When interior designer, gallery owner and landlord Debbie Pun, of Debbie Deco, went to view the 670 sq ft apartment she would eventually purchase in Sai Ying Pun, she wasn't entirely convinced of its potential.
"When I bought the place about 10 years ago, I had only student accommodation in mind, because it is near Hong Kong University," she says.
"I didn't realise the area, which at the time was not on anyone's radar, would eventually be gentrified and the MTR would go in across the road. I own several apartments and this was the one I hated the most to begin with but I always loved the tree which grows right outside it."
Pun rented the then-three-bedroom apartment out to university students for seven years. However, last year she decided to renovate, after hearing from former tenant and friend Sarah Yoon, who had returned to Hong Kong from her native Korea and was looking for somewhere to live.
"Sarah saw the floor plan and really liked the sound of the apartment so that gave me the incentive to do something with it," says Pun. "It was by then very rundown inside."
Gutting the flat allowed a new layout that increased the sense of space. The three pokey bedrooms became one and in place of several cramped communal rooms, Pun created a single open-plan living, dining and kitchen area.
"The biggest renovation challenge was my budget," she says. "I couldn't justify spending a lot on beautiful wooden flooring and lavish fixtures but I still wanted the apartment to be homely. Thanks to a suggestion from an architect friend, I found these distressed, vintage-style Spanish tiles. They were reasonably priced and were a much better-looking alternative to cheap wooden flooring."
Pun built the rest of the look from there, keeping shelving and kitchen units in block colours so they didn't compete with the intricate flooring.
Key to Pun's designing style is her use of colour. She painted the living room shelving emerald green and made the kitchen a shiny grey, the bathroom a mustard yellow. She also painted a block of colour on each of the three doors in the apartment (see Tried + tested).
"I don't do all white or all grey - I need colour and like a home to have a bubbly element," she says. "I once stayed at the Philippe Starck-designed Royalton Hotel, in New York, and it was so neutral it was depressing. I was so glad when Sarah said she had a lot of orange boxes because they are the perfect fit with the yellow, green and grey decor."
Yoon, who is a lawyer by profession but is training to be a master of wine, is more than happy with her home, in which she has been living since late last year.
"I hadn't lived in this area before and, if not for Debbie, I would never have considered moving out of Mid-Levels [where she lived during her first stint in Hong Kong 10 years ago]," she says. "Sai Ying Pun is convenient for work and socialising and although it doesn't have a typical Hong Kong view, it reminds me of being at school in England, which I like."
Because Pun knew what Yoon wanted from an apartment, she almost tailor-made the flat to suit her needs - which meant including as much storage as possible. She created a small walk-in wardrobe out of dead space around a doorway, built a hollow bed base in which to store infrequently used items and devoted several cupboards in the dining area to house shoes. She also mounted artful shelving units to hold Yoon's collection of wine glasses.
"I'm a very tidy person and like everything to have its place," says Yoon. "Having my glasses on the wall reflects my interests and they are also easily accessible. And even though it's a small apartment, I can actually have friends round for dinner - not just drinks."
What sets this apartment apart from other furnished accommodation is the eclectic mixture of items - old with new and one-off treasures alongside mass-produced pieces. The dining chairs, for example, were originally from Charlotte Horstmann & Gerald Godfrey, a now-defunct shop in Ocean Terminal that specialised in vintage pieces. A friend gave them to Pun, who had them re-upholstered. These are teamed with a dinner service made and painted by the tenant's artist mother, Jean Yoon, and an antique Chinese stool that was redecorated by a couple of French women in Shanghai. Beside wooden wall art from Tree and a sofa bed from Pricerite are a hanging light that Pun picked up on a trip to Manila, in the Philippines, and a quirky stool from Lane Crawford.
"I studied at the Inchbald School of Design [in London] and I've been trained to recognise beautiful things and put them together with more ordinary objects," says Pun. "This apartment turned out to be a great space to work with - and hopefully to live in, too."
Living area The wooden wall art (HK$2,500) came from Tree (various locations; www.tree.com.hk) and the sofa bed was HK$2,477 from Pricerite (various locations; www.pricerite.com.hk). The coffee table was about HK$14,000 from Lane Crawford (2 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2118 2288). Covering the floor throughout most of the apartment are distressed-style Spanish tiles (HK$13.50 per piece) from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 3013). The cushions, throw and objects on the coffee table were all bought or given to Sarah Yoon years ago.
Dining area detail The shelving combination cost HK$5,510 from Tree. The wine glasses are by Riedel and were bought from Galerie du Vin (55 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2854 2987) and the silver ice bucket was about HK$1,800 from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com). The mirrors were from Boots (www.boots.com), in London, Britain, and the black lacquer box is a Glenmorangie whisky box. The sheep, from Lane Crawford, were gifts.
Dining area Debbie Pun had the dining chairs re-upholstered for HK$1,500 each at Dragon Interior (35B Wellington Street, tel: 2523 1843). The dining table is from Yoon’s home in Seoul, Korea, and the stool was HK$1,800 from Tsai Yun Studio (www.tsaiyunstudio.com), in Shanghai. The china bowls and plates were made by Yoon’s mother, artist Jean Yoon. The floor lamp (about HK$7,000) by the windows was picked up on a trip to Manila.
Living area detail The green shelving and audiovisual unit cost HK$28,000 in total. The wooden corner table (HK$1,700, including postage) came from Homes-Up (www.homes-up.com), in Shanghai. The orange-and-white French stool was about HK$13,000 from Lane Crawford.
Bedroom The headboard and bed frame (HK$6,000 excluding mattress) were made by contractor Sam Leung; for his details, call Pun on 9091 7091. The bedside tables (HK$400 each) were bought in a sale at Shambala (2/F, Horizon Plaza, 1 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 2997). The pink bedside lamp was about HK$300 from Ikea and the spotted throw is a pashmina by Dries Van Noten (www.driesvannoten.be). The painting is by Miriam Rojas, from Candy Darling (5 Po Tuck Street, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 9091 7091).
Bathroom The distressed-style Spanish floor tiles also feature in the bathroom, teamed with more regular tiles, also from Hop Hing Lung Material.
Kitchen The contractor, Leung, built the kitchen (HK$55,000, excluding appliances).
TRIED + TESTED
Slamming doors Debbie Pun painted a square of bold colour on the bottom half of the apartment's three interior doors. Each one echoes the colours used in other areas (such as the mustard bathroom tiles and green shelves in the living room) and unites the decorating scheme.
"It's not a new apartment but that doesn't mean it can't be funky," says Pun. "Painting the whole door yellow or green would have been too boring."
Styling: David Roden