We chat with homeowner JEN WONG about the home renovations she and husband Jeff recently completed in their little corner of Happy Valley.
About the Home
Size and location: 1,100-square-foot fourth-floor apartment in Happy Valley
Who lives here: Jeff and Jen Wong (and one baby on the way!), and two dogs (a Tasmanian Labradoodle and a rescue Papillon)
Where they’re from: Jeff was born in Hong Kong and bred in Northern Ireland; Jen was born in Vancouver, bred in Hong Kong, and spent time in the US
What they do: Jeff works at LinkedIn and Jen works at the Hong Kong Jockey Club; both offices are in Causeway Bay
When did you buy your place, and why this particular property?
We bought it in May 2020, when we were looking for a bigger space to renovate and add our personality to. Jeff found our current flat on the “Living in Happy Valley” Facebook group. It was the location, the high ceiling and the efficient layout that mostly attracted us.
What was your vision for your home renovation?
Being one with nature; bringing “Bali villa living” to our home in Hong Kong; being away from the city; and having a minimalist, unconventional urban oasis that’s unlike most other flats in the city. We also didn’t want our apartment to be too pretty to touch or use; we’ve seen apartments that are so nice and perfect that you don’t want to do anything in them, just in case you ruin something! We didn’t want that – we wanted to be able to enjoy the space.
What were some of the specific things you did in the renovation?
- Knocked down the wall between the kitchen and living space to create an open kitchen. This was a non-negotiable since we like to entertain and I love to cook; having an open kitchen allows everyone to be in the same space.
- Knocked down a storage area to expose the structural pillar (unique to older buildings in Hong Kong); this also gave space to the corridor and living area, allowing for more open vistas.
- Added Juliet balconies to the master bedroom to bring the surrounding greenery in, and knocked down the wall between that bedroom and the bathroom to create an open bathroom and spa-like space. It’s as close to a Bali holiday villa as you can get in an HK flat!
- Added unpolished concrete flooring from the kitchen to the rooms, which helps create the villa vibe and connects the master bed and bath areas so that it feels like one space instead of separate compartments. The concrete kitchen countertop is also reasonably uncommon in homes here; again, it was done to accentuate the Bali design theme.
- Used as many natural materials (like concrete and natural hardwood) as possible to blend in with the environment around us.
Did you come up with the ideas yourselves, or did you use a designer?
We came up with the ideas, and we used a design company, MØFT Studio, to help put our vision onto paper.
Any challenges or surprises during the renovation work? Was COVID-19 a hindrance?
COVID wasn’t a hindrance; if anything, it inspired us to be more experimental with the idea of bringing villa living home as we can’t travel and we really miss checking out different hotels! Since restrictions started, Jeff has been working from home, and this gave him the flexibility to keep a close eye on the renovation and be a project manager.
The challenges and surprises were mainly to do with the fact that the building is a 66-year-old walkup, which means we had to be more creative with electrical wiring, gas piping and internet wiring. Another major challenge was moving the pieces up the four floors. Aside from the extra cost involved, there were some scary moments with significant pieces of furniture that were simply too big to be carried up to the flat. In particular, the bathtub is made of man-made stone and weighs around 130kg, so it was very difficult to manoeuvre it up the narrow stairway. Our contractor spent two days figuring out how to do it; the bathtub sat on the road during that time, and we were warned that it would be smashed and removed by management by the end of the second day if we didn’t figure it out!
Having said all that, the fact that it’s an older flat also means there are fewer limits on what we can change structurally to the windows and walls; the Juliet balconies, for example, wouldn’t have been possible if we lived in a newer building.
What are one or two of your favourite things from the reno?
The vanity table behind the concrete master bedroom headboard, which I designed and we got Hardwood Hong Kong to craft. We also love the open bathroom with the free-standing tub that looks out to the green vistas around.
Tell us about some of the furniture pieces that you had tailor-made.
The console table, vanity table and master wardrobe were handmade in oak from Poland by Hardwood Hong Kong. This is the first time that Filip from the company has worked with rattan, and the pieces came out perfectly. They’re all handmade – the floor-to-ceiling wardrobe door is especially impressive, as rattan tends to scrunch up if not spread properly over large frames.
We absolutely love our sofa from Tequila Kola – we picked a natural tone to match with our oak flooring and it’s super comfy – once you sit down, it’s very hard to get up! We also managed to pick up a hardwood table in teak from Indigo Living.
What do you like about this part of Hong Kong?
Happy Valley is only a five-minute car ride or 15-minute walk from Causeway Bay and the closest MTR station, but it has a close-knit community and a vibe that feels a little removed from the city. Village Terrace, in particular, is neatly tucked away behind Bowen Road, surrounded by greenery in the hillside; it’s close enough to the main road for convenience but not so close that you hear traffic.
We’ve always aspired to live in a Hong Kong village and this is as close as we can get in the city with all the convenience while not having to commute to work.
Jeff & Jen’s recommendation
MØFT Studio moftstudio.com
Hardwood Hong Kong hardwoodhk.com
Indigo Living indigo-living.com
Tequila Kola tequilakola.com
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.