From the outside, Tracy and Pierre Simaika’s Discovery Bay apartment block looks like a typical Hong Kong high-rise. But step inside their beautifully home and you are immediately struck by the infinite possibilities that can be achieved by a renovation in Hong Kong in a space less than 1,000 square feet. Tracy and Pierre, who met in Canada and have lived in Dubai, Spain and Singapore before moving to Hong Kong five years ago, undertook the ambitious project last year when they decided they wanted to customise a home to suit their family’s specific needs.
Remarkably, the couple had only renovated one property, in Canada, before they decided to take on the task of completely gutting an apartment in a foreign country, all while Tracy was pregnant with their second child. Despite having faced plenty of challenges, the result is a tranquil family home that works for their two young children – although the couple admit it took a fair amount of passion and persistence to achieve.
The family were already living in Discovery Bay when they decided they wanted to buy to renovate, choosing an apartment that was just over 900 square feet gross. As Tracy says: “The whole point of moving sideways to something the same size is that we wanted to make it as functional as possible for our family, and you can’t do that if you’re moving into something that somebody else has done for their family.”
The block was more than 20 years old, and the apartment had been in the hands of an owner occupier for an extended period when they bought it. “It was still in the original state with the parquet floors,” Tracy recalls. “It hadn’t been given any love!”
With a baby on the way, the couple wasted no time in getting started on the project with the help of a contractor. “We engaged the contractor before we had possession,” Tracy says. “I wanted to be in that apartment when that baby came! We had them look at it, and they were able to say this is the permit you will need and so on.”
“From that respect, it worked well in that they were organised and had a schedule. We took possession in November and we went and ripped everything out – doors, windows, wiring, plugs, the water heater,” Tracy says. “We went right down to the walls and then we took out some of those,” Pierre continues.
They had a strong and common vision of what they wanted before work got underway. “I have Pinterest boards for years,” Tracy laughs. Pierre explains: “A small space needs to be bright and we like it as open as possible, so that was the sort of baseline that we followed, which kind of made it easy. Of course, in the process things can change, but the baseline was always there.”
A new look
Over the course of four months, the couple took a dated, three-bedroom apartment, and transformed it into a sleek and modern two-bedroom apartment. They achieved this in a number of ways, from using crisp white throughout for key fixtures and furnishings, to strategic use of mirrors and large window treatments to maximise natural light.
They also didn’t shy away from bold moves – one of their most significant decisions was to reduce the number of bedrooms to convert two small bedrooms into one larger room for the children. With bunk beds and clever storage, there is now a generous area for the children to play – unusual in a Hong Kong home.
They did most of their own shopping for things such as tiles and appliances and left no stone unturned when it came to getting exactly the style or colour shade that they had in mind. The result is that even the most seemingly minor feature is considered and functional.
This attention to detail is evident in their kitchen, which they sourced themselves and which Pierre built, using the contractors only for technical aspects such as the plumbing and gas. While they used a white base in most of the apartment, they decided to take a different approach with the kitchen to create a space with some colour by having coloured cabinets.
Tracy also had her heart set on a particular type of tile, but had been unable to locate a local stockist until she finally struck it lucky in an obscure shop in Mong Kok. “I was desperate so I went back to Mong Kok and this one guy asked if I had a photo. He opened up catalogues that he had and he did find it for me,” she says.
As anyone who has renovated will attest, there are inevitable compromises and changes along the way. Tracy says she was concerned that floor tiles would be too hard and loud with young children, and she considered wood floors, but couldn’t find the right colours. Pierre wanted bigger tiles, but they were too slippery. Ultimately, they went with smaller, safer tiles that had better grip and instead focused on minimising sound.
“We do notice that it’s a loud apartment, so we have to put in more soft furnishings and we’ve put an acoustic panel on the wall,” Tracy says. “But we have a bit more work to do on that when we have two kids playing loudly!” The acoustic panel is one of the many ways the couple’s ability to think laterally is evident. They created it themselves by buying canvases and stripping the material off for the frames, then getting some thick backing and covering it in a fabric from Denmark to make the panel a feature piece.
They also had to adapt to some of the differences in how the local industry works, such as in the case of the paint they wanted to use. It took some convincing to stop their painters from thinning the paint, assuming the couple would prefer to save money, rather than have thicker coats on their walls.
QUOTE: “I truly recommend keeping a close watch on what’s going on – then you know what’s being done”
Another aspect of the renovation that took some adjusting to was the workflow. For example, Tracy says, due to the size of the apartment, the delivery schedule of materials needed to be carefully managed as there wasn’t the room to have everything arrive at once. The other aspect was that a lot of work was scheduled based on contractor availability, so the work was not done room by room.
While they worked closely with their contractor, they were very hands on throughout the project. This was partly possible due to the flexible nature of Pierre’s work as a pilot, along with the couple’s online jewellery box business, Anna Alexandra. Pierre says being able to be on site regularly had many benefits and recommends doing so if you are renovating.
“I would truly recommend keeping a close watch on what’s going on – then you know what’s being done,” he adds. “That’s not about keeping an eye on the contractors but rather for if you suddenly realise something’s not going to work, you can change it before it’s too late.”
You also need to be persistent about getting what you want. “You just have to be prepared to hear ‘cannot’ a lot, and the more you’re able to say to them ‘yes, you can get this here’, or ‘here’s a photo’, the better,” Pierre says.
Overall, the entire project cost 25 percent more than they planned, with unexpected additions such as their bathroom tiles costing more than the floor tiles for the whole apartment, but the couple are pleased with the end result and say they will renovate again. “It’s not on the cards right now,” Tracy says.
TRACY AND PIERRE’S RECOMMENDATIONS
Home & Décor
B&K by Leo Tiles 288 Portland Street, Mong Kok 2391 3033
Hang Fat Building Supplies Company 16 Hong Kok Street, Mong Kok 3904 3374
Hangzhou Vermont Deluxe Materials (custom-built, flat-packed kitchens) Hangzhou, China | +86 571 88174927
Apartment 49 Curated Design Market (home décor and kitchen items) apartment49.com
Inside Living (home décor and soft furnishings) inside.com.hk
Food & Drinks
Paisano’s Pizzeria paisanos.com.hk
Bahce Shop 19, G/F, Mui Wo Centre, 3 Ngan Wan Road, Mui Wo 2984 0222
This article first appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.