Finding an apartment with a private outdoor space in a centrally located part of Hong Kong is no mean feat. Which is why it took Malaysian accountant Joseph Lam two years to find a property that ticked all his boxes.

Housed in a nondescript building near Sai Ying Pun, the 400 sq ft flat, which needed a complete facelift, wasn’t an obvious choice. It was the terrace of the same size with a 180-degree view of Victoria Harbour that sealed the deal.

“I have a very busy schedule and find that plants and gardening give me peace of mind,” says Lam, who has lived in Hong Kong for five years. “For that reason, I wanted a good outdoor space to come home to and relax in. Thanks to the estate agent who had been helping me look, I was lucky enough to be the first person to view this apartment as soon as it came on the market. Despite its condition, I knew instantly I’d found my home.”

Designers work magic in a 309 sq ft Hong Kong microflat

Lam contacted designer Dylan Tan Dar-luen, whose work he had seen and admired in these pages. They began collaborating on the renovation, which took about three months to complete.

“The original layout wasn’t space efficient so that was one of my priorities,” Lam says. “Dylan helped me to maxi­mise the space by incorporating storage into every nook and cranny.”

Fortunately, Lam was used to living in small apartments – he says he has actually upsized with his current one-bedroom, one-bathroom home – and didn’t have a lot of bulky possessions. In addition to custom-made furniture, it helped that he was able to buy versatile pieces to work with the space rather than try and squeeze in existing items.

The sofa, for example, has detach­able, hollow arms that offer a bit more storage as well as acting as stools for the breakfast counter. One of the book­shelves is purposefully wide and tall enough to double as a workspace with room for a laptop and a lamp. Elsewhere are floor-to-ceiling cupboards, and nifty cabinets and shelves that make use of even the smallest space. Several “books” are actually boxes, in which bits and pieces, such as phone and computer leads, can be stowed.

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“With a small apartment, everything has to be precise, down to a few millimetres,” Tan says. “If you’re even slightly off, you have to redo it.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge was the kitchen area. Lam wanted to fit in all the requisite appliances, incorporate a breakfast bar and include an aquarium, which meant there would be no space for drawers. To get round this, Tan found wall-mounted containers and countertop boxes for cutlery and other kitchen essentials.

“I wanted something in the central area that was very alive, very peaceful,” Lam says. “The gentle sound of the water in the aquarium is calming and there is the feng shui element, too. I had to decide what my priorities for the space were – and the fish won over the cutlery drawers.”

Proof that in a 480 sq ft Hong Kong flat, less is more

The colour palette (indoors and out) is an earthy, masculine mix of charcoal grey, dark brown and white. Lam wasn’t initially convinced by the liberal use of white but he eventually went with Tan’s suggestions and is more than happy with the result.

“I thought that having white focus walls looked too much like a hospital – I wanted to paint them beige,” he says. “We kept to-ing and fro-ing and Dylan won but he was absolutely right because the white works. The apartment looks brighter and more spacious, and the white makes the darker colours look stronger.”

The apartment’s pièce de résistance is, of course, the spectacular terrace and its uninterrupted views of the harbour, the Tsing Yi and Stonecutters bridges and Tai Mo Shan in the distance. Although it also overlooks the expressway, it is sufficiently high up to avoid noise pollution and, as Lam points out, nobody will be able to build directly in front of him and block his view.

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Tan laid wooden decking over half of the original floor tiles and used the same wood on the sides and back of the terrace, to make it more private. He then created separate seating areas for drinking, dining and lounging as well as installing practical features such as an outdoor sink, barbecue and more storage. Lam added plants and although the terrace looks spectacularly complete, he feels it is still a work in progress, needing more greenery and a small beer fridge to make it perfect.

“The best part of living here has got to be the outdoors, with its wonderful view,” he says. “I’ve been here now about 18 months and I never get tired of looking at it – it is always changing and I love the different light at the different times of day. The bridges and buildings light up at night and I can see the Disneyland fireworks display every evening. Coming out here after work is a great way to end the day.”

Stylist: David Roden

Terrace (above and below) The bench/table was made for HK$4,500 by Top Floor Engineering (376 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3568 6263). The black candleholders (HK$50 each) were sourced through Taobao. The sofa came with the flat.

The concrete countertop in the kitchenette was made by Hung Hin (3/F, Kam Mong Building, 39A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, tel: 6018 4988) for HK$9,000. The plants were from Prince Edward Flower Market, Mong Kok.

Living area The sofa with detachable arms (HK$9,800) was custom made by Hung Hin. The pleated coffee tables each cost 300 yuan (HK$350) through Taobao. The reindeer-skin rug and pictures were bought years ago.

Bedroom The custom-made hydraulic bed with side table (HK$26,000) and bookshelves (HK$9,000) were made by Hung Hin. The bedside lamp was 250 yuan through Taobao. The art was bought years ago.

Kitchen The kitchen cabinets (HK$106,800) and appliances were all from Euro Cucina. The pendant lamp was 250 yuan through Taobao. The countertop drawers were from King Tak Hong Porcelain. The engineered wood flooring throughout the apartment was HK$58 per square foot from Top Floor Engineering. The fish tank (HK$350) was bought through Taobao.

Study area The shelving unit was custom made by Hung Hin for HK$29,000 and the desk lamp was HK$9,500 from Lane Crawford Home Store.

Bathroom The Duravit toilet (HK$6,880) and Hansgrohe mixer (HK$4,480) were from Happy Face Discount Depot (287 Lockhart Road, tel: 2923 5090). The custom-made wall-hung mirrored cabinet was HK$12,000 from Hung Hin. The drawer unit and magazine holder were both bought in Singapore years ago.

Bathroom with a view Designer Dylan Tan (tel: 9828 9313; cut out a rectangular hole in the wood above the outdoor sink so that when homeowner Joseph Lam is in his bathroom he isn’t confronted with planking but has another window through to the view. This simple but clever idea adds another dimension to the bathroom, making it seem larger and offering a more enjoyable experience. “The rectangular cutout connects the interior with the outdoors and gives more depth to the space,” Tan says. “If you have a view as good as this, it doesn’t make sense to block it up”