Micro apartments: a fancy name for a longestablished phenomenon, a solution to global overpopulation or a bit of both? Living in tiny spaces is hardly a new concept in Hong Kong, but with developers showing an appetite for smaller units and first-time buyers and young renters alike finding them a handy first rung on the property ladder, this housing category seems to be here to stay.
At 250 square feet, Kai Walker’s home in Shek Tong Tsui fits the “micro” bill. Situated in a 1967 building near the University of Hong Kong MTR station, the apartment may be small on space, but it’s big on style.
While it seems slightly ludicrous to call the space “open-plan”, the apartment formerly – somewhat incredibly – had two bedrooms. Planned down to the last square inch, the space now houses a double bed, a living area, a kitchen and even workout equipment, as well as a separate bathroom. It’s youthful, cheerful and inviting, without feeling cramped. And for that, 29-year-old Walker can thank his mother and landlord, Debbie Pun, of Debbie Deco.
“I love it!” Walker says. “Mum’s an interior designer so I didn’t interfere. I don’t have the vision she has, but I love what she’s done. I spent my childhood watching her transform apartments and what she does is incredible. We have a similar sense of humour, and you have to have humour in a space this size. It works. It’s cosy, easy to keep tidy and I like the neighbourhood. I couldn’t afford to live here any other way. I have lots of friends in the area and they all love my apartment – there’s often five or six people hanging out here.”
After years working in Shanghai and Singapore for fast-fashion chain H&M, Walker returned to Hong Kong about a year ago. Rather than move back into the family home, he wanted to continue living independently. His first call was to Pun, who owns a number of apartments in the area.
“It’s the smallest property we have,” says Pun, who is also a gallery owner. “When the previous tenant moved out, my husband said we could renovate for Kai, but only on a tight budget. I spent very little, although there was a bit of asset transfer” – she pats the Ligne Roset chair on which she is sitting – “and the sofa [Togo loveseat, also from Ligne Roset] would have taken at least half the budget. That was my Christmas present to Kai.”
As any fashionista can attest, the secret is to mix cheaper items with more expensive key pieces. It’s a philosophy Pun adopted with aplomb; as well as the designer sofa, she splashed out on statement curtains that now sit happily alongside cut-price pieces.
“I spent quite a bit on curtains from Madura, but the wardrobe fittings are from Ikea and the bed is by Pricerite. Very cheap,” Pun says.
Getting the scale right was also important to prevent the apartment feeling cramped. Low slung and with minimal detail, the Togo loveseat – a design classic by Michel Ducaroy – helps the space around it appear larger.
Similarly, the other living-room furniture is scaled down to fit the space, but with bright pops of colour that add a sense of playfulness.
Good space planning was crucial. The open wardrobe sits neatly in a window alcove behind the bed, filtering light through generously spaced shoe shelves and hanging rails bearing an impeccably edited collection of suits and shirts. (“Busted! I have another wardrobe at mum’s,” Walker confesses.)
“The perfect thing is that the apartment’s so compact but has everything in it. It reminds me of a boat cabin,” he says.
The latest tech also works to the advantage of micro apartments, Pun says. “People don’t need so many gadgets these days, just a smartphone and a computer. That really helps.”
Tucked into a small passageway by the front door, the kitchen is functional and stylish, with a stainless-steel splashback, a one-ring induction hob and a washing machine. However, Walker says, the Nespresso machine is the appliance that gets most use. Like many Hongkongers with micro apartments, he spends most of his time out and about.
“I’m on the road around Greater China most weeks and I’m always out at weekends. I have the facilities to cook but I rarely eat at home – there are loads of restaurants in the neighbourhood. But I do make good use of the chin-up bar [see Tried + tested],” he says.
“The apartment works. Hong Kong can be so extortionate, but this is an affordable way for young professionals to live in a desirable neighbourhood. It’s my sanctuary. It’s nice to have somewhere to call home. Will I still be here when I’m older, or married? No. But at this stage of my life, it’s perfect.”
Styling: David Roden
Living area “The Phil Clarke painting was my favourite when I was growing up,” Kai Walker says of the Australian beach scene. Like the flower by Miriam Rojas, it came from Debbie Pun’s gallery, Candy Darling (5 Po Tuck Street, Shek Tong Tsui, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 9091 7091). The Togo loveseat (HK$32,000) and felt easy chair, by Delo Lindo (HK$12,000), were both from Ligne Roset (77 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2778 8748). The white NesTable (HK$5,700), by Jasper Morrison for Vitra, came from Aluminium (various locations; www.aluminium-furniture.com). The turquoise-topped bamboo side table (399 yuan/HK$476) was from Homes-Up (www.homes-up.com), in Shanghai. The green cushion (HK$500) was from Shanghai’s Tsai Yun Studio (www.tsaiyunstudio.com). The ceiling lamp (HK$249.90) and floor lamp (HK$429) were from Ikea. The Mr Fox cushion (HK$700) came from Madura (various locations; www.madura.hk).
Bedroom The mattress and bed base (HK$5,500) were from Pricerite (various locations; www.pricerite.com.hk). The Stolmen wardrobe and drawers system (HK$6,500) were from Ikea. The basket was 400 yuan from Homes-Up. Pun’s whippet, George, is an occasional visitor.
Kitchen The kitchen units (HK$8,000), countertop (HK$1,800) and splashback (HK$2,500) were custom made by Pun’s contractor, Sam Leung Tak-chung, who can be contacted through her at 9091 7091. The hanging system (HK$600) was from Hung Ming Metal Supplies (294 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2827 1261). The clock (HK$220) was from Ikea.
View from the entrance The kitchen tap was HK$990 from Shun Lee Building Materials (various locations; www.shunlee.com.hk). The upholstered stool (HK$2,000) was from Tsai Yun Studio. The walls are painted in Oyster Bay, by Sherwin Williams (www.sherwin-williams.com).
Bathroom The toilet, basin, shower and bathroom tap (about HK$2,500) all came from Shun Lee Building Materials. The wall tiles (HK$75 each) and floor tiles (HK$77 each) were from Colourliving (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2295 6263). The cabinets (HK$300) were from Ikea.
Television area The Stolmen open shelving (HK$1,300) and full-length mirror (HK$1,800) were from Ikea. The fridge and drawer unit (HK$3,800) was custom-made by the contractor. The steel protectors on the corners of the walls were custom made for HK$3,200 (for the entire apartment) by Jack Chan (tel: 9334 3103).
TRIED + TESTED
Raise the bar Bolted to the ceiling and a structural beam separating the living area and bedroom, the chin-up bar gets a lot of use. "I like the raw industrial look of it," Kai Walker says. "And a friend - he's a bit of a monster - has tried it so I know it's not going anywhere."
The bar cost HK$2,000 and came from Debbie Pun's contractor, Sam Leung Tak-chung, who can be contacted through her (tel: 9091 7091).