When it comes to renovating a house, the temptation is to rip it all out and start again. Yet sometimes, this just seems wrong. With Hong Kong’s landfills overflowing with perfectly good kitchens, bathrooms and flooring, it’s becoming increasingly clear the responsible way to renovate is to reuse, reclaim and adapt.
“We try to be green – we compost, we recycle,” says Australian Louise Garnaut, who lives in a 1,750 sq ft Clear Water Bay village house with her Italian branding designer husband, Vincenzo Perri, and their children, Agnese, 14, and Ettore, nine. “When we bought the house in 2011, it was immaculate. The previous owner was Japanese and it was truly minimal. Would I have chosen these floor tiles? No, but we can live with them.”
With just weeks to finalise the plan before the contractor started work, Garnaut and Perri, who have lived in Hong Kong since the 1980s, worked with what they had.
“Fortunately, we had been living in a similar house and I’d been thinking for years about what I would do with the space,” Garnaut says. “We wanted it to be minimalist, but not too minimalist. I didn’t want it to look like a hotel; a home should be a bit quirky. It should have character.”
They adapted the existing layout, comprising a double-height living space, a study and bathroom on the ground floor, a kitchen on the mezzanine, and bedrooms on the floor above, plus a rooftop barbecue and entertaining space. They installed double glazing to reduce electricity usage and came up with an ingenious storage solution: a five-foot-wide “bridge” lined with floor-to-ceiling cupboards extending from the mezzanine floor along one wall of the double-height living room. Inside are dishes, wine, kitchen paraphernalia and an entire cupboard dedicated to cookbooks.
“I do a lot of baking,” says Garnaut, who ran her own bindery, Bookworks, for many years before becoming an estate agent for okay.com.
Her all-white kitchen needed a little alteration to provide more space. They moved the island a couple of feet to make way for a cupboard for the large fridge-freezer and added a wall-sized blackboard on which Garnaut chalks up to-do reminders.
“We’ve had a blackboard in our last three homes. This one is black laminate; it’s so much easier to clean.”
On the ground floor, the living space saw the most change during the renovation, with the installation of a new window, a large cupboard with bamboo doors and an entertainment system behind a distressed-steel sliding wall. Cement board was applied to two walls, with bamboo laminate on a third.
“The contractors didn’t like working with the cement board,” Garnaut says. “It’s quite hard to cut and, because it comes in panels, the joins had to be in the right places. The bamboo cupboard doors were also not right the first time, but we reused the first attempt to make a desk.”
Next to the stairs, the double-height wall has been finished with a three-layer paint system: a yellow primer, a sandy-textured layer and the final grey wash. “The contractor didn’t want to do it – he didn’t think it would look good. But we had seen it at a friend’s [home] and Vincenzo said, ‘We’re doing it.'”
“We practised first inside the cupboard under the stairs,” Garnaut says, opening a door to some beautifully decorated storage. “Then Vincenzo painted it using a ladder and a platform he built himself.”
As for furniture, being one of nine children, Garnaut says, she doesn’t have much in the way of heirlooms apart from a much-loved desk in the living room that came from a great aunt. However, being part of a large family does have its advantages.
“When my sisters and friends move, if something doesn’t work in the new house it gets passed on. It’s a cycle,” Garnaut says
Upstairs, the largest bedroom was split to create a master bedroom and a room for Ettore. Both new rooms have picture windows framing dramatic views of the bay.
The master bedroom makes the most of that view, with the bed facing the window against a substantial bespoke headboard. Behind this, antique Korean chests create a dressing area between the bed and a wall of built-in wardrobes. Agnese, however, has the only en-suite bathroom.
“The rest of us share the family bathroom, which is much smaller. We did renovate the bathrooms – they were a bit weird, with the toilets set at an angle. I’m really not bothered about having an en-suite,” Garnaut says. “It’s easier this way.”