At TwoTwoSix, designer Ilse Crawford teams up with Blake’s to be part of an ongoing bid to revitalise the Sheung Wan district at street level
Long in need of a face-lift, Sheung Wan has, fortunately, come to the attention of boutique developers and business owners who don’t want it to become just a shallow mimicry of Soho or Manhattan without a real soul of its own. One of Hong Kong island’s older districts, Sheung Wan is now home to a movement aiming to revive the essential character of the area – and enhance its appeal to a younger, more dynamic audience.
As Hong Kong experiences yet another property bubble, old walk-up buildings (tong-lau) are being dressed up with modern façades by developers with a keen eye for potential growth. Among them is Blake’s – a young, adventurous developer – which prioritises urban and social factors as the built environment. Founded by Alan Lo and Darrin Woo, Blake’s (named after the eponymous garden near TwoTwoSix) aspires to revive street-level and outdoor life in Sheung Wan, pointing to its unique neighbourhood character, and infuse it into the ambience of TwoTwoSix.
It was this novel idea which attracted designer Ilse Crawford of Studioilse to take up her first-ever project in Hong Kong. “I think the most interesting projects come about when people take risks. Obviously, TwoTwoSix represents a change in the area. It could have been a tower, but Blake’s wanted to retain the scale, materiality and character of the neighbourhood,” she says.
Studioilse places its focus on the human touch, realised through modern design of the highest calibre. “We are context driven. We design specifically for the client. We don’t have a style, but an approach – which is to understand the nature of the place. So to work with a developer like Blake’s is a real opportunity,” she adds.
Located on Hollywood Road, TwoTwoSix was originally a five-storey tong-lau, now transformed into a landmark building comprising five spacious apartments (see the July 2010 issue of Perspective). With one residence of approximately 1,450 sq-ft per floor, each apartment enjoys superb open views of Blake’s Garden. Meanwhile, the interiors speak a modern language mixed with natural rawness – bringing the bones of the building in, as Crawford describes it.
The original footprint has been retained, with an open, flexible plan for the layouts. “As an old-build, we were stuck with the original floorplan. For example, we couldn’t get away from the set location of the stairs, but that gives the place character.”
The polished concrete and tiles of the tong-lau also became a feature of the design, Crawford says. “It’s about layering. Because in that rawness, you can draw in all manners of things, not just style.”
The black tiles on the façade of the building thus continue inside and frame the windows, as well as the walls of the guest bathroom. While the concrete floor adds a rusty touch throughout, Crawford uses walnut wood cabinets, unpolished marble in the bathroom, red carpets in the living area and mirrors to create balance and warmth. “Pools of light are drawn in through the extensive windows on three sides of the apartment to breathe life into the apartment,” she says.
Crawford was also determined to ensure that the apartment could be sectioned off into separate rooms for different occasions. Thus, a blue velvet curtain separates the living area and master bedroom, while a sliding door divides the kitchen from the second bedroom/office. “I chose these elements because they allow us to read the area as part of one space, instead of a room.”
TwoTwoSix’s bid to bring in the feeling of the neighbourhood into living spaces, owes much to the building’s locale, as Crawford explains: “I think Sheung Wan is one of those rare areas, not just in Hong Kong but in the world, that’s got scale, different age groups and mixtures of culture and streetscapes. It is a living place – an ideal city scenario. All the urban planners in the world are trying to design areas like this.”