A Happy Valley home is given a luxurious transformation back to its 1950s roots
Text Charmaine Chan / Styling David Roden / Photography John Butlin
So eye-catching are the bold, black-framed windows Andrew Bell puts into the homes he revamps that sometimes he finds himself inadvertently struck by his own designs.
That is what happened recently when the Bangkok-based Australian designer, on one of his work trips to Hong Kong, spotted an apartment in Happy Valley from his hotel nearby.
“I looked up and thought, ‘Hey, somebody else has done my windows,’” he says. “And then I realised it was [client Chris James’] flat.”
It was the retro look of Bell’s signature openings (inspired by the window walls at Central Market) and his charming old-world aesthetic that persuaded James to have him overhaul his 1,700 sq ft apartment.
“The flat was built in the 1950s and I thought it should reflect the original character as far as possible,” says James, a British lawyer who moved to Hong Kong in 1984 and bought the apartment in 2009. Also important was that space be maximised – the flat had previously housed a family with children – and that there be room for his hobbies, among them photography, cycling and reading.
“There was a lot of storage space I wasn’t using,” James says, explaining that the living area, now open plan, had once been carved into several small rooms.
The apartment’s new layout includes two bedrooms, one of which is almost completely independent. The “granny flat”, designed for his grown children, who visit from abroad, has its own bathroom and kitchen, which doubles as a darkroom for James.
In creating a combined lounge, kitchen and dining area for the main part of the flat, Bell was able to line two large walls with shelving for his client’s 80 metres of books (lined up side-by-side), several hundred compact discs, clutch of trophies and other collections, including a Preston Tucker three-headlight automobile model and several toy cars James used to play with as a child.
Books, some of them first-edition keepsakes, also line a console behind furniture custom made by Bell in Thailand, to enhance what he calls a Chinoiserie gentlemen’s- club look. But there’s no fustiness in this setting, which comes with sliding library ladders similar to those in Audrey Hepburn’s 1957 movie Funny Face. Buttonback Chesterfield sofas, given a contemporary touch with soft-green linen covers, mix with seating featuring large blanket stitches and tactile sack-cloth panels.
That’s as far as the roughness goes.
Because of an open-ended budget (Bell was the one making cost-cutting suggestions instead of the other way around), high-end finishes are evident throughout and Chinese antiques make up the scheme.
“I was perfectly happy to follow whatever Andrew was suggesting,” admits James, which partly explains why his designer calls him “the perfect client”.
Bell insists, however, that the flat’s success owes much to his trusty contractor, Lau Fu-yuen, of Winspeed Engineering, who has been behind most of his 70-odd projects in Hong Kong since 2005. That was the year Bell started refurbishing old Chinese-style apartments, many of them tong lau walk-ups, updating the interiors while imbuing them with period glamour.
His old bedroom, in an apartment near Cat Street, is similar to James’, which opens directly onto the living room through glass doors in the same style as the windows.
While James may have given Bell creative freedom, his own aesthetic sensibilities come through in the black-andwhite photographs that decorate the walls, and other acquisitions. Above his sleigh bed, which is one of the few pieces kept for the renovated flat, is a simple, old-style ceiling fan he wanted installed. Then there is the 50s Bakelite phone whose form and sonorous ring took his fancy when he saw it in an antiques shop in Yorkshire, Britain.
That piece of technology, hooked up recently by PCCW, sits beside an armchair facing a beautifully framed verdant view.
From that vantage point, surrounded by a library’s worth of books, audiovisual equipment, family mementos and space, it’s clear why James says, “You don’t just exist in this flat. You really can live in it.”
Guest kitchen (right) By the second bedroom is a stainlesssteel kitchen that doubles as a darkroom. The cabinetry, with a flamed black granite countertop (HK$41,500), was built by Winspeed Engineering. The photo, taken by James in 1977, is of Eric Shark, of British band Deaf School.
This Foster Ghost 120 FT - 2451 120 brushed stainless-steel extractor, fitted behind cooking hobs, rises from the counter when needed, acting also as a splashback. Rising to a height of 30cm, it keeps the vertical space clear, thus allowing an unobstructed view and access to the dining area. It cost HK$47,200 at Kitchen Culture (Hong Kong) (15/F, The Sun's Group Centre, 200 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3977 1111).