnishings, lighting and the striking steel staircase connecting the living areas with the private rooms upstairs. Apart from configuring its curves, he says, 'I ended up welding the steel in some places because the workers didn't understand what I wanted'. Murray's efforts are immediately obvious upon entering the 1,000-square-foot, two-level residence he shares with partner Andrew Keith, merchandise director for an Asian department store, and two cats. Apart from the beautiful appointments - pearlescent panels behind the stairs, a bold Japanese-print chrysanthemum carpet centre stage - there is a calmness that comes from the muted palette: black and white are combined with chocolate-fumed oak floors and walnut pieces such as an Eames coffee table, part of Murray's collection of design classics, including Arne Jacobsen and Jasper Morrison chairs. The feeling of respite is enhanced by translucent blinds and curtains that allow in light but obscure goldfish-bowl views of apartments nearby. But perhaps most crucial to the sense of serenity is the roominess. By manipulating the space, Murray, through his company RJ Murray Design (tel: 6103 2073), was able to give the impression of height and length where they were lacking. Removing an enclosed concrete staircase and replacing it with an open-tread one without a balustrade helped free the area visually and practically - as did removing an unsightly toilet beside it. Walls also came down next to the kitchen, previously reached through a door and a dark and dingy corridor. Now its approach is open and welcoming, and enhanced by a wall of hand-made terracotta tiles extending from the flat entrance to the farthest reaches of the kitchen. While still narrow, the area is longer, having benefited from the removal of a tiny utility room at one end. 'It's a small and compact kitchen, but useful,' says Murray. Visual magic is also employed elsewhere. Apart from their aesthetic appeal, vertical panels (see Tried & Tested) beside the stairwell direct the eye upwards, helping to create a sense of loftiness. 'The whole idea was to lengthen the space,' says Murray. He further maximised the ceiling height by removing fans and installing recessed lighting into the concrete. 'Ordinarily, you'd have to drop the ceiling to put fittings into it,' he says. 'These look like lights in a suspended ceiling but they're not.' Walls were also removed upstairs and a small area - classified as 'living space' but unusable in its previous incarnation - was turned into a walk-in wardrobe. Instead of three small rooms on this level, Murray now has a master bedroom, complete with en suite bathroom, and a study next door. Also on the upper floor is a guest toilet and laundry. Already special because of its two levels and workable space, the flat had extra appeal because of its rooftop, a barren spot that one day will be transformed into a roof garden. 'I knew all the walls could come down inside and, at a later stage, I could put in a staircase to the roof,' says Murray. He adds that the present steel staircase will be extended to connect three floors. 'If you're on a budget, it's always nice to be able to phase your work.' It's also good to be at one with your surroundings. 'We wanted to feel comfortable and relaxed in this space,' says Murray. 'It's a home, which I think some people tend to forget sometimes.' 1 Design classics from a previous apartment look at home in the living room, the hushed ambience of which is enhanced by filtered light and a muted palette. A brown leather Arne Jacobsen Swan chair ($48,000 from Aluminium, 19 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2546 5904) and black leather Low-Pad chair by Jasper Morrison for Cappellini ($20,000 from Louvre Gallery, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2762 2393) flank a low white-lacquer Chinese elm cabinet (from $34,000) by RJ Murray Design (RJMD), tel: 6103 2073. On the other side of a bold Japanese chrysanthemum-design carpet (from $24,000), made of New Zealand wool and custom designed by RJMD, stands a sofa (from $15,000), also designed by RJMD and covered with Osborne & Little Savanna micro suede material ($543 a metre from Kinsan Collections, 9 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2526 2309). Beside photographs called Post Meridian and Ante Meridian, by German photographer Andreas Lutherer, stands a 13th-century wooden statue of a Burmese acolyte bought in Thailand. The moulded plywood coffee table in walnut by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller cost $6,500 from Louvre Gallery. The Jasper Morrison Glo Ball table lamps are available for $4,400 each from Flos (shop A, Winway Building, 50 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2801 7608). Black lacquer rice pots from northern Thailand are a striking contrast against white blinds from New Bedford Interiors (67 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2520 0330), which obscure crowded Mid-Levels views. 2 Custom-built mirrored cupboards visually extend the living room. In front is a traditional eight fairies-design table from Shaanxi refinished in black. The fibreglass and birch Charles and Ray Eames DKW chairs for Herman Miller cost $2,999 each from Aluminium. The white curtain sheers were made by New Bedford Interiors. Smoked-oak flooring (Equal, Ming An Plaza, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7066) throughout the flat feel and look good, its wooden texture coming through rich dark hues. 3 The wall by the front door is covered with terracotta tiles (1,800 baht/$339 a square metre) designed by Murray, handmade in Thailand and available through RJMD. As with these retro-look unique designs, black Chinese granite tiles on the floor ($65 a square foot, from International Marble, 385 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2507 5116) extend into the kitchen. The antique Shaanxi bench in elm wood cost $2,000 from Red Cabinet, (shop 5, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2536 0123). The distressed antique elm cabinet is from Firma Cheong U Hong in Macau and the cushions on the sofa were made with fabric Murray bought in Laos. The skeletal staircase was designed by RJMD and manufactured in sections in Dongguan. 'It was great because you could just cut bits off,' says Murray. 'We spent two days chopping and cutting and eventually got it right.' 4 The open study by the master bedroom can be hidden by closing a sliding door. RJMD designed the white lacquer cabinetry, which was custom made by Elm Casa (63 Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, tel: 3428 5707). Another piece in Murray's classic-design collection is the vintage Aluminium Group Charles and Ray Eames chair for Herman Miller, from Flea + Cents (34 Queen's Road East, tel: 2528 0808; www.fleancents.com ). The vintage Anglepoise lamp is also from Flea + Cents. 5 Contrasting terracotta tiles cover the back wall of the kitchen, which was lengthened by the removal of a small utility room. Kitchen fittings, designed by RJMD, were manufactured and installed by Koda Kitchen (2/F, 31 Wyndham Street, tel: 2899 2878). White Fiorenza marble was used for the counter top and splash back. The Dombracht sink is from BSC Colour Living (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2572 2889). 6 Cole & Son flock damask print on foil paper, bought in London, adds glamour to the bedroom. The low solid teak bed, another RJMD design, cost $18,900. The Missoni Gretel bedding and cushions are from Lane Crawford (various locations). The Kartell bedside table is from Aluminium. 7 Glam meets luxe in the en suite master bathroom, fitted with an Emperador black-and-white marble counter top. The mixer is from Galaxy (shop 3, 283 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 3008). Chunky black Italian window frames, behind the roller blind, were fitted throughout the top-floor flat to increase the feeling of security and because 'they look good'. The vintage 1920s long-life brass candle stands from Fujian province were sourced through China Art (15 Hollywood Road, tel: 2542 0982; www.chinaart.com.hk ). tried & tested high illusions The vertical panels behind the stairs serve primarily to increase the sense of height in a flat lacking high ceilings. Roddy Murray also wanted the installation to be dramatic, so chose pearly Sakura white on white wallpaper from Osborne & Little ($519 a roll from Kinsan Collections). The seven panels (60cm by 160cm each) are affixed with concealed clips, which make assembly and wallpaper work relatively simple. The set-up also lends itself to regular updates. 'I can change the look and feel of the space by changing the material,' says Murray. The Jasper Morrison Glo Ball ($4,400) is from Flos.