Renovations have a habit of snowballing. What begin as modest plans can quickly turn into a full-blown demolition.
“When we started out, we were only going to move one wall,” muses the owner of a 2,800 sq ft apartment in Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels. “But once we moved one wall, we realised we would have to replace the floor and the skirting, and then we would want to replace the rest to match. Then we decided to replace a window and that meant replacing all the windows. In the end we kept only the bathroom in the guest bedroom.”
With plans escalating rapidly, the American owner and her Australian husband – who work together in private equity – called in Hong Kong-born interior designer Nicole Cromwell.
The couple wanted their new home “to look more like a colonial-style apartment, in keeping with the age of the [1970s] building, and less like a box”. With no children to accommodate and a generously proportioned five-bedroom apartment to work with, Cromwell set about reconfiguring the space.
Two former en-suite bedrooms and a hallway were combined to create a large master suite with a white-marble bathroom and his-and-hers walk-in wardrobes. A third bedroom became a study with a library wall. A fourth was converted into a snug television room off the main living space, with feature double doors upholstered in blue leather for soundproofing and studded with bronze tacks.
Bronze hardware features throughout the home, from the light switches to the kitchen sink – taps, door handles and all.
“We didn’t want to use chrome. The bronze adds softness and it’s classy, but it weighs a ton,” says Cromwell.“The contractors had to build a special case to get the sink into the apartment – they weren’t very happy.”
The workmen struggled almost as much with the panels of charcoal-grey marble installed on the kitchen countertops, which were too big to fit in the lift and had to be carried up 13 flights of stairs.
A huge sliding door converts the kitchen layout from open-plan to traditional in one smooth movement.
“It’s one of my favourite features,” says the owner. “I love to cook and while I’m working in the kitchen my husband can sit at the counter to chat or make a cocktail, but after a dinner party we can close the kitchen off while the helper clears up.”
As well as the cocktail bar in one corner of the kitchen, the former pantry and a helper’s room – one of two – became a dedicated wine area, with three wine coolers to house a growing collection. Storage cupboards in the pantry and wine room are painted the same tone as the kitchen cabinets.
“We wanted it to look cohesive,” Cromwell says. Sure enough, the wine counter is dressed with a Buddha statue creating an attractive nook when viewed from the kitchen. Shelves above the kitchen peninsula keep cookbooks handy, while a large Chinese ancestor portrait blurs the boundary between kitchen and living room when the sliding door is open.
Collected over the couple’s 10 years in Hong Kong, their Chinese contemporary art pieces were the starting point for much of the design. A favourite piece hangs over the fireplace, the focus of the living area with a grey-marble surround and a living-flame gas fire.
Vibrant as the artworks are, they are far from the only colour in the apartment, which features furnishings in delicious shades of plum, chartreuse, burgundy and milk chocolate in sumptuous fabrics such as velvet and leather.
“I loved that they wanted such rich colours. So many people in Hong Kong go very neutral, so this was refreshing for me,” Cromwell says.
Setting the tone for the apartment, in the entrance hall is a gorgeous panel of charcoal silk wallpaper hand-painted with flowers and birds, specially commissioned to fit the space.
“I was flicking through a magazine the other day and Gwyneth Paltrow has the same design in her house,” Cromwell says.
A vindication of good taste if ever there were one.