Some homes have a focal point, be it a feature wall, a staircase or a chandelier. But this Pok Fu Lam penthouse dispenses with any central element, engaging you instead from every angle with art.
Turn one way and a bronze nude crawls from a wall; swivel around and a lurid attack dog puts you on guard; look back at the entrance and an old payphone dares the visitor to make a call: place the receiver to your ear, however, and you might be shocked by the message you hear.
If the works on the ground floor haven’t set your brain on fire, a David LaChapelle photograph should ignite a few sparks. The American photographer’s sylvan Pietà depicts Jesus cradling the body of the late “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson.
These pieces and more turn Warren Lee’s 3,200 sq ft duplex into a private gallery, where art covers the walls of every room, including the smallest (where Mona Lisa’s eyes follow your every movement). Not surprisingly, perhaps, the collections were behind the British entrepreneur’s decision to snap up the three-bedroom unit a year ago. “I was fed up with having all my art in storage,” he says.
Lee, who has been in Asia for three decades (and in Hong Kong since 1994), wasted no time in refurbishing the unit to suit his style. Having overhauled and sold a Repulse Bay flat, he had the confidence to undertake his latest project without a designer but with the help of a contractor.
“We tore the place apart,” Lee recalls. During that time the floors on both levels were resurfaced with ceramic tiles that mimic marble. “I had marble before and it was a nightmare,” he says. “Ceramics are amazing; you can splash wine on it and it cleans up. And the dogs can lick their food off the floor.”
A beagle, a poodle and a King Charles spaniel share the duplex with Lee, his son, a friend and their helper.
“I have my little farm,” Lee jokes, surrounded by his life-sized fibreglass mutt, a couple of woolly sheep, antique camels and a stuffed peacock whose tail feathers graze the ground. “The dogs have trimmed the bottom of it.”
Little, if anything, is ordinary. And that goes for the sea-view corridor, which, on the lower floor, stretches from a bedroom at one end, through the kitchen and across the living room, to a semicircular balcony. In fine weather, when doors and windows are left open, breezes make air conditioners redundant.
“Seeing both sides [from the living area] really kicked it off for me,” says Lee.
In the lounge, even the “blank canvas”of concrete-look wallpaper is bold. Unchanged, however, was the staircase, beside a kitchen now with bells and whistles. Amid new cabinetry and appliances, Lee installed an extendable counter and a cabinet that can be hidden by an automated, mirrored Venetian blind.
On the top floor, his bedroom suite leads onto an open work area and television lounge, from where the terrace can be accessed. For convenience, a bar was installed beside an outdoor dining table, and, to set the scene, a vertical garden was created beside a convertible pond (when covered, the area serves as a lounger).
Lee’s bedroom is also a conversation starter, not least because of a Roberto Cavalli chaise longue in the shape of a bear. Beside it are wall-to-wall white cupboards whose doors resemble piano keys. In a corner a skull sits on a table with fur drawers, custom made during a previous life. And by the bed is the en suite bathroom, open save for a glass shower enclosure.
The lights in this bathroom, like those elsewhere in the duplex, are unusual – naturally. In here, illumination shatters the vanity mirror; above the kitchen counter it reflects from mercury-like blobs; and from the top floor, it falls in a rainbow of colours. At least that’s what I’m told.
As Lee struggles with the light controls on his mobile phone, I inspect his photographs more carefully. On the main wall, a picture, by Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, shows buildings reduced to rubble in Kabul, Afghanistan. Nearby is the amusing 1974 snap of sport’s first streaker being marched off a rugby field by British bobbies. The exhibitionist, however, has been cut out of the picture. Similarly, the horses trotting through a photo of the Grand Canyon have been erased. A black-and-white series, shot in the Philippines during anti-Marcos demonstrations in the 1970s, continues the theme: the protest banners have been blanked out so viewers can form their own ideas about what they say.
The thought-provoking effect of these creations is not lost on Lee. Ensconced in a B&B Italia chair in the living room, he says, “I sit here just looking at the art.”
Living area Concrete-look wallpaper, from Tat Ming Wallpaper, provides the backdrop for antiquities collected by Warren Lee decades ago. The custom-made red console; B&B Italia leather armchair; Doride Floor lamp (discontinued), from Artemide; drinks trolley; and bust, from a gallery in Bond Street, London, all came from Lee’s previous home.
The B&B Italia blue Metropolitan chairs (HK$30,100/US$3,840 each) and the pouf, which was bought during a sale, were all from colour.living. The rug was from a shop in Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau, and the coffee table between the two blue chairs came from a shop on Duddell Street, Central. The fibreglass dog was bought in Spain years ago.
The Philippe Starck leopard-print Mademoiselle chair (discontinued) on the balcony came from Kartell and the dancing apsara was a gift. The artwork to the left of the balcony is by Mexican artist Jose Dávila and was bought in London, Britain. The fossilised stool was picked on Hollywood Road, Central, decades ago.
Dining area The artworks include (clockwise from centre): a photograph by Dávila, showing cowboys cut out from a landscape; an original Battle of Berlin photograph, from Akim Monet gallery in Berlin, Germany; a bronze sculpture by Italian artist Matteo Pugliese; a photograph from the “Erased Slogans” series by Filipino artist Kiri Dalena, from 1335 Mabini in Metro Manila; a photograph by Sebastião Salgado, showing Kabul’s Jade Maiwand Avenue in 1996, from Sundaram Tagore Gallery; and a picture of the 1974 rugby-match streaker, cut out, from a work by Dávila.
On the table (used outdoors in a previous home) is a Dinosaur Designs vase from Lane Crawford. The chairs, also previously used outdoors, were fitted with covers for their new life indoors.
Kitchen The Erste kitchen, designed by Hugo Lam Ngai-ho, cost about HK$500,000 (appliances not included). The fridges are accommodated in a pantry behind the exposed section. The stemware cupboard can be concealed by an automated mirror Venetian blind. The stools are old. The Skydro ceiling light (about HK$30,000) was from Artemide.
Stairwell The photograph featuring Michael Jackson is titled American Jesus: Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly (2009), by David LaChapelle. The pair of gold-and-white ceramic donkeys (HK$11,800 each), by Matteo Cibic, came from Lane Crawford. The sheep (HK$15,900 each) came from Ovo. The wooden, carved console came from a previous home.
Main bedroom The two photographs framed in white are by Dávila. On the blue table, which has a fur-lined drawer and mirrored top, is a skull by Pugliese, who also created the bronze sculpture on the wall.
On the wool rug, bought from Horizon Plaza, is a Dubhe Bear chaise longue by Roberto Cavalli. The upholstered bench is from the Dagonet collection by Nella Vetrina. The three Prada robots came from Lane Crawford. The bed, bedside table and bedside lamp are years old.
En suite bathroom The shower column (HK$45,700), from the MilanoSlim Waterfall collection, by Fantini, came from colour.living. The 1.8-metre-long Corian basin counter (HK$140,000) came from Boffi. The mirror, with embedded lightning-style light, was made by a shop in Wan Chai.
Son’s room Internet celebrity Logan Paul’s “Be a maverick” poster sets the tone of Lee’s son’s room. The loft bed was made by Wong. The wooden carving beneath it was picked up years ago at a car boot sale; the sofa is also old.
Guest bathroom The Slavia Crystal basin (HK$40,000), from the Dilos Victoria collection, came from colour.living. Beneath the bronze sculpture, by Pugliese, is a pull-out plant drawer, custom made by Eric Wong, of Lee Heng Construction (20/F, Wellable Commercial Building, 513 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 3511 9107). The Mona Lisa mirror was custom made by Francis Kirstein, of Tectonihks.
Terrace The top-floor terrace features a vertical garden created by Wah King Garden. The table and chair came from a colour.living sale. The pond cover, which affords extra seating, was made by Tat Ming Wallpaper. The outdoor umbrella came from Horizon Plaza.
Tried + tested
Counter intelligence The island in this Erste kitchen works hard in many situations. For casual meals, the ceramic counter slides out to accommodate diners, revealing the engineered-stone sink in the process. During parties the granite top, pushed closed, doubles as a bar. The photographs are from Kiri Dalena’s “Erased Slogans” series.