A 1960s building overlooking the yacht club and the Noon Day Gun in Causeway Bay has proved to be a surprising source of inspiration for part-time property developers Deirdre Lander and Angelo Iannazzo.
Hoi Kung Court translates as “sea palace” and the current king and queen of this sixties-built Causeway Bay apartment block, Deirdre and Angelo, have lived in four different flats in the building in the past nine years.
Surrounded by the neon blur, luxury fashion boutiques and coffee hangouts of Causeway Bay, you would be forgiven for imagining these urban dwellers would be young, newbie expats. They are in fact a professional couple in their 50s from Melbourne who caught a case of wanderlust nine years ago when their blended family of five children all left home for university.
“When the children had all flown the nest, we actually began to wonder what was keeping us in Australia,” admits Deirdre. “Angelo is an engineer and I work in HR consulting so we thought why don’t we go and work somewhere else? We agreed that whichever of us got the first job, we would go with that and the other would follow. We were happy to go almost anywhere.”
Shortly after making the decision, Deirdre got headhunted by a Hong Kong-based apparel company to head up their human resources operations. She spent two years putting their HR systems in place at the same time as visiting remote areas of China and the rest of Asia in the name of work. She now is an HR consultant for Towers Watson.
“Angelo came as the traditional ‘trailing spouse’ but unfortunately didn’t do any of the usual things associated with that role such as the housework,” admits Deirdre. What Angelo did do with his time, however, was to trawl the property market and view over 100 potential rental homes on the island. Angelo has lived around the world and was working on his tried-and-tested formula of finding a place close to work and in the heart of the local cultural experience.
A flat under renovation in Hoi Kung Court was shown to him at 8pm one night and, although he had almost no idea where it was located on the island, he signed almost immediately; the amazing harbour view sealed the deal.
In the daylight, the view is indeed spectacular. Up on the 17th floor you can look across the harbour to Kowloon and beyond. All of Hong Kong is there in one ever-changing panorama; the Noon Day Gun, the cruise ships, the sampans, a floating temple and a black kite swooping low over the passing traffic on Gloucester Road. “In New York or Sydney you would pay a premium for this view. It is almost better than many in Central as it is so vast and so close,” remarks Angelo.
Nine years since that first rental apartment on the sixth floor, the couple have also called 12D and 16B, home; one as their first renovation project, another as an interim rental and now this current property, which they have just completed.
“Between us we have renovated 15 properties in our lifetime. I started at 22 and Angelo has lived in 36 homes in 30 years,” says Deirdre. “Taking something unattractive and turning it into something that is more special is both creative and commercially astute.”
Angelo is an engineer and both he and Deirdre relish the jigsaw-puzzle aspect of creating the perfect finished result. Before embarking on this renovation, they stripped the property back to bare rubble – every wall, wire, pipe and even the floor were removed to leave a completely blank canvas. They then worked with Australian designer Megan Dolby of Dolby Design and meticulously measured and planned to make sure every square centimetre fulfilled their requirements.
The planning started in the bedroom where Deirdre insisted on having enough space to walk down both sides of the bed. A treasured Georgian gentleman’s dresser and an antique dental cabinet had to have alcoves created to make them work within the limited space. Once the bed was positioned, the windows had to be moved to improve the symmetry.
In the bathroom, the small space has been made to look bigger with clever use of mirrored walls, raised units, an unobtrusive glass shower screen and an ingenious lipless marble shower tray engineered by Angelo himself. The marble has been chiselled to create ridges that get deeper at one end, allowing the water to drain off. Angelo searched the entire length and breadth of Hong Kong to find a craftsman to complete this intricate work. The rain shower is Angelo’s pièce de résistance, designed by Gessi and sourced at Pacific Bath Gallery on Lockhart Road.
As well as utilising every bit of space in the apartment, Deirdre and Angelo’s other top tip is to make the property work with your lifestyle. In the kitchen, traditional appliances have been scaled back to just a two-burner hob and a convection microwave. The couple love to eat out at nearby local restaurants and Deirdre admits to being more of an “assembler of food” than a cook so the pared-back approach works for them. What was an essential rather than a luxury, however, was the inbuilt Liebherr wine fridge.
Angelo runs his global consulting business from home so good telecommunications were essential. All the cords and wires are hidden behind the plasterwork so planning the location of appliances and covering all eventualities before and not after the build were key. Flexibility and convenience even extends to the artwork which is displayed on a flexible system of gallery rails bought at Artmen Gallery, and eliminates the need to put holes in the walls.
The most striking, and I’m told the most expensive, aspect of the renovation was the huge floor-to-ceiling glass wall in the living room. Unlike other residents in the building who prefer to have their living area away from the noise outside, Angelo and Deirdre wanted to soak in the view as often as possible so, understandably, they made this the feature of the living room. The glass is totally typhoon- and sound-proof, you wouldn’t even realise you were 17 floors above one of the busiest stretches of freeway in the world. The telescope was a gift from one of Angelo’s Brazilian business partners who was so taken with the view on a recent visit that he insisted on installing the giant piece of kit.
When it came to decorating the apartment, Deirdre and Angelo have amassed a collection of art and antiques during their travels that now work perfectly against the simple black-and-white background. The cushions on the leather sofa were bought at Tequila Kola and the collection of Persian carpets, a passion of Deirdre’s, have been bought everywhere from Singapore to Melbourne.
When it comes to leisure time, the couple love to hike, although admit friends back in Australia are disbelieving when they tell them they can take a cab from outside their building and be on a National Park trail in less than 10 minutes. They also never tire of seeking out new local restaurants in and around Causeway Bay, loving the fact that their neighbourhood is confrontingly Asian but very cosmopolitan at the same time. Angelo holds most of his meetings at the Exelsior’s EXpresso bar which he believes has the best coffee in Hong Kong.
Despite Angelo’s claims that his wife is a very demanding client, this dream-team shows no signs of stopping. They are already planning to rent out this property and have their eyes set on Sheung Wan as a possible location for a new project. When I dare to bring up the question of retiring and returning home, Deirdre is adamant that it is not on their agenda. “The idea of working less frenetically is appealing, but retiring? No. I mean, let’s face it, what would we do? There is only so much golf you can play!”