Having lived in Hong Kong for eight years, German architect Christian Lange (who is also an educator at the University of Hong Kong) decided in early 2015 that it was time he and his wife, Alice Hui Jing-yeung, got their feet on the city’s housing ladder. They bought a 449 sq ft walk-up apartment in Sai Ying Pun and began renovations that May.
“We couldn’t afford to buy much in Hong Kong and this apartment was a real mess when we first saw it,” says Lange. “It had lots of walls dividing the space into tiny rooms but I could instantly tell by knocking on them that I would be able to remove most of them. It gave the flat instant potential.”
It didn’t take long for Lange to come up with a floor plan. He wanted to make the space as open as possible so that, despite its size, it wouldn’t feel cramped. Out came the partition walls and the small grilled windows – and in their place went lots of glass.
“We have surprisingly high ceilings and windows on all four sides of the apartment, which is rare in Hong Kong and was another reason we chose this place,” says Lange. “I substituted all the original windows with two large, picture windows that let in a lot of light and can slide right open. This links the interior to its urban environment, blurring the boundaries between the two.”
Although the neighbourhood has been touched by gentrification, the couple’s apartment is set amid bustling, vibrant, working surroundings.
“I wanted a ‘glass house’ feel in the sense of being an integral part of the immediate environment even though we were inside. But we also wanted somewhere very calm and neutral, the complete opposite to all the busy-ness going on outside,” says Lange. “I like curves and forms but this small space needed to be as clean and as minimal as possible, kept down to its absolute essence.”
The two bedrooms are separated from the living space by glass. This posed one of Lange’s biggest renovation challenges because the staircase was too narrow and the doorway too small to get the large sheets of glass into the apartment. Lange’s contractor built a small crane inside the flat and hoisted the glass up the three storeys from street level. White translucent curtains can be pulled across the “walls” for privacy but still allow a modicum of light to pass through.
“The bathroom is accessible only via the master bedroom and is also partitioned by glass – if you put in a solid wall, both areas would feel much smaller,” he says. “Before we started renovations, we did think about what guests would do. However, as there are usually only us and our young daughter, Lika [two], we decided to go ahead with the glass and have the apartment the way we felt it would work best for us.”
All clean lines, white walls and concrete flooring, the apartment is exceedingly spare. Lange isn’t a fan of clutter and his previous apartment came fully furnished so the family didn’t have many possessions to accommodate. Furniture, which was either custom made or bought to fit the apartment, has been kept to absolute necessities, although storage has been integrated into every nook and cranny, such as under the master bed and in the flat’s few dividing walls.
A few dots of colour – bright green cushions on an ochre sofa, a wooden dining table, brass panelling in the master bedroom – act as counterpoints to the almost monochromatic interior.
“The sheet of reflective brass, which was stuck onto the wall, acts as a feature and stops the room from feeling too sterile,” says Lange. “It acquires a patina over time and changes colour. It isn’t a uniform colour, which makes it even more interesting. If it gets too dark, we just polish it again.”
Burnished concrete is used throughout the flat to unify the space while also adding tone and texture.
“You can’t tell in advance what colour or effect you’re going to get [with concrete],” he says. “It depends on how much water is added, how the workmen lay it. There are so many nuances of grey and it always looks clean so it makes a beautiful contribution to the interior.”
The apartment is devoid of artwork and photographs but, thanks to the colour of the surrounding streets, the nearby business district, the harbour and the park, the flat does not feel stark.
“We love this neighbourhood because of its textures, facades and scenes. It has a wonderful mix of local identity and new life – such as car repair shops next door to trendy cafés,” says Lange. “We look out at it every day so you could say this is our art. Even better, it never gets boring.”
The custom-made Murphy bed (left; HK$20,000 including shelving) was designed by Rocker-Lange Architects and made by Christian Lange’s contractor, Shing Yip Services (12/F, Block 1, Golden Dragon Industrial Centre, 152 Tai Lin Pai Road, Kwai Chung, tel: 3427 5138).
A work nook was created outside the bedrooms, which rely on curtains for privacy. The chair (98 yuan/HK$114) was sourced through Taobao.
The Escaso solid oak dining table cost HK$5,999 from Stockroom. The dining chairs were 98 yuan each through Taobao. The Big Shoom Centrepiece fruit bowl (HK$1,800), by Nigel Coates, was from Alessi. The kitchen cabinetry was designed by Rocker-Lange Architects and made by Lange’s contractor for about HK$95,000.
The Anna Day Bed (HK$16,000) came from Rimba Rhyme Home and the cushions (about HK$150 each) from Ikea. The concrete flooring cost about HK$120 per square foot through Lange’s contractor.
The master bed (HK$16,000), which has built-in storage, was designed by Rocker-Lange Architects and made by Lange’s contractor. The glass between the bedroom and bathroom cost HK$20,500 and the curtain was HK$3,400 from Wai Kee Home. The wall facing the bed is made of brass, which will develop a patina over time.
The Vola shower (HK$20,800) came from Portfolio Group. The custom-made sink (HK$8,000) was designed by Rocker-Lange Architects and made by Lange’s contractor.
TRIED + TESTED
Green shield Planters offer respite in an urban environment. They were custom made by Christian Lange’s contractor in black powder-coated stainless steel for HK$6,000 per unit (measuring 20cm x 20cm by three metres). The herbs were bought from Brighten Floriculture (28 Flower Market Road, Prince Edward, tel: 2381 5330).