Lofty Ideals

Candace Collective can make you a loft … or at least find the charm in a small space

Just imagine it. You wake up in the morning and stroll from bed to bathroom to kitchen to make your daily java. There are no walls to crash into, so being fully cognizant isn’t a worry. The floor is cool beneath your feet in humid June, light pours in from all sides and the ringing phone echoes throughout the space you live, work and play in.

Well, if that’s your morning you’re probably in London. Or Boston. Or Berlin. With the exception of K. Wah Real Estate’s The Factory in Wong Chuk Hang (positioned as industrial workspaces) the residential loft as it is perceived simply does not exist here. Much of that has to do with the notion that rezoning for residential purposes (and the majority of the great loft spaces in Europe and North America are old industrial buildings) is simply so expensive the costs that would be sloughed off onto purchasers would make prices too astronomical to justify the paperwork. Of course, “astronomical” in Hong Kong should be taken with a grain of salt.

Lofts are traditionally roomy and that’s another area where Hong Kong falls short. Urban spaces are too small for loft purposes, but nonetheless, there are some designers out there doing their best to bring that pseudoindustrial urban lifestyle to the SAR.

Candace Campos designs a little bit of everything: web, photo shoots, jewellery and naturally interiors. After working in her native California for many years with a design firm that brought her to Hong Kong frequently, she simply decided to stay one day. Campos is all about the open, loft-type space and her distinct aesthetic is why people with design issues go to her. “This is in the direction of a loft in terms of the industrialness and the exposed pipes,” she says, referring to her own office/home space. “People come to me and say, ‘I want my place to feel like a loft,’ but I’m not designing real lofts.” Perhaps not, but they’re the next best thing. “I was apartment hunting myself, and I was so unhappy with what was out there. If I hadn’t found this space three years ago I wouldn’t have moved here. Not only are they tiny, they’re quite ugly, I’d have to say,” she states adamantly but not arrogantly. “Interiors in Hong Kong are very poorly designed. It’s like a developer and a contractor built something with no design aesthetic.”

It may not be the real deal, but Campos believes you can get that loft vibe, even in the flats so common here. “Yeah you can. You can make it feel like one with a few certain elements … The main things are to keep the ceilings. No false ceilings. Sometimes we’ll bring the pipe work out, we open up the windows as much as we can. Concrete floors always make it feel lofty, and open floor plans. The least amount of walls as possible,” she describes.

Campos’s biggest complaints in working in Hong Kong’s flats are common from designers. The city is awash in poor layouts and poor materials, and renovations can be hampered by residents with too much stuff (George Carlin would have had a field day). “People over-furnish, because they feel like they’re not doing enough if they’re not putting things … in the spaces,” Campos points out. Her preferred suggestion after finishing projects is that clients move in and actually live with the bare minimum for a while and then decide what could be added. Lofts are defined by their lack of clutter, and part of getting that loft feeling stems from that. “Most people have 10 different shampoos in the bathroom. I have one. I can’t tell clients to stop doing that but when you live in a small space it’s important to adapt your lifestyle to that, otherwise you’re going to be over-crowded with junk.”

When working on a given project Campos almost exclusively works with a clean slate, and part of the reason is those aforementioned existing interiors, though she’s rarely hired to just furnish a space anyway. “I don’t really like to just decorate a home. I find it difficult to work around the materials and the layout. There’s so much cabinetry, and the drop ceilings, and everything’s coming out at you. I like things open, simple, and lots of light. I’m much more of a minimalist … Small spaces can be charming. But you walk into an apartment with five tile choices in one room, and it’s just, ‘Really?’ And the bars across the windows …” she adds with an eye roll. The picture is vivid enough to make the point.

Campos is able to practise what she preaches because she was fortunate enough to find a landlord game to let her redesign her unit from top to bottom three years ago, and she’d like to practise it in more restaurant and retail spaces where creativity can run amok. “In residences functionality always wins over aesthetics. And I understand that and I would never push a client to do something that doesn’t work with how they want to use the space. But with retail you can do some interesting things. And F&B just because I think there are not a lot of places that are really that interesting in Hong Kong … there’s not a lot of thought going into [restaurants]. ‘Oh, it’s Italian because it has red and white checkers’,” she tosses in with a laugh. At least it’s not five tile choices.