South China Morning Post Interview

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  • THU
  • Dec 6, 2012
  • Updated: 6:17am

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Interior Design


Making use of neglected spaces in Hong Kong homes

Need a study? How about a dog house or extra cabinets? Previously ignored areas have become useful zones in Hong Kong’s small homes

Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am



David Wu’s Apple store in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: John Butlin

You think your interior space is small? Not enough room to do what you want? Technology entrepreneur David Wu created not only a home office, but also a mini-Apple store in his Tseung Kwan O apartment, and it’s just two metres by two metres.

Just like the store, Wu’s shrine to his tech god includes a pillar with illuminated Apple logo, a replica of the Fetzer maple wood sales desk, silver anodised shelving, music, and “more than 20 operational iThings”.

“Call me crazy,” volunteers the 44-year-old, who woke up one morning and just decided to do it. But his out-of-the-box thinking does show how one person’s nook can be another’s treasure trove. By converting the smallest room in his house into something far more interesting, Wu achieved a fresh creative catalyst. The former storeroom that was “hardly ever used” is now the place where Wu does his best thinking and problem-solving.

Nook: an interior angle formed by two meeting walls; a secluded or sheltered place; a small, often recessed section of a room. Even the dictionary explanation of the word conjures up interesting design ideas.

Fancy a cosy space to curl up with a book? You need a reading nook. To overcome space constraints when there’s no room for a dining area? Tuck a bench seat into a corner and call it a banquette. Build a desk in a cupboard and there’s your office.

Several years ago Jill Lewis of JL Architecture ( built herself such a work space in a 750 sq ft apartment in SoHo that was home to four people. Or how about a child’s play space under a bunk bed (or vice versa)? Just about any cranny, indoors or out, can be commandeered.

In her experience designing for Hong Kong clients, Liz Towner, principal designer at Towner & Partners Design Consultants, finds most of a typical flat’s nooks and crannies are already occupied for storage.

In many cases, such spaces can be better used. Underneath the bed, for example. Instead of jamming shoeboxes full of stuff into a place where it’s out of sight, out of mind, it’s far better to build in a more useful trunk whose lid – the bed base – lifts by hydraulic hinges.

Towner cites the couple lamenting that they “had no way” of fitting a desired music system into their small bedroom. “We created a cabinet within a nook formed by two existing columns, then wall-hung a CD player over it. The nook was only 150mm wide,” she said.

Nooks exist in voids like the plenum of a building’s air conditioning system, under the stairs, in a bay window, inside a sofa or ottoman, or within a side table.

Towner recalls some of her “nook solutions”. In a Mid-Levels flat on Conduit Road, the client “had long been suffering without a study” as, seemingly, the only possible space to put one was occupied by his domestic helper.

“We noticed that his apartment had a very long dining/living room that could allow a section to be concealed to accommodate the maid’s quarters. However, it would look very odd to have a maid’s room in the dining room,” Towner said. “So we created a wall of glass which became a feature of the room, and behind it a bed for the helper and storage for her belongings.” For privacy the glass was painted white on the back, which further added to its aesthetic appeal.

In a Siu Lam flat, lack of storage was the main bugbear for a pilot couple. Towner suggested creating a fully fitted tatami (or platform bed) in their master bedroom by raising the bed 300mm, and adding a step. “The clients were very happy, as they never thought a store room could be created out of the floor,” she said.

For another client, who lived in a Tung Chung duplex, a solution was needed to accommodate the wife’s penchant for buying shoes. “We turned a 3,000mm long by 2,400mm wide entertainment unit into a dual-purpose fixture,” Towner said. A shoe cabinet, concealed behind the TV, slides out from the side.

Interior designer Nathalie Edwards, creative director of Life Styling Ltd (, also looks to nooks and crannies to conjure up space. “A great way to gain space and create a good flow in a home is to maximise its footprint by turning what would otherwise be dead space into efficient space.”

Surprisingly, room under the staircase is often underused, she finds. “Depending on the placement of the staircase within the home, the space underneath can be a great place to put a console table, hook for keys scarves and hats, or even art.”

At one Pok Fu Lam flat, the staircase was built as part of a larger renovation before the owner adopted a rescued dog. Necessity spawned an idea for a Harry Potter-style dog house under the stairs. “It’s a perfect nook for the dog,” Edwards said. The space even comes with a sign above his door, “made from LED lights so that the dog can stay cool without harsh emitted heat”.

Under the stairs is also a logical place to create a technology hub, with the cables kept neatly out of sight. Aside from these ideas, Life Styling has also placed wine fridges or cellars in nooks and crannies to use space.

Sometimes, though, the best ideas come from those who live in the space. As Wu points out, he’s neither a designer nor a decorator. “Having worked in offices all my working life, I’ve observed that you don’t need more than two metres by two metres to move around in once seated,” he said.

Wu’s tips are to use light colours and bright lights to create space. “My room doesn’t even have a window but it feels large. The glass walls help but that, to me, is a luxury,” he said.

He also suggests that leaving a small gap between the desk and the wall will make the space look larger. “Although cramming things into a small room is conventional wisdom to utilise all the space, the resulting effect is actually the opposite. Just two inches between everything makes a big difference.”

Read about Wu’s project on his blog

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