It's not often you hear of a satisfactory home renovation completed ahead of time. Rarer still that the client remembers the process as having been "enjoyable".
But Chan Fong-wai says that is true of the revamp this year of his 480 sq ft, light-filled Mid-Levels apartment.
"I enjoyed looking at the changes week to week," he says, recalling the Friday night inspections during which he witnessed the cramped, 15-year-old flat morph into a contemporary home with spacious living areas and stylish features.
The flat, which he'd bought last year, had been a "typical Hong Kong-style" home, albeit with extraordinary skyscraper vistas broken up by slivers of the sea. Previously inhabited by two siblings, it had contained two small bedrooms and a closed kitchen, a layout that Chan wanted changed to accommodate himself and his "flatmates". Apart from his partner, who visits several times a week, he shares the now one-bedroom, one-bathroom property with his two dogs: a husky named Snowball and a black mongrel called Pepper.
It was partly because of these pets that Chan and Nirender Lehar, of Leehar Home, chose a durable Formica floor. The same laminate is used for the cabinetry in the open kitchen, which is equipped with a wine fridge, oven and full-sized fridge. Beneath the sink, which boasts a fashionable black gooseneck tap, lives a washing machine.
It is into the kitchen area that the front door opens, revealing a layout that wastes little space. Directly in front of the U-shaped counter is an unfurnished spot designed originally for a dining table but now housing only a banquette built over a bay window.
Because of my job, I rarely have the chance to eat at home," says Chan, who works in investment banking. "Maybe on Sundays I'll cook, but that's very rare."
Chan, who was born in Canada, grew up in Shanghai and moved to Hong Kong in 2010, is following a trend for homes eschewing dedicated dining areas in favour of kitchen counters designed for casual meals.
His apartment is 21st century in another way: a raised platform in the lounge area created storage space custom built to accommodate bulky items.
"This apartment has almost 2.65-metre-high ceilings - higher than the standard," says Lehar, who designed a 30cm-high platform with trap doors providing access to the space underneath. A custom-built sofa and long entertainment console complete the room, save for Chan's collection of shisha pipes, which are displayed on simple shelving.
To help Chan envisage the finished space, Lehar employed 3D modelling.
"We met only once before [construction started] and once after [work was completed]," says Lehar, explaining that the renderings sent back and forth during the renovation obviated the need for the pair to meet on-site.
Efficiency was crucial for another reason. Lehar, who started working on construction sites in Norway at a young age, wears several hats: in addition to owning his design-and-build company, he works as a commercial pilot, which takes him out of Hong Kong for two to three days a week.
"Before I go on a flight, everybody is briefed and schedules are done," he says, adding that he will also work on renovation plans during long-haul flights. "Your work is only intense at the start and the hour before landing," he says. "In the middle, we just cruise and there's nothing much to do. My drawings are always with me on my computer."
So how long did the transformation of Chan's flat take?
"It took 2½ months to design and renovate," says Lehar, who had promised it would be completed in three months. "Our whole approach is we want to make it really fast and accurate."
Living room Delineating the lounge is a 30cm high, 2.5 metre by 2.5 metre storage platform, which cost about HK$9,000 and was built by Leehar Home (9/F, Hollywood Centre, 77 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2559 5590). Leehar Home also made the television cabinet (HK$11,000). The sofa (about HK$13,000), which fits over a bay window, was made by Fame Fabrics (Po Hing Court, 10 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, tel: 2997 3633).
Kitchen The open kitchen features Formica-clad cabinetry, which cost about HK$60,000, including the hardware. Beside the Whirlpool wine fridge are Riga wood bar stools (about HK$1,680 each) from Decor8 (8/F, Shun Pont Commercial Building, 5 Thomson Road, Wan Chai, tel: 5981 1636). The Bekvam stepladder (HK$300) came from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The wall clock (HK$400) and hangers (HK$400) beneath it were from Homeless (various locations; www.homeless.hk). The black Moen STO tap (HK$4,300) came from Shun Lee Building Materials (various locations; www.shunlee.com.hk). A ceiling lamp similar to the one above the kitchen counter is sold at Décor8 for HK$2,380.
Bay window Making the most of a scenic bay window, Leehar Home built this upholstered bench (about HK$12,000 in total) with a shelf for magazines and electrical sockets.
Bedroom Near the bedroom entrance is a work nook, with an L-shaped desk and overhead cabinets, all built by Leehar Home for a total of HK$17,000. The walnut monitor platform (HK$950) came from Grovemade (www.grovemade.com). The bed (HK$11,000) and wardrobe (HK$20,000) were custom built by Leehar Home. The pendant lamp (HK$2,000) came from Homeless.
Bathroom In the place of the old kitchen is a new bathroom, with two doors making it accessible from the living room as well as the bedroom. The Moen Omnia Architectura tub (HK$5,500) came from Colourliving (333 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2295 6263), which was also the source for the Villeroy & Boch basin (HK$3,000). The Moen 90 Degree hand shower (HK$5,340) came from Shun Lee Building Materials. Leehar Home built the basin counter unit and vanity cabinets for HK$15,000.
Plane speaking The apartment’s sole bedroom may not be huge but it enjoys an en-suite bathroom, made possible with a compact, bi-fold door similar to those found in aircraft lavatories. The door, which is only 58cm wide, was custom built by Leehar Home for about HK$4,500, plus installation.