In the city's saturated serviced apartment sector, operators are turning to the power of design to create a strong brand identity and to meet the discerning needs of tenants. 'Design is the most important feature for us,' says Girish Jhunjhnuwala, managing director of home2home Lifestyles Management. The company owns and operates five serviced apartment properties marketed under the Ovolo brand. 'We spend a lot of time making sure the apartment feels right. It is important that the layout is good and guests feel good staying there.' The company typically guts an entire building and reconstructs properties from scratch. For example, home2home's architects replaced all the original windows with larger substitutes at its Aberdeen property to make way for airy and bright one bedroom and studio apartments. 'The layout is very important to us. Tenants are often taken aback by the amount of space in our apartments, especially given that space in Hong Kong is such a luxury. In our apartments, the space provided is much more generous and that is not because our apartments are bigger, but because we maximise the available space and strive for a feeling of openness,' Jhunjhnuwala says. Multiple rounds of layout revisions take place before a final plan is confirmed, he says. Home2home works with its Hong Kong-based architectural firm, KplusK Associates, to anticipate the practical needs and aesthetic desires of tenants. 'The emphasis is on the practical, but it also needs to look good. It is important to give tenants that good feeling because they spend so much time in their apartment. That good feeling is achieved through layout and aesthetic,' he says. Chi Residences' CEO Pilar Morais says the company has given each of its properties a unique design concept, using three designers for its four properties. 'It is important to keep things fresh. We want a lasting product which looks and feels right. Each of our properties may have a distinct style of their own, from an art deco theme to vibrant, clean-cut lines and an eco-friendly focus, but they all retain our trademark characteristics. You will know they are a part of Chi Residences,' she says. Some of the most important design aspects considered include natural lighting, materials used and innovative ways of creating more storage space. Attention to detail is key - from the strategic placing of wall sockets, so charging docks are easily accessible, to the type of materials used for bathroom floors, and ensuring the apartment layout is one that can be easily cleaned by housekeeping. Operators also use bespoke furniture as a way of creating more space within the apartment. Home2home, for example, custom made a swivel table that can be used as a coffee table and a dining room table. From a design perspective, smaller apartments pose the greatest challenge, according to Paul Kember, director of KplusK. 'You have to be very productive in making the space as multifunctional as possible without taking up too much space within the apartment. Various devices can be used to conceal the things you don't really want to see. Ultimately, you want to create a cosy and relaxing living environment.' In recent years, operators have also recognised the importance of environmental sustainability. Ovolo apartments, for example, feature sustainable bamboo flooring, LED lighting, energy efficient air conditioning and heating systems, while Chi Residences is the only operator to equip its apartments with air purifiers as part of an effort to combat the city's air pollution problems. At the end of this month, Chi Residences will launch an intranet system at all its properties, designed to enhance communication and improve sustainability, by migrating towards a paperless environment. Messages, announcements, billing services, phone books, service directories, among other things, will be communicated through the new system. 'We feel environmental sustainability is something that needs to be done and we are trying to do more in this area,' Morais says. Though technology is an important factor, companies are mindful not to overwhelm with gadgets and all things hi-tech. Keeping the emphasis on the practical comes before everything else. 'We provide the gadgets people need today, but we don't want to become too techy,' says Jhunjhnuwala, noting home2home was the first operator to introduce the iPod dock about five years ago. The value of a well-conceived design concept cannot be underestimated. 'With people now travelling more than ever before, a well-designed apartment is part of the high standards tenants have come to expect. If they don't get it, they won't return,' Morais says.