Organised storage puts Hong Kong's tight apartment spaces to good use
Awkward corners and odd areas can be converted into hidey-holes for stashing gear, or converted into low-cost easy-to-access storage zones
You can downsize and declutter all you like, but there's never going to be enough storage in the average Hong Kong home. When space is tight, conjuring storage out of nowhere is one of the most useful design tricks.
Juliana Rotmeyer, architect for JAR Design, tends to think of storage horizontally and vertically. "Storage doesn't have to mean put away and out of sight," she says. "I find that there are lots of things I like 'stored' but also need them easily accessible. I call it organised storage."
Walls can be great storage areas, she explains. "Most apartments have awkward corners and odd spaces that are difficult to use. I like to convert these into storage areas with hooks, shelves and knobs." Rotmeyer recently bought 16 small drawer knobs and fixed them in a straight line about 15 inches above the floor. "Now there are eight pairs of shoes 'stored' away hanging on the knobs."
Wardrobes are a luxury for most Hongkongers and, even when they do exist, are usually barely adequate. Designer Clifton Leung, of Clifton Leung Design Workshop, effectively doubled the space of the small walk-in closet in his own Mid-Levels home by utilising the floor. His custom-designed series of three deep steps with lift-up plywood lids provides handy storage for shoes, bags and out-of-season clothes, while also giving access to the high, hard-to-reach shelving at the back of the closet.
He added a foot-operated light switch to illuminate the closet right to its depths, and an LED strip on the first step for effect. "We can't live without it," Leung says of his storage solution, which works well because it is so accessible. "People won't use storage if it's not easy to access," he says.
Some may look longingly at their ceiling space and imagine it a hidey-hole for bulky but little-used items, but this only works if the ceiling is high enough. Cherie Wong, an architect, had three metres to play with in her Pok Fu Lam flat, so she designed a false ceiling, and added flaps for access. Built of timber framing and plasterboard, it can only hold light items, but is useful nonetheless, for storing once-a-year items such as Christmas decorations and, now that she is a mother, baby paraphernalia. It handily holds the car seat, but unfortunately not the rocker, she said.
Wong also cribbed "leftover" space elsewhere in her flat: a gap beside the dishwasher was turned into a shallow, cafe-like bookshelf (where magazine covers can be seen); a gap in the bedroom holds the ironing board. Her mantra: every centimetre can be used.
Ceiling space may have its limits: floors, on the other hand, are far more flexible. Using platforms to create space is a design trick gaining popularity.
Leung used one in the master bedroom of a Kennedy Town renovation, recessing the mattress to sit flush with the platform surrounded by a series of lift-up storage boxes. This technique works particularly well with smaller bedrooms, where traditional storage, such as chests of drawers, would make the room look cluttered.
Nirender Lehar, of Leehar Home, "does a lot of platforms" in his renovation projects, finding, like Leung, that the floors offer convenient, sturdy and accessible storage potential. These can be one step up from the original floor - so, the height of a step - or an elevated platform, with cupboards, wardrobe and/or desk below.
Bedrooms, living rooms and walk-in wardrobes are all likely candidates for the platform treatment, but Lehar has also used one in a kitchen. In this case a new kitchen was being created from a former bedroom - the platform held the plumbing and electrical wiring, when there was nowhere else to put them, and can double as compartments for non-perishable foodstuffs.
When flats have a bay window, Lehar makes more use of it than just plain seating: he creates a cavity and adds either a lift-up lid or soft-close drawers for extra storage. In the shallow space between the kitchen cabinets and the floor - usually where a kicker would be - Lehar likes to put toe-kick drawers to house things like baking trays or infrequently used utensils. "Being foot-operated, you don't need to bend down to see what's inside," he says.
Stairs provide a treasure trove of storage potential, Lehar finds. Instead of settling for a conventional, awkward-shaped under-stair cupboard (useful for wine, luggage or Harry Potter, but not much more), the treads can be turned into drawers.
Another nifty feature of storage solutions such as these is that they can be inexpensive. Perhaps this is one area in home décor where cheap can actually be cheerful.