Close quarters

As a youngster living in a tiny flat with six others in one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Hong Kong architect Gary Chang became obsessed with living space, or rather a chronic lack of it.

After three decades in the same boxy, 32-square-metre dwelling, Hong Kong architect Gary Chang has come up with an innovative answer to the increasingly cramped lives of many urban dwellers – the science fiction-like “domestic transformer”.

“The idea is everything is moving. This is my laundry space,” Chang explains, sliding away a wall filled with CDs to reveal a washing machine and dryer.

By sliding another track-mounted metal wall that bears a plasma TV, a kitchen materialised. Beside that, there is a luxurious 1.9m bathtub that itself turns into a guest bed.

While people in other teeming cities such as Tokyo resort to drop-down beds and foldable futons, the award-winning Chang has taken the concept of space-saving to the extreme.

His tiny rectangular apartment, tucked into the bowels of an old, nondescript tenement building, has polished chrome walls that bear 24 configurations, each suiting a specific need.

The space available becomes a home theatre, spa, kitchen, bedroom, chill-out zone rigged up with a hammock, depending on what Chang needs at any moment.

“The high intensity of use makes (it) more like a large home appliance than a dwelling,” wrote Chang in his book “32m square apartment – a 30-year transformation” that chronicles the origins of his innovative abode, which has undergone numerous facelifts through the years.

Chang, who runs his own design and architectural firm, describes an empty space as a “luxury” and once built a “Suitcase House” in Beijing blurring the boundaries between public and private space.

“The only enclosed space is the toilet, and again, it’s bigger than usual,” said Chang, whose flat is surrounded by the highways and skyscrapers that embody Hong Kong’s rampant urban development that have made spacious flats a pipedream for many.

At a cost of HK$1.8 million (US$231,700), Chang hopes his dwelling offers a viable, life-enhancing alternative for Hong Kongers who can’t afford anything bigger.

“The idea is to tune your home closer to what you really want instead of being dictated by the market or by the space allocated,” said the designer who says he’s now in talks with property developers to replicate his flat in other space-starved, costly cities across Asia and Europe, including Paris.


Sky High

The Hamptons hamlets in New York State are rich in history and beauty – from the whaling town of Sag Harbor to the oceanfront of Southampton, where 
I grew up. It was only fitting that when 
I started a family of my own I went out in search of the perfect weekend countryside spot, away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. My husband, whose schedule as the news anchor of a morning show wakes him hours before the sun rises, and I, a magazine editor, value the weekends to catch up with our four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, and with each other.

Once we found a beautiful house just a short walk from the beach, we set out to create the perfect enclave. The earth is so rich, a mixture of sand and soil, and the trees on our property are about eight years old. The garden we planted with our kids returns an abundance of tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, lettuce, beans, every kind of herb and sunflowers seasonally. The deer feast regularly on every type of plant, however, and we spend far too much time figuring out ways to keep them out.

Our Colonial-style cedar-shingled home fits in well in an area known for its traditional Stanford White designs. It was the mastermind of a local architect I found who still hand-draws his projects. I asked him to create enough room for everyone to find their own quiet space. I enlisted my Australian-born friend Emma Jane Pilkington to decorate the house from top to bottom and she gave it her well-mannered, tailored touch. Coupled with the bohemian flair I wanted, the end result was perfectly eclectic. 
Its mellow personality is comfortable for our children, and it 
suits their boisterous ways. Pilkington’s signature use of many mirrors is in every room, reflecting the light that streams through french doors and windows. Beautiful Oly chandeliers of oyster 
shells and wood give a glow to the house in the evening.

The woven sisal used throughout the house is paired with crisp 
linen and silk fabrics with splashes of vibrant colour – hand-dyed purple, navy blue, or yellow (in the den, master bedroom and 
living room respectively) – giving a happy turn to the otherwise relaxed atmosphere.

The sunroom is the perfect place for us to read the papers 
on weekend mornings. Even the open kitchen is an inviting place 
to hang out and is a great spot for us to watch my husband slave over the stove. I wanted the guestroom to be an escape for 
our visitors – a place to feel completely at home, yet pampered in fine linens and country warmth. The kids’ rooms are my favourites – filled with David Netto modern cribs, beds and mini-Kartell Ghost chairs by Philippe Stark. But then again, any room my kids are in 
is my favourite room. With a third child on the way, I am dreaming of spending even more time in our chic little family nest.