Many of us can all kit out a space and make it livable but creating a truly standout home can be a challenge to all but the most design savvy.

With 2,800 sq ft in Happy Valley to play with, Hong Kong couple Clarence Cheng, who is in the shipping industry, and his wife, Noel, decided to call in the professionals. They enlisted designer Gary Lai, director of architect and design firm Spatial Concept, after spotting an example of his work in a magazine.

“My style is contemporary and almost minimal, with clean lines and unfussy details,” says Lai. “Noel and Clarence were very into this style and gave me free rein to come up with a design brief, which made the whole process very easy.”

The Chengs and their two daughters, aged 25 and 20, were happy with the existing layout of the three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment, so Lai made only a couple of structural changes. One was to break up the long, narrow corridor running through the property.

He replaced the wall of the family den (the first room off the corridor) with a versatile sliding door to open up the space, allowing light into the area and brightening up a windowless room on the opposite side of the passageway.

This had been a dry kitchen but Lai transformed it into a breakfast-nookcum- bar area.

“The dry kitchen was not only dark, but also wasted space. My idea was to make the area functional but special, so it would be used,” he says.

“Thanks to the high ceilings throughout the apartment, I panelled the ceiling above the island with wood to differentiate it from the rest of the corridor. It is now one of Noel’s favourite areas.”

As befitting such a contemporary flat, Lai incorporated smart-home technology, giving particular thought to the lighting. When the Chengs come home at night, they don’t have to grope around in the dark for a switch; instead, a motion sensor near the front door illuminates the corridor automatically. The lights also turn themselves off after a time to save electrical – and human – energy.

Likewise, the living- and dining-room blinds are programmed for minimum human effort.

“The flat is east-facing, so it gets a lot of sunlight in the morning,” Lai says. “When the brightness reaches a certain level, the blinds come down automatically. They are raised again when it gets dark without anyone having to think about them.”

Although the project was relatively straightforward, the waist-high, frosted windows, common to all the units in the block, were an aesthetic challenge because they were not in keeping with the apartment’s contemporary style. Lai thinks they were installed to hide the view of the nearby cemetery.

“There are a lot of windows in this apartment, but the frosted patterns didn’t go with the look I was trying to create and yet we weren’t allowed to change them. To get round the issue, I installed plain, translucent glass panels centimetres in front of the patterned windows and incorporated LED lighting at their bases. At night, it lights up and gives a warm, soft feeling,” he says.

The apartment’s palette of greys and beiges adds to its calm ambience, along with references to the sea, such as a photograph of a beach in the bar area and a model ship on the living-room wall.

“I used wallpaper that looks like rippling waves and I worked with Tai Ping Carpets to come up with a rug that has a water feel,” Lai says. “Tai Ping had a base pattern, which we modified and I included colours that fit with our scheme.”

The renovation took three months, which included buying all the furniture and art and was, according to Lai, a quick and painless process for all concerned.

“Clarence and Noel really trusted us on the design front,” he says. “It was a collaborative process but they were very open-minded. They were willing to go for slimline furniture and a minimal style that they might not have picked out for themselves. [Ultimately], they are happy with the design and that makes my job worth it.”

Stylist: David Roden

Living area The painting, by Li Hao, was from Galerie du Monde (Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2525 0529) and the Maya Romanoff wallpaper (in various rooms) was HK$21,800 from Altfield Interiors (11/F, 9 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2524 4867). The sofa (HK$220,000, including cushions), leather chairs (HK$46,400 each) and side table (HK$11,500), all by Walter Knoll, were from Le Cadre Gallery (Ruttonjee Centre, tel: 2526 1068). The Vibia lamp (HK$47,800) came from Zodiac (Amber Commercial Building, 70 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2882 9082) and the rug (HK$119,200) from Tai Ping Carpets (Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2522 7138). The Minotti coffee tables can be bought as two separate pieces (round, HK$70,250; triangular, HK$66,780) from Andante (The Design Showcase, Ruttonjee Centre, tel: 2537 9688).

Den The Walter Knoll sofa (HK$68,000) and coffee table (HK$37,800) were from Le Cadre Gallery. The rug was HK$31,900 from Tai Ping Carpets and the lamp (HK$6,500) came from Artemide (Ruttonjee Centre, tel: 2523 0333). The audiovisual and shelving unit cost HK$43,900 and was custom made by Spatial Concept (tel: 2325 3080;

Bar area The counter (HK$26,500) and glassware cabinet (HK$15,000) were custom made by Spatial Concept. The Andreu World stools were HK$7,125 each from ID-Solutions (16/F, Kwai Hung Holdings Centre, 89 King’s Road, North Point, tel: 3468 3551). The photographic art, by Stéphane Suisse, was from YellowKorner (58 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 3997 3670). The Spillray pendant lamp was about HK$4,000 from Axo Light (, in Italy.

Dining area The Walter Knoll dining table was HK$95,600 from Le Cadre Gallery and the Outline dining chairs, by Molteni & C, were HK$20,000 each from Dada (2/F, Lockhart Centre, 301 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3460 5953). The Achille Castiglioni for Flos pendant lights (HK$30,400 for 12) were from Dentro (Wilson House, 19 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 3741 1351). The Safretti bioethanol fireplace was HK$37,990 from K+I (4/F, Tung Yiu Commercial Building, 31A Wyndham Street, tel: 2810 0646). The wall-mounted model ship was a gift to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Clarence Cheng’s shipping company.

Kitchen The kitchen units and marble flooring were installed by the property developer.

Master bedroom The Molteni & C bed (HK$94,900) and bedside tables (HK$20,600 for two) came from Dada. The Flos lamps were HK$7,500 each from Dentro. The fabric panels were HK$6,900 from Danish firm Gabriel ( and the Pianco wardrobe was HK$92,400 from Equal Plus (23/F, 111 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2881 7716). The armchair was a gift.

Daughter’s bedroom The bed (HK$6,530), bedside table (HK$4,730) and desk (HK$7,100) were all from BoConcept (73 Wyndham Street, tel: 2668 0027). The bedside lamp was HK$2,500 from Artemide. The Sancal desk chair was HK$7,900 from Matisse (4/F, Nan Dao Commercial Building, 359 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, tel: 3184 0903) and the shelving above the desk was custom made by 5 Spatial Concept for HK$3,800.



Binnacle case A central feature of the Chengs’ walk-in wardrobe, the cufflink/jewellery cabinet (HK$6,100) was custom made by Gary Lai of Spatial Concept. Lai created partitioned drawers to accommodate each kind of accessory. The Walter Knoll ottoman (HK$23,800) at the foot of the bed came from Le Cadre Gallery.