Architect makes small flat a tranquil haven in heart of Hong Kong
By opening up a formerly cramped flat in the centre of the city's bustling Wan Chai district, an architect let the space speak for itself, writes Christopher DeWolf
When Francesco Sacconi and his wife, Katherine, bought a 1960s-era flat on busy Wan Chai Road last year their new neighbours were surprised.
"They asked us why we'd bought it [when] it was ugly, dusty, dirty, packed," says Sacconi, a Milan-born designer. "But it had a lot of potential and was really adaptable, even if it was pretty small."
Small is right - the space barely measures 450 square feet. Luckily, Sacconi's training as an architect allowed him to see that it could accommodate his family of three, including the couple's newborn baby, and a burgeoning art collection.
"We let the space speak for itself," he says.
It told him to remove as many walls as possible, which revealed a simple, rectangular space bisected by a heavy ceiling beam. Sacconi used the beam to build what he calls a "suspended storage island", an L-shaped structure that floats above and around the open kitchen.
"It's so big, two people could sleep there," he says. "It's for winter clothes, artworks we don't use, and all that."
Sacconi, who has lived in Hong Kong since 2010, knew precisely what needed to be done.
"Everything was about finding the right balance," he says. "We wanted to find a way to make the kitchen big without killing the proportion of the space."
That was achieved by installing the suspended storage unit, which helps define the living area by creating a pseudo-corridor lined by cabinets. This passage leads to the sole, albeit spacious, bedroom with a baby nook on one side, the couple's bed on the other and a double-sided bookshelf in between.
Next to the bedroom is a bathroom, which Sacconi reduced in size, lowering the ceiling to provide room for a split air-conditioning unit. He kept the original ceiling height in the shower to create a sauna effect. "It fills up with steam at the top and it's very relaxing," he says.
The flat is full of subtle space-saving features, such as a cutting board that fits over the sink, and a shallow work desk that stands alongside a wall. And while the sofa is small, it has a stunning view.
"If you sit there you can look across at the window, which is so beautiful," says Sacconi, pointing across the room and out to lush podium gardens, traffic on Wan Chai Road and a row of elegantly restored shophouses on Mallory Street.
To maximise views and airflow, windows were enlarged as much as building codes would allow.
"In the bedroom, there are windows on both sides, so it creates a cross-ventilation effect," he says.
Because the couple have begun to assemble an art collection, they wanted the flat's décor to be as simple as possible, to allow the art to stand out. So far, works include small pieces by French and Italian artists, along with Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor. Two replicas of Ju Ming's tai chi sculptures sit on a display shelf built into a living-room cabinet that Sacconi designed.
Despite the emphasis on simplicity, there are a few show-stopping design elements, many of which Sacconi bought while living in various cities in Europe. On the floor are a couple of cowhide rugs he bought in London, where he also found Eames dining chairs and a brushed-nickel pharmacy lamp that now illuminates the work desk.
"It's really the perfect place to live," he says. "Your mind feels at peace as soon as you come back home."
On Wan Chai Road, that's nothing to take for granted.
Styling: David Roden
Bedroom (above and below) Sacconi designed the bookshelf, which was built for HK$6,000 by Joinwell Multiplex. The cot was a gift; the pouf was from a previous home; and the coat rack (HK$299) came from Ikea.
Bathroom Sacconi designed the mirror and cabinet, which Joinwell Multiplex built for HK$15,000. The Hatria toilet cost HK$4,100 from Hop Lung Building Materials (300 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 2274).
TRIED + TESTED
Francesco Sacconi had no choice but to keep the structural ceiling beam that bisects the apartment, so he used it to mask the split air-conditioning unit, which can't be seen unless you look at it from directly underneath. "It works because the space is so small," he says.