Sustainability and green living has been on the radar for years now. There’s nary a school kid around that doesn’t know they should drop their juice bottle in the recycling bin and few media and PR firms hand out fat, papery press kits anymore. But in me, me, me Hong Kong, it’s a bit strange that the healthy living trend hasn’t gained any traction until now.
Go Big or Go Home
Enter managing director of the new Vivid Living, Henning Voss. He has big plans for healthy residential spaces in Hong Kong — not Delos Living big, but ambitious nonetheless. Voss is a managing partner at Provest Holdings, a private redevelopment firm that also runs a property investment fund. Vivid Living combines Voss’s multiple personal passions — property, travel, health and wellness, gadgetry. Vivid is a work in progress, but regular advisors include an architect, an interior designer and a sustainability engineer. The short version of Vivid’s raison d’être is to provide healthy homes, from air down to invisible hardware, free of the elements that negatively impact quality of life.
“We try to only employ materials and technologies that are third-party reviewed. Which is really hard and it’s a constant learning process. There’s a lot of green washing; lots of products claim to be green and healthy, but look beyond the marketing and you find nothing,” says Voss. Vivid’s health-related items must be peer-reviewed or third-party accredited (like NSF-certified woods) and ideally come from within 800 kilometres of Hong Kong.
Vivid’s three-tiered business includes hard science-backed consulting to advise people who are renovating, Vivid’s own redesign and renovation projects and ultimately developing a serviced apartment because of the control required in order to fulfil the concept fully. “You can only do so much with a single apartment.”
What You Don’t See
That mandate to see the healthy elements all the way to the foundations means Vivid will be offering living spaces that go above and beyond recycled wood furniture and phosphate-free soap. There will be no toxic glues in plywood doors, no-VOC paints, top-drawer air and water purification systems, low-energy, clean(er) air conditioning units, properly double-glazed windows with soundproof German frames and neutron LED mood lighting to ensure a solid night’s sleep, incorporated biophilia (the use of plants as natural detoxifiers), full kitchens equipped with steam woks, ultrasonic food washers and sterilisation boards to encourage better eating at home, mattresses free of toxic foams and stuffings and organic linens as a start. The goal is to create spaces that are conduits to better health and that enable a healthy lifestyle.
Admittedly, that means Voss’s “healthy” mandate can clash with the more entrenched “green” mandate that has become such a touchstone for modern urban living. “It’s important for us not to be marketed as ‘eco-apartments’ even though we try to be as sustainable and green as possible. [Our] main goal is to be healthy, and that sometimes bites itself with being green. For example, a gigantic, but really good, air purifier eats a lot of energy. But we try.” Many of Vivid’s solutions stem from simple source control, which starts with renovation, and a great deal can be accomplished with good old-fashioned foliage — hence the self-watering planters for frequent travelling Hongkongers.
Bring on the Critics
The planter is one of those little touches that are designed to make healthy living easy as well. Voss would like to see his flats (the most recently finished is in Sheung Wan) equipped with energy metres because, “There are studies that suggest when people are made visually aware of their energy usage they’re more conservative and likely to switch things off.” That demonstrates Voss’s reliance on science, though he is well aware there are going to be critics pointing out flawed studies and general New Agey crackpot-ness. “It’s about being honest. We know we’re going to have critics [once we officially launch] but research is ongoing and I’m happy to be convinced otherwise,” he says. And sourcing materials and managing contractors — down to lead-free welding metals — can be difficult. “But it’s a bit of a trend now and it’s get easier to find materials in Hong Kong.” Throw our collective penchant to equate anything “good” for us as being an inferior product somehow (fair trade foods are still thought of as “tasteless”) and Voss has some serious educating to do. “Normal development projects are really boring. Many are flooded with luxury appliances and materials that are blingy. We wanted to show we could be green, sustainable, healthy and stylish. A lot of people still think a sustainable home is like a treehouse or something.”
So how much of a difference will living in a healthy space make to an average 40-year-old that’s been breathing garbage air and sleeping on chemical-y foam since birth? “It will absolutely transform your life,” Voss deadpans. “Seriously, I think a normal healthy person might not notice too much, but for people with kids with allergies … if you have asthma, other respiratory diseases or existing conditions this will be a better [space].” And really, does erring on the side of caution ever really hurt?