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A Hong Kong apartment shows how wood panels can add character – and hide storage

SOMETIMES A designer’s great­est asset is the client. That was the case when a childhood acquain­tance asked Clover Lee, director of plusClover, to renovate her 2,000 sq ft apartment on Macdonnell Road. The client and her elder­ly mother had lived in the flat since 1994.

“They knew the space really well, which was helpful,” says Lee.

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A long, narrow flat with views of the harbour on one side and the green slopes of The Peak on the other, it had bedrooms that could have been shifted harbour-side. The client, however, prefer­red the hill-view side because it was less noisy, so the three-bedroom, two-bathroom layout was kept intact.

Lee’s real challenge was finding a way to gracefully accommodate the client’s furni­ture and keepsakes – including a collection of Lladro figurines gathered over three decades – in a more harmonious space.

“Each of the rooms looked different, so our challenge was to think about a unified aesthetic that ties everything together,” says Lee.

She thought about the way mouldings give a sense of visual harmony to a room. “Instead of a trim, why not use the whole surface to connect the spaces?” she wondered.

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That inspired her to design the apart­ment’s most distinctive feature: modular wood panels that run throughout the living area and bedrooms. Shelves and cabinets emerge from the panels in a fluid, organic way. In the living room, the panels taper to a point, like a giant arrow, which Lee says is meant to draw the eye towards the window’s panoramic view of Central and the harbour.

Designing the panels was more difficult than it might seem. Lee and the project’s lead designer, Helina Lass, created a series of mock-ups to figure out how they would fit the space.

“We spent so many hours figuring out the doorframes,” says Lee.

Their texture matches that of the panels, so, when the doors are shut, they seem to disappear into the wall.

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Even with such ample square footage, the client needed plenty of storage, so Lee created false walls with built-in cupboards in the living room.

“It’s a wedge-shaped [apartment],” says Lee, “so there’s not a single room that’s rectangular.”

False walls provided an opportunity to address the awkward shape of the living room, too. The walls undulate, growing narrower where the sofa sits before expanding towards the windows.

“Instead of storage as furniture, it becomes part of the space,” says Lee.

In the mother’s walk-in wardrobe, a glass medicine cabinet is built into the wall, facing a window.

“That’s so there is lots of natural light and you can always see what’s inside,” says Lee.

A low shelf next to the front door doubles as a bench that makes it easier for the client and her mother to put on their shoes. Wood floors have enough texture to prevent slipping – another concern for the elderly mother.

Because the client wanted to keep most of her original furniture, Lee says, the space is designed to accommodate an eclectic range of styles.

“It can absorb the client’s belongings,” she says. “It’s not a gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of design.”

That’s not to say the design fades into the background. The panels and curvaceous walls give the apartment a unique feel. Lee considers it a successful experiment.

“For every project we try to explore something different,” says Lee. “It was very brave of the client to take it on.”

Styling: David Roden

Dining and living area The dining table, chairs,sofa and coffee table were all purchased years ago. The rug (HK$15,200) was from Tai Ping Carpets.

Lounge The moulded walls cost HK$250 per square metre, theengineered wood flooring HK$200 per square metre and the built-in wall cabinet HK$4,500 per linear metre, all through Chip Mi Engineering (Tai Lee Building, 31B Kok Cheung Street, Tai Kok Tsui, tel: 2708 2699).

Bedroom Chip Mi Engineering built the bed (HK$9,500) and the desk (HK$10,825). The chair was a gift.

Study The sofa (HK$9,500, including table), which converts into a guest bed, was built by Chip Mi Engineering, along with the wall cabinet (HK$10,750). The chair was a gift.

Kitchen Chip Mi Engineering built the cabinets (HK$88,750) and countertops (HK$7,500). The Oliveri sink cost HK$1,130 from H20 Pro ( www.ebon.com.hk). The Grohe Eurostyle Cosmopolitan mixer (HK$2,018) came from Luen Hing Hong Building Materials.

Bathroom The marble was HK$450 per square metre and the custom-built cabinets cost HK$17,500 (both through Chip Mi Engineering). The Roca Continental cast-iron bathtub (HK$6,740) came from Luen Hing Hong Building Materials.

Bedroom The bed was custom built for HK$12,000 by Chip Mi Engineering, as were the bedside tables (HK$25,000 for two). The bedside lamps cost HK$3,400 at Milano Lighting. The clothes rack was bought years ago.

Tried + tested

The client’s baby grand piano is one of her most prized possessions, but its presence in the living room was imposing. Clover Lee (plusclover.com) curved the wall around it as if in an embrace. She also installed double-glazed windows and a floor inlay to minimise the sound. The Artemide Melampo Mega Terra lamp cost HK$3,975 at Aluminium.