When David Wenger and Luke Phillips moved into their Mid-Levels flat a year ago, it was a shell. Air-conditioning units had been ripped out and wires draped across the ceiling to a single light bulb hanging from the centre of the livingarea. The task ahead was considerable but compelling.
“If you’ve lived in Hong Kong long enough, you worry less about aesthetics, which can be fixed, and worry more about space,” says Wenger, a Canadian lawyer who moved to the city eight years ago. “We knew the space was good – the rooms were big, the ceilings were high and it had a balcony.”
Renting the 1,250 sq ft unit, with its green view and convenient location, was a no-brainer, despite downsizing from two bedrooms to one. It meant compromises, but these have been creatively handled. The bedroom and office, for example, were combined by including a desk at the end of the bed.
“You can’t sleep and work at the same time,” says Wenger.
The flat’s most appealing aspects are its ample room for entertaining – Wenger regularly cooks up five-course meals for dinner parties – and abundant wall space to showcase the couple’s impressive art collection. Wenger has been collecting for about 25 years.
“When I open the door and see the art surrounding me it gives me a real sense of home, a real sense of us,” he says.
The pair frequent Hong Kong’s many galleries and art fairs. “Now we are buying less because the apartment is quite full, but things will still take our fancy,” says Wenger, who this year purchased pieces at Art Basel, Affordable Art Fair and Art Central. “We’ve been going over door frames and up higher, closer to the ceiling, buying deliberately where we know things can be squished in.”
The salon style of the flat sees paintings cover most of the walls, with close to 60 works in the living room, about 15 in the bedroom, six in the bathroom and a couple in the kitchen. It was a challenge to achieve – especially because it was one they chose to take on themselves.
“You have to think of the wall as a canvas and about how you are going to put all the bits onto the canvas so that they look balanced,” says Wenger.
Over several weeks, the couple took measurements and mapped out positions before the drill was allowed near the walls. The result: hanging perfection, with paintings aligned, centred and well spaced.
Figurative works dominate, sculpture plays a part and pops of colour are added with glass pieces. Highlights include works by British husband-and-wife duo Rob and Nick Carter, who embrace digital technology in their moving art, while the centrepiece of the flat is the neon and textile work Magic Orange, by Japanese-Australian artist Hiromi Tango. With its weight and irregular shape, it was one of the hardest to hang.
With such abundant visual stimulation, some balance was necessary.
“There’s so much going on in the apartment that it needs to be reined in a little,” says Phillips, a former professor of philosophy from New York, who arrived in Hong Kong three years ago.
Moderation is achieved by the use of subtle furniture, with several pieces from B&B Italia and others in a similar style from local brand Idea & Design Furniture.
“The furniture is not meant to stand out,” says Wenger.
“We tried to give the room a bit of depth,” adds Phillips. “With the pendant light and kangaroos and the pussy willow and orchids, we tried to do various levels. It’s essential because otherwise everything is against the walls and there is nothing of interest in the middle of the room.”
Though little bare wall remains, the pair already have a few ideas about how things could be moved around, should they buy more art.
Those measuring tapes may well be deployed again soon.
Entrance The Creso sideboard (HK$155,400), by Antonio Citterio for Maxalto, came from Dentro. Above it is an artwork titled Fish Market, Manaus (1999), by Peter Callas, from Melbourne’s Arc One Gallery. The four paintings on top are part of a set of six, titled The Desirables (2010), by Marc Standing, and came from Shanghai gallery Art Labor.
Dining area The centrepiece in the dining area, Magic Orange (2014), by Hiromi Tango, came from the Sullivan+Strumpf gallery, in Sydney, Australia. To the left are Everything has Changed (2002; top), a nude by Jason Benjamin, and Lucy Culliton’s Audrey (bottom; featuring three dogs), both of whom are represented by the Jan Murphy Gallery, in Brisbane.
On the far left, the aboriginal work (top), by Billy Thomas, was bought at auction, and Springwood Geoff (1991; bottom), by Euan Macleod, came from Watters Gallery in Sydney. To the right are Philharmonica (top), by Gustavo López Armentia, bought in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Polly Borland’s Dog – Smudge Series (bottom, right) from Murray White Room, in Melbourne.
Around the dining table, from B&B Italia, are chairs that David Wenger had made in Australia years ago. The Flexform sofa is covered in Fox Linton mohair (HK$1,410 per metre) from Altfield Interiors, where the Pollack fabric (HK$2,360 per yard) that covers the cushions is also available.
Living area The low sideboard is by Idea & Design Furniture and was bought years ago. On it is an eggshell work titled Vassoio (2011), by Bertozzi + Casoni, which came from New York’s Sperone Westwater Gallery. Flanking it are table lamps (HK$9,000 each) by Louis Poulsen, who also designed the Artichoke LED Pendant Light (HK$119,140), all of which are available at Manks.
The artwork above the sideboard, titled An Architecture of Happiness, is by Australian artist Danie Mellor and came from the Michael Reid gallery in Sydney. Mellor also made the boxing kangaroos. The chair was from Wenger’s previous home in Sydney and is upholstered in African mud cloth. The Calder coffee table, by Rodolfo Dordoni for Minotti, came from Andante.
Living area detail The video artwork, Transforming Nude (2013), is by Rob and Nick Carter and came from Hong Kong’s Ben Brown Fine Arts. Beside it hangs Unmovable (2013), a ceramic sculpture by María García-Ibañez that was bought from Puerta Roja, in Hong Kong.
The purple bottle, titled It was the Abyss of Human Emotion (2013), is by Oliver Clegg. The dog sculpture, Autoportrait (Nuts) (2014), by Bastien Aubry and Dimitri Broquard, was from Murray White Room. The Mida cabinet (HK$183,500), by Antonio Citterio for Maxalto, came from Dentro.
Entrance to bedroom The artworks (clockwise from top left) are: The Reader (2015), by Tami Bahat, from Van Rensburg Galleries, in Hong Kong; Tangerine (2018), by Dana Zaltzman, from Zemack Contemporary Art, in Tel Aviv, Israel; Poppy’s Bird for Penny, by Julie Fragar, from a gallery in Sydney that has since closed; and Rob and Nick Carter’s Transforming Still Life (2012), from Ben Brown Fine Arts.
In the bedroom, the bookcase was by Idea & Design, and the Eames Aluminium Group Management chairs (HK$22,952 each) were from Herman Miller. The rug was picked up in Turkey.
Bedroom The desk, by Idea & Design, and the sideboard, from B&B Italia, were bought years ago. The large artworks are Uncle Pat (2011; left), by Alan Jones, from Sydney’s Olsen Gallery, and Prince/Zavros 14 (2013; right), by Michael Zavros, from Starkwhite Gallery, in Auckland, New Zealand.
Tried + tested
Turn the table To upgrade Ikea’s plain Melltorp table (HK$499), David Wenger simply replaced the top with a slab of polished granite. A second table base and a second piece of stone (two were made for HK$500 from Au Pak Marble, 268 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 1816) double the space. When an even bigger table is needed, out comes an additional half-sized leaf (HK$125), stretching the top to fit eight people.