Something Old Something New

Something Old Something NewDesigner Clifton Leung addresses the buildings that actually dominate the landscape

Old walk-ups and tenement buildings make for popular residences in Hong Kong but there are some advantages to new builds. Square Foot chats with the brain trust behind the Clifton Leung Design Workshop about new versus old and the reality of redesigning Hong Kong flats.

You’ve been working on some relatively new buildings, like Aria, recently. To be fair, how much work do you have to do in these newer structures?
Basically I put in new doors, new lighting, new wardrobes and built-in furniture. The kitchens and bathrooms are usually so new people don’t want to rip them out. The design may be gaudy, but no one wants to toss out new stuff. It’s about rearranging the walls and making a better use of storage and lighting.

It’s easier to work in?
It is, and it’s more economical for clients. They’re already paid for the luxury kitchens and bathrooms. Usually new buildings are like that. It’s very seldom we re-do everything unless clients want a spa bathroom and so on.

And how about working in Parc Palais?
That’s newer, and bigger as well. Our client bought it as a second-hand unit so they just wanted it all re-done. We made everything with rounded corners for kids, made it userfriendly and put in lots and lots of storage. That was a requirement. There are cabinets under the seating in the living room and we put in two huge storage units. We tried to fit everything into the space — but nicely. There’s lighting above and underneath the cabinets in the living room, which creates better ambience, instead of a big chandelier. We put a fan up for better ventilation and to use less air conditioning.

So storage is still an issue.
Oh yes. I think in Hong Kong… all my clients come in: “Storage.”

You’ve been working for a couple of decades. Have you seen any changes in what you’re starting with?
Smaller units are getting smaller and smaller, the usage and the usable percentage is low. But the ceilings are taller now, so you get a better sense of space. Quality wise it really depends on which builders [did your work]. However, there are more restrictions now. You can’t do this and that, you can’t change the windows, the air conditioning, you can’t put pipes outside. And there are noise restrictions in luxury buildings. Noise hours are about 5 hours per day. That’s crazy. You can’t do 8 hours’ work in 5 hours. You can nail stuff after 10am, and then at 3 you’re done.

That could be costly. A three-month job turns into four months …
Definitely. It makes it a nightmare. No Saturdays, and if someone complains they’ll turn off your electricity. You have to consider the age of the building and the regulations that come with it when you buy. But if you look at it and see things have been changed you’re probably safe.

Does no one buy and move in “as is”?
That’s a Hong Kong thing. Things deteriorate so much, so fast. Spaces are small and heavily used, the humidity is high, and then you blast the air con at night … it’s easy for things to just break down or rot. Whenever I visit a client’s new flat, even if the previous owner renovated, there are still signs of wear. And flats are very expensive so [owners] want to really enjoy what they paid so much for.

“I want what I want.”