The opening of high-end serviced apartments in Sheung Wan last month saw a rare aesthetic for Hong Kong: the Yin's 42 studios offer glimpses of brickwork, flashes of exposed piping and baths carved out of stone blocks. This kind of warehouse-hip has been run-of-the-mill in other cities for years, yet in Hong Kong it has always struggled, and usually drowned, under heaps of suede, crystal and polished wood. Still, Philip Liao of design firm Liao and Partners thought that now might be the time to give it a go - albeit with a sanitised and slightly Zen-like twist. 'I just read in a fashion magazine that power pinstripes and opulence are a little out,' he says with a laugh. 'This raw, more honest kind of living is not timed for this 'tsunami' but tastes are changing. Even very well-paid young execs don't necessarily want to live in a palace any more.' Could the economic crisis have Hong Kong design paring down aesthetically? The past 15 years here have been a parade of unrestrained decadence in the textures and the technology we've been choosing for our homes, and in the restaurants and bars we frequent. But it appears that for some people these choices are either no longer sustainable or are being seen as less tasteful, and designers have started to respond to a different mindset. If you've got it, flaunt it? Not so much any more. 'If you have it right now, probably you don't want to show it - and if you had it, you don't want to be reminded that you had it,' says Hernan Zanghellini of Zanghellini Holt Architects. 'It'll be about the simple pleasures for the next few years.' But think modest, not minimalist. It is actually more expensive to do a flat ceiling, a high-gloss surface or a seamless piece of furniture than it is to produce something ornate. 'Clients say it's harder to make simple designs industrially because it's harder to get the details right,' says local product designer Danny Fang. 'Flaws show up more clearly.' So although people may feel that simpler surroundings have more virtue, trends are unlikely to go too bare. What the crunch might do, says Fang, is make people more picky about quality and less fond of disposable products; design buffs will be looking for longevity. 'When you have troubles it's the old friend you turn to, not the trendy person you met two days ago,' says Zanghellini, who sees us heading towards old, familiar comforts. That means more natural wood and more burnished metals - highly polished chrome and steel will be out, bronze and copper will be in - but still all in the spirit of temperance. The new collection from local design brand Ovo, Ovo Eszentials, reflects the move towards a simpler life. 'When the economy is good, when people have a lot of spare money to spend, they may look for something a bit showier,' says director Ed Ng. 'However [now], they may relax a bit on some of the fine details and materials.' This paring down is already a common thread for cosmopolitan hubs, at home and at play. As one London design writer put it: while restaurants, pre-crunch, meant 'angry telly chefs, faux-French food, rising cloches, Michelin stars, great expense', post-crunch will bring 'wood burning ovens, refectory tables and no reservations'. In Hong Kong this has already happened, as character-heavy cubbies are replacing illusions of grandeur. English pub-style venues have mushroomed, with their polished woods and comforting leather. The Press Room restaurant won designer and artist Stanley Wong a Design for Asia Silver award last year for its classic combination of warm brick, vintage tile and wood, and restaurants such as Zanghellini & Holt's new BLT Steak in Ocean Terminal are walking a line between distinguished and homey. The hotchpotch of used and 'faux-used' furniture, retro light fittings and aged wood at The Pawn in Wan Chai, also by Wong, has given it a fashionable, popular old club vibe. Materials salvaged from old buildings are now more commonly used by designers (although they don't come cheaply), as is reconditioned furniture. The tolerance for eclecticism, or as one friend put it, 'beachcomber chic', is rising as Hong Kong homeowners are showing a new willingness to trawl sites such as AsiaXpat for second-hand pieces. All the mixing and matching has people embracing their creative streaks. The last big depression saw new technology and cold, sleek industry celebrated; this one looks set to be warmer. At the London Design Festival last September, all eyes were on craft, particularly at the Mydeco design boutique, which showcased unique homemade products and where Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek presented his handcrafted furniture made of scrap wood. Lisa Whatmough showed her brand, Squint, which grew up around antique textiles she had collected. Similar gems were to be seen at the Milan Furniture Fair, such as the embroidered upholstered furniture line My Beautiful Backside by Anglo-Indian designer team Doshi Levien for Moroso. Reports from the Maison and Objet fair in Paris last month were of soft, vintage colours in nostalgic prints and dusky, faded hues: delicate pinks, pale yellows and duck-egg blues and of furniture that's heavy and reassuring - the kind that looks as if it will last through this crunch and the next. As that comfort factor starts to take hold (sales of biscuits have reportedly soared over the past year), designers such as Whatmough are choosing to give consumers emotional engagement with products and a feeling of sanctuary rather than new technology. Even at the high end, craft is coming back. 'When we look for exclusive products, it is hard for us to go into big, mass-produced collections that require huge design resource and tooling costs,' says Polly Dickens, creative director of London's Conran Shop. 'So we turn to craft and produce things handmade in small quantities with a unique signature.' That may be disconcerting for Asian consumers, who have often associated old products and materials with poverty, but a recent change in sensibilities has seen businesses and homeowners more ready to accept earthier textures among the gloss. 'Compared to five years ago, people's tastes have become more cultivated,' says Federico Masin, a Venetian architect and designer based in Hong Kong. 'They realise comfort or luxury has more than one face - textures and rough materials are more accepted.' But then others aren't so sure. 'We are all figuring out the new order,' jokes Jane Chang, whose Wan Chai store, Flea + Cents, stocks retro design goods. 'Right now lifestyle gurus are talking about calm and basic styles, but I don't think it will stay like that for long. Hong Kong people like whatever's new.'