The high ceilings and bare concrete walls of an industrial unit were the perfect canvas for a gallery director.
Text Christopher DeWolf / Photography John Butlin
If there’s one thing Donna NguyenPhuoc loves about her Wong Chuk Hang studio, it’s the 12-foot-high ceiling.
“The high ceiling is No 1… by far,” she says. Not only does it make the place feel less constricted, it also allowed her to install a cockloft, which transformed one corner into a two-level space with a bedroom above and a workspace below.
Though consisting of a staircase and platform, and several integrated drawers and cupboards for storage, it was surprisingly straightforward to build.
“I’m still amazed,” she says. “The carpenter came in with a few pieces of wood and did so much with them.”
The set-up is one that’s popular with artists and designers who have settled in industrial areas and converted factory units into combined livingworking spaces. When NguyenPhuoc, director of Ap Lei Chau’s Damina Gallery, bought her 1,100 sq ft property, she says: “It was concrete floors, four walls and that’s it.”
A priority was to keep the space as open as possible. “I don’t like chopping spaces into small rooms, which you see in a lot of Hong Kong flats,” says NguyenPhuoc, who undertook the redesign herself.
The kitchen, dining area and living room all flow together, bathed in light from a south-facing window – to make the most of which she installed a bathroom with frosted glass walls and a glass barrier for the cockloft.
In the bathroom, a deep Japanesestyle tub – clad in black, grey and white mosaic tiles, to set it off against the black walls and floor – is a space-saving alternative to a regular bathtub. “It’s big enough for four people,” she says, half-jokingly.
NguyenPhuoc wanted to keep an industrial feel to the place, so she retained the concrete floor but applied a black varnish with rough strokes to give it an undulating, painterly quality.
For contrast, she painted the concrete and brick walls white, which, though uniform in hue, boast interesting textures.
For the open kitchen, which runs along one side of the flat, NguyenPhuoc opted for a glossy black finish to the cupboards and a black-and-white tile backdrop. One corner was left unfinished, revealing the raw concrete beneath. Why? “People always wonder what the space was like before,” she says.
The cockloft bedroom is more intimate than the rest of the unit, thanks to a carpeted floor. Instead of a bed, there’s just a mattress – partly out of necessity, because of the proximity of the ceiling, and partly because NguyenPhuoc liked the casual feel. Shelves, drawers and wardrobes are all built into the wall at the foot of the bed.
NguyenPhuoc’s decor softens the inherently industrial space with bright colours, shaggy rugs in the living and dining areas and – crucially – a lot of art, including sculptures and paintings.
Throughout the flat, simple, streamlined features such as the black coffee table play against busier, brighter items such as the bright-red living room rug and sofa. “I wanted it to be black and white with a few colours that pop out,” she says.
Work nook The desk (HK$8,000) and storage baskets (HK$550 for a set of three) came from Tequila Kola. The vintage phone (HK$2,000) was found on Le Cong Kieu Street (aka Antique Street), in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The lanterns are from Twenty Two North (HK$700 to HK$1,500). The black-and-white painting is by artist Phuong Quoc Tri and the colourful painting by Kongo; both of whom are represented by Damina Gallery. The work chair cost HK$2,390 at SofaSale (2/F, Tung Kin Factory Building, 196 Tsat Tsz Mui Road, Quarry Bay, tel: 2541 1230)