Renovating a 30-year-old Mid-levels flat

Clifton Leung Designs

SEA Group’s Amber Garden on Kennedy Road went up in the early 1980s, and the development has proven itself to be one of the area’s most consistent properties for its spacious flats with relatively high efficiency ratios. But as is the case with most purchases, the new owners of an Amber Garden property sought to reinvigorate it as well as make it child-ready, and did so with help from Clifton Leung Design Workshop.

The long run

When CLDW founder and chief design officer Clifton Leung took on the redesign of the nearly 1,500 saleable square foot flat, he had just a few internal structural walls to contend with, and three flexible bedrooms — or two bedrooms plus a den/guest room. The owners were also repeat clients, which was the first challenge Leung faced with the flat. “Coming up with a new design theme,” recalls Leung. “They know my style, and I know what they like as well. So it was a real breakthrough to do something different, but that was familiar. They didn’t want the same wood style from before, and were looking for something more modern and simple.”

Clifton Leung Designs

Leung has done work in hospitality, food and beverage, retail, health care as well as hundreds of residential projects since founding CLDW in 1997. At Amber Garden, he applied many of the same concepts to the residence as he does to spaces like hospitals — where light and snag-free corners are crucial — and restaurants, which demand a warm, welcoming ambience. Leung is big on the little details that define a space, and Amber Garden is loaded up with cohesive lines, unobtrusive door handles, sliding doors, materials and accessories that are durable and washable (essential with kids in the house), and easily fixed or replaced, as a start. Lights within storage fixtures and under shelving are a favourite of Leung’s, with chandeliers and pendant lights kept to a minimum. “It’s too ‘sparkly’, too shiny. [The owners] wanted warm lighting and a comfortable feeling,” he explains, adding that longevity in the residence was also a factor. “I don’t want to be trendy from a design point of view. I want things to last for years. I’m not in fashion, and I don’t want things to be ‘out’ in a season.”

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Rethinking privacy

When Leung started on the flat, two elements sprung to the fore. First was the dim and slightly dated style of the previous owners, and second was the eventual presence of a child in the home. “It was dark. The previous owners had it very dark, with heavy drapes and a lot of colours. They also didn’t open the kitchen; it was enclosed,” notes Leung, whose first order of business was opening up the galley kitchen as much as possible (right through to the maid’s quarters) and connecting the master bedroom and children’s room without sacrificing privacy.

Clifton Leung Designs

From the main entry, the living and dining areas open up to the left and right, with bedrooms directly ahead. Separating the two were non-structural walls that created an odd, maze-like back half to the flat. “It was very strange, it was like a walk-in closet. So you’d walk through a little corridor and be in the bedroom right away,” says Leung. The extra walls were removed, the en suite bathrooms were re-tooled and the dividing wall was transformed into a double-sided closet. “Now you come into the en suites more directly, there’s a little foyer and the bathroom. This way you don’t see in the room right away. It provides a little more privacy,” Leung describes. And with clothing acting as a default sound insulator, the wall isn’t missed. “It saves a bit of space, and you know how precious that is in Hong Kong. It also creates better flow between the two rooms. There’s a connection between the two rooms with the floor and the wall finish, the marble, that ties it all together.”

Clifton Leung Designs

Connecting spaces

Flow is the key to the entire design. From the study near the entry, to the inset shelving by the dining area, and all the way through the bathrooms and kitchen, Leung has a single trim motif that subtly binds the home together, a dark geometric link that leads the eye. The cabinetry surface in each room has different patterns, but they are similar in tone and finish without being identical. “We didn’t want too many materials. The cabinet surfaces are imported; they’re kind of like a fabric — but with a laminated finish. It’s different from a normal veneer,” states Leung. “But they come from the same family: different colours but a similar texture. I wanted them to be associated, to have the same DNA. Plus the black details. The trimming is the connective tissue.” Shelving, cabinets and closets all share black accents that give structure without bogging the room down. 

On the hardware front, the flat was already outfitted with central air conditioning — a rare luxury in Hong Kong — that freed up window and wall space for A/V gear, art and extended kitchen storage, Leung reconfigured the windows to maximise natural light and allow ventilation, and installed water and air purifiers for a positive pressure home with less dust. Of course, the question remains: Did he manage to create more space in the end? “I wish,” Leung quips, settling for better if not more. “But I tried.” 

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