It seems that these days everyone is looking for a little of the great outdoors indoors, and increasingly new developments are including balconies in their plans. What you can actually do with a balcony is hit and miss: it depends on whether or not you have a few feet or just a sliver. It also depends on whether you’re comfortable outside 30 storeys in the air. And of course if you plan on any future Romeos.
Regardless of the hard numbers, even the smallest balcony is simple enough to take advantage of given enough creativity. “How functional the balcony is depends on how small it is,” explains designer Monique McLintock. “If it’s really small then the best you can do is add a small table, one or two chairs or a long deep bench, some plants to at least have a place to sit with a cup of coffee or to smoke.”
Given Hong Kong’s minute spaces, it’s tempting to use a tiny balcony to purely functional ends, particularly if there’s no real view from it. “In Hong Kong balconies are small and often used for hanging clothes or kids’ playing,” notes Everything Under the Sun’s Janice Ortmann. However, “We sell a lot of folding chairs and extendable tables and the like. And a lot of furniture [we carry] is also more European rather than American-sized.”
For flat owners, knocking down a wall and effectively extending the room space could ultimately be worth the effort — which is considerable. Permission from the Buildings Department is needed (you’re changing the outward appearance of a structure), as well as the incorporated owners and a registered contractor.
“If you go down the legal route then you can enlarge the opening or windows, assuming the wall is not a structural wall, onto the balcony so that visually it makes the apartment feel bigger,” McLintock points out, assuming you have room to play in your allowable gross floor area. “This process can be expensive. It will cost around $70,000 for a trained AP to do the plans and
Ultimately it comes down to what you want your balcony space for. With the weather cooling down enough to enjoy, finding some seating and accessories could be enough. Ortmann isn’t keen on natural materials in Hong Kong’s harsh elements (heat, humidity, filth), but choices exist beyond plastic. To maximise ease of maintenance, she suggests quick-dry foams and Sunbrella fabrics, synthetic rattan and weaves as a start. “Oh, you can take a hose to almost all outdoor furniture now,” she notes.
Finally, when it comes to accessorising, lighting and temperature control are the biggest considerations. An electrician can install a power supply for extreme conditions, and wall-mounted lights are readily available — from Wanchai to IKEA. An alternative to both is a fireplace. Safretti makes ecofriendly, multi-purpose fireplaces that, “do not require a power source or outlet, piping, chimney or other provisions,” comments Dora Sui of Kitchens + Interiors, the regular models of which can serve as heat sources. “For a balcony, we would recommend either the stackable floor-standing Cube, or the wallmounted Gaya. Both are simple and elegant, and would be an attractive focal point without overpowering a small Hong Kong balcony,” Sui finishes.
Ortmann offers some final words of wisdom that are too frequently forgotten. “Don’t overcrowd it,” she emphasises. “At the end of the day you won’t use it and it won’t be inviting. Go smaller rather than bigger and you’ll actually enjoy it more.”