First impressions do not always count, as Wan Chai couple William and Ella Owen can attest. Although the Hong Kong Island location was perfect for the home they bought after years of renting in the area, their initial inspection was underwhelming. “It was raining, post-typhoon, and the first thing we noticed was that it was dark and dingy inside,” William says of the lower-floor flat in a 45-year-old building. The vibe was off-putting but the potential of the 1,050 sq ft (98 square metre) flat niggled, so a few weeks later they took another look, this time on a sunny day. In December 2021, they decided to make it theirs. ‘We couldn’t ignore that view’: Hong Kong penthouse duplex has major revamp “It was all about location,” William, a retired financial services professional, says. “What we could do with the place appealed, and when we got involved with Haven Design and Mary [Wong Ho-yan, design director] it became even more spectacular.” The large living room, about 10 metres long, was a plus, but at the kitchen end it lacked natural light, something that Wong would remedy as she realigned some of the spaces to improve functionality. Hong Kong family chooses high-rise living for their second home in London To tailor the home to the couple’s specific needs, three original bedrooms gave way to one bedroom with a large dressing room and his-and-hers bathrooms, plus a study. The refurbishment would also reflect their personalities, combining influences from the couple’s backgrounds (he is British; she is Hong Kong Chinese), with their love of Japanese heritage. “Before Covid, we would spend three or four weeks a year in Kyoto, where we fell in love with the culture,” William says. “A friend renovated a century-old wooden Japanese house in traditional style with shoji screens and tatami mats. We liked the look of that house, but wanted something more modern.” ‘Small and dated’ 1,500 sq ft Hong Kong apartment turns spacious, timeless When the couple mentioned that they wanted to differentiate the living and dining zones of the main room, Wong suggested an interpretation of the circular aperture found in Chinese gardens (the moon gate) and Japanese architecture. To impress but not impede, Wong designed it in slatted timber, dissecting the round shape so that one half is on each of the opposing walls, framing the view of the living room and the scenery outside. The result, Wong says, “divides the space into two individual, yet connecting, light-filled spaces”. The kitchen, adjoining the dining room, was still too dark for the couple’s liking, but they wanted to keep it enclosed, rather than have it open-plan. Wong’s solution was to replace the end wall and doorway with a pair of shoji-style sliding screens allowing light in through the translucent sections. Coupled with new, all-white cabinetry, the design hack produced a more workable, better-lit galley kitchen, with all the mod cons. From a ‘small bungalow’ to a dramatic, four-level, art-filled home There are no hallways in this home, so floor space is maximised – but doors opening directly from the living room were jarring. To overcome this perceived design flaw, Wong cleverly used an existing alcove (see Tried + tested below). To households short on space, his-and-hers bathrooms might seem an indulgence. The Owens had no such constraints, but they did have different expectations. And so their domain à deux is bestowed with two bathrooms poles apart in design: his is as dark and moody as hers is light and bright. Both flank the shared bedroom, which includes a dressing room lined with fitted wardrobes. The apartment’s redesign also provides William with a study personalised with his favourite furniture and art. And with no need for a live-in helper, there is a back-of-house room dedicated to the couple’s three cats. After staking their domestic future on a diamond in the rough, the couple have brought out its beauty. With the right design partner, they say, “possibilities exploded”. Living area A dining table made from a single slab of black walnut is paired with two high-back and two low-back chairs, all from Apartment (12 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2882 2198), and a linear LED adjustable pendant in natural walnut supplied by EMOH (emohdesign.com). The living room sofa came from Kelvin Giormani (kelvingiormani.com) and the television cabinet was from TREE (tree.com.hk). By the window, an oak veneer long bench with padded seat cushion was designed by Haven Design and fabricated by Grands Workshop. The ceiling fan and track lighting came from Element Lighting Design (elighting.asia). The blue sideboard, custom made by Oriental Home (20/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 3542 5336), accommodates a lamp from the same shop. On the wall behind it is an artwork by Vietnamese artist Thanh Chuong (hanoiarthouse.co.uk). The room dividers were made by Grands Workshop. Foyer Because the foyer is directly overlooked by the dining room, designer Mary Wong, of Haven Design (havendesign.com.hk), made the shoe cupboard a feature. Made by Grands Workshop (10/F, C Wu Building, 302 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, tel: 9382 7741) out of oak veneer with brass half-moon handles sourced from Etsy (etsy.com), it includes a backlit niche papered in orange wallpaper from Wallpaper + (wallpaperplus.com.hk). Study The oak veneer custom cabinet features green slate upcycled from a console in the couple’s previous home. The desk, chair, painting, by Vietnamese artist Pham Luan (greenpalmgallery.com), and decorative items also moved in with them. The textured maroon wallpaper came from Tat Ming Wallpaper (tatming.com) and the LED picture light from Homeloft (homeloft.hk). Bedroom The bed and shoji-screen-inspired sliding door leading to Ella Owen’s bathroom were both custom made by Grands Workshop. The curtains were made with Roma Mikado silver birch fabric from Wallpaper +. Bathroom The moodiness in William Owen’s bathroom is achieved with charcoal grey wall tiles from Anta Building Materials (antahk.com). The Japanese-style deep soaking tub in black marble, from Wing Ming Marble (Yue Xiu Building, 164 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 3041), and matching moon-shaped custom-made basin, were fabricated by Grands Workshop. They are teamed with a black toilet from Hop Lung Building Materials (298 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 2296) and tapware from Oscar Bath & Kitchen (oscar-hk.com). The half-moon mirror cabinet, designed by Haven Design, was supplied by Grands Workshop. The wall lamp was sourced through Taobao (taobao.com). Tried + tested Viewed from the dining room, this pretty alcove is more than a design feature – it accommodates a trio of concealed doors. William Owen’s bathroom stands behind the panels of oak veneer in the middle. Two shoji-screen-inspired doors on the left and right open onto the study and main bedroom, respectively.