Architects Vince Lim and Elaine Lu used their 1,200-square-foot Happy Valley apartment to declare their design intentions, creating a home inspired by New York loft living, but with the rough edges smoothed off.
Words Christopher Dewolf
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 87, September 2017
In most countries, young architects make their mark with a single-family house, a kind of thesis statement for their design ambitions. In space-starved Hong Kong, however, designers need to make do with less. That wasn’t a problem for architects Vince Lim and Elaine Lu, who uprooted from New York in 2015 to move to Hong Kong, Lim’s hometown.
Since launching their firm, Lim and Lu, they have transitioned from architecture towards interior and product design. “We want to design the space, the furniture in the space, the products,” Lim says “We think of our design practice as a lifestyle brand. That may seem weird but I think they go hand in hand. Design has the ability to improve the lives of people.”
To prove their ambition, they embarked on a complete overhaul of the 1,206-square-foot apartment they owned in Happy Valley. “Before we started the renovations it was a typical Hong Kong apartment where spaces were very compartmentalised with long corridors leading into them,” Lim says. “All the rooms were separate, it was dark, and the kitchen was separate from the living spaces.”
So the couple decided to gut the place, Lu says. “We pretty much knocked down all the walks in the apartment and re-planned it. It was like starting from a blank canvas.”
They thought back to New York for inspiration. “We liked loft spaces and the flow and idea of a New York loft, but we don’t quite like the rugged loft style, the industrial style,” says Lim. “So we created a loft inside a Hong Kong apartment.”
That meant wide open spaces linked by sliding doors and glass walls, which made the flat seem larger and brighter than before. The couple identified core living areas – the kitchen, living room and bedroom – and cast them in soothing neutral tones, with light woody floors, white walls and sheer white curtains. They took a different approach entirely to the bathroom, study and dressing room, which are packed with contrasting colours and textures.
They started by designing the bathroom. “I have an obsession with bathrooms,” Lu says. “We were walking along Lockhart Road looking for inspiration and I saw this tile I fell in love with.” The tile’s marble-like stations and grey hexagonal pattern led to an Art Deco-influenced design that plays a black marble console off brass fixtures and jade-coloured walls, with a circular mirror and cylindrical pendant lights to round out the look.
Next to the living room, the study has pink walls and a Portuguese-style tile floor with a pattern in navy, teal, orange, gold, white and cream. It is surrounded by black framed sliding glass doors – the one aesthetic nod to industrial New York style – which allow the space to open seamlessly into the living room.
“The pink room is usually a study where we can read and work, but when guests come over it can become a dining room. Or we can move the table out and close the curtains and doors and it becomes a private guest room. That flexibility is important in cities like New York and Hong Kong where space is limited,” Lu says.
It’s tempting to see the contrasting spaces as two sides of the coupe’s creative identity: distinct in form yet complementary in function. The couple started a romantic relationship becoming design partners. “We agree on a lot of things but we do have small disagreements and it’s the disagreements that helps push our design forward.” Lu says.
That is particularly apparently in their furniture, which is a fascinating juxtaposition of colours, textures and forms. Lim’s style is “more black and white and geometric”, while Lu’s is more colourful and organic. They found common ground in the dining table, which has a rounded white marble top on two chunky brass legs, one cylindrical, the other rectangular.
Lim and Lu finished renovating the apartment in August 2016, and they have been gradually furnishing it since. “We wanted to keep it very minimal and not clutter the space, so we’ve slowly curated the furniture based on what we need,” says Lu.
“We call it a slow process of design,” Lim says. “That doesn’t typically happen in Hong Kong, clients expect a quick turnaround. It’s nice not to design everything all at once because as you live in the space you start to figure our what you need and what you’d like. You start to figure out what your essentials are.
Over the past year, the couple has received steady stream of visitors to check out their renovation it’s a design statement but also a home. “We foresee this apartment evolving and changing with us for the long term,” Lim says. “What’s special is that Lim & Lu is our practice and design, but it’s also us, a married couple.”