In the early 1990s, when Hong Kong developers began routinely adding in clubhouses to residential projects, buyers viewed them as a status symbol. Many promised much, but delivered little: a bar with no beer (no liquor licence the reason), and uninviting lounge areas with the appeal of an airport departure gate, was often about all you got. Led by the luxury sector, the emergence of so-called five-star clubhouses has been a game-changer, says Chris Liem, who as principal and owner of realtor Engel & Voelkers Hong Kong is privy to occupants’ wish lists. “The on-site availability of a clubhouse is extremely desirable especially if you don’t have access to one of Hong Kong’s exclusive private member clubs,” said Liem. A top-notch spa ticks boxes, he says. Accoutrements such as a virtual golf simulator, cigar room or wine cellar don’t hurt either. According to Liem, a good clubhouse – one which people actually want to use - should enhance not just the image of the estate, but also address the health, comfort and convenience motivations of residents. “A clubhouse really works when it builds a sense of community and ownership with the residents, and that at the end of the day is the real goal,” he says. So, how to achieve that? Joey Ho Tzung-hsien, PAL Design Group design partner, says it boils down to viewing the clubhouse not as a marketing selling point, but rather, from the perspective of the end-user. The space should feel like a resident’s own home, so while it might have facilities you’d find in a private members’ club, it should be welcoming, rather than stuffy. When he started planning the three-storey residential clubhouse at The Visionary in Tung Chung for Nan Chung Group (completed January 2016), Ho ditched the proposed large hall to be used for dance classes and social dances, after feedback suggested it wouldn’t be used. It was changed into to a multi-purpose room with small stage that could be used for music practise, intimate performances, or movie nights. He also steered clear of trendy decor, which would soon look outdated. In the lobby, instead of the ubiquitous opulent chandelier, natural sunlight is the main attraction. “We still have a grand staircase,” Ho said, “but we don’t want people looking at decorations – we want them to relax.” Sunshine also pours into the two-lane bowling alley – why should this be the typical dark, cave-like space, Ho reasons – as well as the basketball court. A clubhouse really works when it builds a sense of community and ownership with the residents, and that at the end of the day is the real goal Even the gym has the serenity of the yoga room, so users “won’t feel pressured” to work up a sweat. And instead of a formal function room, there’s a convivial family room, where residents can cook a meal, entertain, BBQ outdoors and soak in the Jacuzzi. Through its non-compartmentalised spatial approach, which connects each functional area, Ho believes frequency of use will be achieved. Philip Liao, of Philip Liao and partners Ltd, believes a good clubhouse needs to be functional, according to the needs of targeted residents. Its design depends on the property’s location, site constraints, and importantly, it should synergise with the whole building. “If the clubhouse doesn’t resonate, it detaches from the property and becomes isolated,” says Liao. His firm designed the Arezzo clubhouse on Seymour Road (completed last year), and the upcoming Alassio clubhouse on Caine Road, slated for completion mid-2017, both for Swire Properties. Arezzo’s double-storey clubhouse incudes a banquet room with kitchen, indoor and outdoor children’s playgrounds, an entertainment room, gymnasium and lounge. Alassio will have a 25m outdoor heated pool, function room with kitchen, children’s play area, a gym, sauna and yoga room. Use of these facilities is included in the buildings’ management fees. “It’s Mid-Levels, so you have to imagine what type of users will be there,” said Liao, who opted for a design theme based on natural materials (wood, stone and glass), artwork chosen to “connect and weave” into the scheme, and a “hierarchy of lighting”. Even the children’s play area, an absence of child-like bright colours shows sophistication more attuned to the budding design sensibilities of the young well-heeled. Further evidence that residential clubhouse design has matured in Hong Kong – albeit still in the luxury sector – is The Pavilia Hill by New World Development, on Tin Hau Temple Road, North Point. The owner imagined the clubhouse as an intimate Japanese ryokan, and engaged Singapore-based Koichiro Ikebuchi, founder of Atelier Ikebuchi, as its designer. He used natural materials that will “age in their own beautiful ways”, crafting patterns in bamboo imported from Kyoto, alongside the texture of solid wood. A dark, moody spiral staircase leads to the upstairs onsen-inspired pool area, with its gold leaf-adorned ceiling and views to the surrounding hills. In the main salon, a library features traditional Japanese walls and seating. Ikebuchi believes that such a calm, relaxing ambience is what a good clubhouse is all about. After all, he says, it’s mean to be an extension of your own home.