Hong Kong interior design
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Trips to Japan inspired the cool, calm interiors of this Tsuen Wan flat, designed by Otherwhere Studio. Photography: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao

Inside a Hong Kong home infused with elements of Japanese design, complete with bonsai gallery and onsen-style en suite

  • Inspired by his travels, a pilot hoped to recreate the calm feeling of Japanese interiors in his Tsuen Wan flat
  • He enlisted Frankie Chao of Otherwhere Studio to help him achieve the Zen-inspired aesthetic

There’s no place like home, even for the most avid traveller, so when pilot Gabriel Wong bought a 785 sq ft apartment in Tsuen Wan, in 2019, he looked to Otherwhere Studio to create a timeless, cocooning space that he could happily return to time and again.

Wong’s vision for the interior was inspired by his travels, particularly those in Japan with his partner.

“We wanted a wooden theme, with lots of elements of Japanese design, for that really calm feeling,” he says. “I noticed the pebble stream in some of Otherwhere’s other designs and really loved it.”

And so they turned to the studio’s co-founder and design director, Frankie Chao Ka-kei, whose firm recently won an honourable mention for this flat in the Small Living Spaces category at the 2020 Asia Pacific Interior Design Awards.

Photo: Handout

Chao began by removing a wall to open up the kitchen, dining area and living room into one big space. In the small entranceway, large-format tiles were embedded in loose gravel to create a transition space that, like a Japanese genkan, draws a line between “outdoors” and in.

“We wanted Gabriel to feel like he could slow down and instantly relax when he came home,” says Chao. “This allows him to move from the outside, pass through a new environment, and into the interior. It’s more calming.”

The stream of grey stones continues around a corner towards the kitchen, delineating the dining area from the living space.


At the rear, a partially open kitchen doubles as a social space. “We enjoy entertaining,” says Wong. “I like the open plan as I can interact with my guests.”

To achieve the level of warmth Wong required, large swathes of the one-bedroom apartment were clad in wood, including rich black-walnut panelling that wraps around the living room. Chunky walnut frames were also fixed around doors and windows, with herringbone floor tiles adding to the forested feel.

“Most of our projects go in a more Zen, more relaxed direction ,” says Chao. “We’re keen on using a lot of natural materials.”

The look is further enhanced by the oversized grey granite tiles on the lower level of the living room’s walls, and the mellow, concrete-patterned wallpaper and unobtrusive lighting used throughout. A take on the Japanese tokonoma (an uncluttered display space), a built-in pedestal and a panel of bronze stainless steel are used to display delicate bonsai trees.

In the living room, doors to a small balcony frame big, open views of Tsuen Wan town centre and the mountains of Tai Mo Shan behind.


Between the dining and lounge areas a short corridor leads to an office, with a guest bed cleverly incorporated into a box-like window.

At the far end of the passageway, sliding louvre doors open into a walk-in wardrobe, bedroom and muted onsen-inspired en suite bathroom.

The design of the apartment really suits the location. It’s such a warm and relaxing place to be
Gabriel Wong, homeowner

In the bedroom, smooth, creamy walls and pale tightly knit herringbone floorboards make a lighter, brighter counterpoint to the rest of the apartment, with wooden window blinds and louvre doors allowing for a play of light and shadow throughout the day. The large walk-in wardrobe allowed for more creative freedom in the bedroom.


“The client didn’t require a lot of storage space so we decided to build a bench in the bedroom, something that is more often seen in a boutique hotel than a residential space,” says Chao.

The apartment’s warm, natural tones offer the antithesis of the harsh glare of the cockpit. “We are surrounded by lots of green here and the design of the apartment really suits the location,” says Wong. “It’s such a warm and relaxing place to be.”

Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao
Dining area The black-walnut dining table, designed and made by Otherwhere Studio, is surrounded by mid-century modern-style chairs from Alot Living. Suspended above them are three Futagami pendant lights from Japanese store Rakuten.
Adding a textural appearance to the room, the herringbone floor tiles are from Melos2 (296 Portland Street, Mong Kok; tel: 2809 2109). Bonsai trees from Wah King Garden Arts are displayed in eye-catching “galleries”.
Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao
Living room The owner’s three-seater sofa sits opposite a walnut wood entertainment console designed by Otherwhere Studio and custom made by Yat Muk in Hong Kong. Lighting is kept minimal and atmospheric, with the help of a small Edison table lamp from Astro Lighting.
Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao
Clock The centrepiece of the tokonoma-style niche in the living area is a “Story” floating clock, which uses magnetic levitating spheres orbiting around a wooden base to tell the time. A backlit display illuminates through the wooden surface of the clock, from Flyte. The subtly textured wallpaper is part of Arte’s Le Corbusier range.
Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao

Kitchen Designed and built by Otherwhere Studio, the kitchen features concrete-look laminate cabinetry and granite worktops. Shelving above the sink doubles as a bar.

Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao

Study Otherwhere Studio designed the desk and shelving and deepened the existing bay window, transforming it into a cosy guest bed. The black walnut chair is from Alot Living. The Edison desk lamp is the same as before.

Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao

Bedroom The bed and headboard were designed and made by Otherwhere Studio. The low-key lighting consists of matt gold wall lights flanking the bed and an Edison table lamp (on the windowsill), all from Astro Lighting.

Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao
Bedroom The herringbone floors are made from a durable hard-wearing woven vinyl, made by French firm Dickson Constant. The side table and fitted bench are the work of Otherwhere Studio. The Whizz pendant lamps were from Spanish lighting specialists Faro Barcelona.
Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao
Bathroom The bathroom was remodelled by Otherwhere Studio to give the feeling of a Japanese onsen. The rain shower, in warm sunset, is from Grohe and the concrete basin from Kast. The wooden stool was made by homeowner Gabriel Wong.

Tried + tested

Photo: Udo Lam, Frankie Chao

Rolling stones The raw and the refined come together in the entryway, a nod to Japanese genkans. Using gravel and large-format tiles, Otherwhere Studio created an unusual transition space between “outdoors” and inside.


“We need to pick out the pebbles and dust them every two or three months but the upkeep is no big deal,” says Gabriel Wong.