Hong Kong

Chang Bene Design

When the Hong Kong design firm Chang Bene Design began renovating a single-family residence on Hong Kong's south shore, they took on a project that epitomizes the challenges of living on the island: though small and crowded with narrow homes, Hong Kong is full of wealthy residents who are increasingly demanding more from their living spaces.

Chang Bene's client, a Hong Kong businessman with a penchant for the outdoors and swimming, wasn't interested in increasing the size of his 3,500 square foot residence, but demanded a space to hold informal meetings and entertain clients with an outdoor pool and patio.  Due to the limited space, "It was like a puzzle game," says Shirley Chang, one of the two principals at Chang Bene. "All the possible designs had trade offs. There was constant bargaining."  

The original building was a two-story home that sat above a carport and a small ground floor. "The house wasn't connected to the ground," Chang says. In addition, each floor was divided into small, enclosed rooms, a typical arrangement in Hong Kong homes, many of which are limited in square footage.  

Chang Bene enclosed the existing carport and broke through its ceiling to create a two-story high living room. The firm placed a large, retractable glass shutter between the living room and the new lap pool outside to make the living room into a "floating pavilion," says Chang.

The architects designed the ground floor to work as one large entertaining space, with a living room, open kitchen, and enclosed dining deck all flowing into each other. A new basement, which Chang Bene created by "digging down about four feet," contains a study with a shower and changing room for guests.

Above the ground level, Chang Bene created a library mezzanine that overlooks the living room. On the top level, the architects converted three separate bedrooms into a single master bedroom and bathroom with lacquered floor-to-ceiling panels that slide open to increase cross ventilation and light.    

"The client wanted everything as open as possible. He was looking for flexibility in his spaces," says Chang.

The hardest part of the project, says Chang, was convincing the Building Department of Hong Kong to approve the two-story-high living room. Because of the limited space in the city, the department was "suspicious" of such an idea, in disbelief that a resident would prefer a high-ceilinged living room to more square footage. The two-year project was also atypical for Hong Kong, says Chang, because the client allowed the firm to take as much time as it needed.

Christopher Bene, Chang’s partner, says, "Increasingly, people don't want chopped rooms, they want light and air. They want to connect with the ground plane." Chang adds, "The lesson is that [some people] value good design before money."