Construction-free Interior RedesignDuring the last Policy Address, Chief Executive CY Leung suggested developers could — and should — increase flat supply by making their properties smaller. With prices remaining high and future supply almost guaranteed to be on the small side, homeowners and tenants alike are going to be feeling the space pinch. As rentals stay steady in a wait-and-see market, trends in interiors are turning towards remaking homes without knocking down walls. It’s faster, cheaper, and best of all it can actually be done.

New World Order

Clifton Leung, creative director and founder of Clifton Leung Design Workshop, has noted a move toward dust-free redesign in recent months, which can be chalked up to a number of reasons. “I think due to the fact a lot of these new apartments in Hong Kong come with a decent bathroom and kitchen that are already fitted,” theorises Leung. “A lot of people don’t want to waste new materials, and they’d prefer not to move any walls. They’re looking to add furniture, storage, lighting. Sometimes even the flooring they’re happy to keep.”

On average, it is recommended that home purchasers budget in anywhere from 5 to 11 percent of your home’s value on a kitchen remodel alone, and anywhere from 20-30 percent for total overhauls after purchase but before moving in. With the primary sales market performing well, the idea is that the extra $1 million isn’t necessary, and to a degree that’s true now. So are developers designing better flats that are ready to live in? Are they responding to demand for better spaces? “Well, not particularly but it’s a combination of everything. In order to attract buyers — and you know how much it costs — developers need to do something [notable] for people. They still need to attract buyers. They’re paying so much,” argues Leung. “Designs are a bit more modern, they’re easier to use rather than being gaudy and impractical like in the past. I think developers know if they build something small or super-un-user-friendly people don’t like it. They’re trying to do something smarter.”

Which doesn’t mean designers are in danger of going out of business anytime soon. Leung is quick to point out that older buildings with their own quirks, “Need to [redesign] because that’s not how we live now. And it’s third or fourth hand and no one minds knocking down walls.” But as long as developers use the least creative materials, styles and layouts they can with the least amount of storage, homeowners will be looking for way to personalise their spaces — just with less dust. Not only is redecorating cleaner, it’s considerably cheaper, ideal for renters (changes can be left behind without too much stress) and much faster. “If you start knocking out walls you have to re-do electrical and sometimes air conditioning, and people want to move in faster. They’ve waited long enough,” says Leung.

Out of Thin Air

Another advantage according to Leung is the creativity and individuality involved. Crucial elements to redesign without design is better lighting, a considered use of colour and finding ways of maximising storage (surprise!) without sacrificing living room. “I think the upside is that’s it not about re-designing a space anymore. It’s about how to decorate and space-saving,” he says. “The tricky part is how to make the furnishings and décor suitable for you. How do you design your lighting, storage, and how do you cleverly use all existing rooms?”

Construction-free design is also inherently more malleable. Designers don’t need to know precisely what each room, area or corner will be used for before hand, and a client’s unique lifestyle isn’t as big a factor; he or she has already tacitly agreed to “make do” with the layout as it is. But there are ways to exploit an existing flat and create space — or the illusion of it — out of thin air. Essential tools of that trade are colour and lighting. “I think you need to be careful with colour. You can dress up a space with wallpaper or a coloured paint, or have an accent wall. These are little things you can do to mood up the place — a bit of texture or colour,” explains Leung.

Coloured walls are gaining in favour, and still outpace wallpaper as a way to inject colour and texture to a design. All but the heartiest of traditionalists fear the humidity and the resultant peeling and mould that can come with wallpaper. “You don’t have to wallpaper the entire room,” argues Leung. “All you need is an accent: a feature wall, the end of a corridor, behind the sofa.” He then uses Philips’ colour-changing, mood-altering Hue as an example of a source of flexible design through lighting that can make new rooms from minute to minute — and that can be controlled from your phone.

Speaking of light. Leung is a fan of perfect lighting as the mother of all design solutions. “Oh, I am,” he admits. He also admits to boggling at the continued use of lone fluorescent overhead light. “Don’t have one light source for each room. That single light source in the middle of the ceiling? That’s a no-no. Worst thing ever,” he stresses. Get rid of it in favour of well placed lamps, track lighting, wall sconces, practically anything and it’s off to the races.

Leung details a small flat he gave the construction-less design treatment to in the last year. Finished in oak, in a monotone and free of tall cabinetry, Leung exploited the spaces “beneath.” “I kept everything low. [A] raised floor created a kind of tatami, Zen style and the bed was raised into the bay window, and we managed to create a little, triangular cabinet from some of the bedroom space,” he describes. The time for that from concept to key? Two months. Who said the walls needed to come down?