This Shape-Shifting Pad in Hong Kong Challenges What You Think of Smart Homes
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This Shape-Shifting Pad in Hong Kong Challenges What You Think of Smart Homes

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By Mandi Keighran
Sim-Plex Design Studio transforms a tiny apartment into a flexible, four-bedroom home whose Zen-inspired interiors belie high-tech features.

Hong Kong–based architect Patrick Lam is no stranger to small spaces. He lived in a small tenement apartment in Kowloon for many years, and the experience of living in such a tiny home was the driving force behind his approach to architecture. Today, as the founder of Sim-Plex Design Studio, his focus is on investigating the possibilities to expand limited space. His latest project, an apartment renovation for a young family in Hong Kong, makes the most of its small footprint through a combination of high-tech functionality and Zen philosophy. 

The original living room was converted into an open-plan kitchen and dining area with a living room that can be reconfigured into a bedroom. The use of natural materials and the large windows that flood the space with natural light and frame the views make the small space feel bright and airy.

"We are good at designing transformable space to create flexible, multifunctional and imaginative environments," says Lam. "Our name—Sim-Plex—is derived from the idea of searching for complexity amongst simplicity. We believe every space can be expanded by finding complex spatial transformations in the simple details of living."

The living room can be completely separated from the open-plan kitchen by closing the timber-and-glass partition. All high-tech features—including the air conditioning unit—are concealed behind timber panels to create a minimal, uncluttered fit-out.

The Smart Zendo apartment is located in Tung Chung, an area on the Northwestern coast of Lantau Island, and has stunning views of the surrounding hills. It takes its name from a zendo—a place for Zen meditation. Lam has used elements from both Zen and Feng Shui design philosophies alongside high-tech, adaptable features to create a harmonious living space that can meet the ever-changing needs of family life. 

The living room and kitchen can be separated with a sliding partition to either create a fourth bedroom or simply divide the spaces if they are both in use.

"This project challenges the idea that a home with a high-tech system must look futuristic," says Lam. "It can be poetic and, like this home, respond to the surrounding natural scenery. This is a spiritual space where tradition and technology, people and scenery are combined." 

The timber bay window in the master bedroom frames the view of the surrounding hills and offers a space for contemplation.

The owners of the apartment, Eric and Lory, had moved to Hong Kong from Taiwan many years ago. The apartment originally had two rooms—one used as a bedroom for themselves and their young son, and one used for storage. Both, however, travel frequently for work, and they often have one of their mothers staying at the apartment to help look after their young son, as well as a live-in maid. They also missed the scenery of Taiwan’s countryside, where they had vacationed in homestays before moving to Hong Kong. So, their brief to Lam was for a home that could act as a refuge from their busy lives, and adapt as needed to different living situations. 

The master bedroom features smart bespoke storage solutions, including a wardrobe, bedside table, shelving, drawers and a make-up table.

Lam responded by reconfiguring the entire space to become a three-bedroom apartment with an optional fourth-bedroom in the living room. Surfaces are clad in plywood and timber veneer, a natural facade which conceals a number of "smart" features, including voice-activated synthesizers, lighting and air-conditioning switches, curtain mechanisms, a retractable coffee table, projection screens, and smart door locks. 

The coffee table in the living room can be elevated when in use and sits flush with the floor when not in use. The owners often use the table for tea ceremonies.

"Smart homes have become common in Hong Kong in recent years, but generally they have been shaped into a futuristic form," says Lam. "This preconceived approach does not seem to explore the integration of smart intelligence into living." 

Lam’s interpretation of the "smart" home, however, is driven entirely by how the clients live day-to-day, and spaces can be transformed to respond to different situations. The entire living room was elevated onto a wooden platform, which conceals a large amount of underfloor storage. One section of the platform is a high-tech coffee table, which can be raised to create a gathering point for tea ceremonies and other social events, or lowered flush to the floor to create a lounge area or a play area for the couple’s son. 

The view from the open plan kitchen into the living room when the coffee table is raised from the floor and set up for a tea ceremony.

When the coffee table is retracted, the living room can be used as a play area for the couple's young son.

The gray, timber-veneer TV cabinet—which takes up almost an entire wall in the living room—features a number of "nooks" in which the clients can display treasured items. It has been designed to reflect Feng Shui principles with a symmetrical design and a form that is similar to the Chinese character for "wood."

When the coffee table is recessed, the living room is an open space with cushions for seating. The large television is balanced by the glass wall, which frames views of the surrounding countryside.

The TV cabinet in the living room wall features spotlit storage nooks in which precious objects can be displayed.

The TV cabinet also conceals a folding timber partition, which can be used to create an extra bedroom for visiting family. Louvres at the top of the partition offer ventilation, while the embossed strip glass allows for natural light to penetrate the interior while maintaining privacy to both the bedroom and the living room. 

A folding partition can be used to separate part of the living room to create a fourth bedroom.

An open-plan kitchen was built adjacent to the living space, and the old kitchen was transformed into a maid’s room and storage space. The quartz dining bench has built-in storage, and the two timber benches also double as storage units, fulfilling the clients’ desire for a clutter-free environment. 

The open-plan kitchen is adjacent to the living space and features clever storage solutions throughout, including in the bespoke timber bench seats.

Looking from the storage hall into the maid's bedroom, which takes the place of the original kitchen.

Other clever features include the timber platform in the son’s bedroom, which conceals storage and doubles as seating for the desk, and a hidden make-up table in the master bedroom. 

The son's bedroom features a timber platform that is used both as storage and a seat for the desk. The bed sits on the back of this platform and has views over the surrounding landscape.

The inbuilt storage in the master bedroom includes a hidden make-up table. When it is set up, the edge of the bed can be used as a seat.

Large, timber-frame windows throughout the apartment flood the spaces with natural light. In the bathroom, which was inspired by the style of boutique hotels, white marble tiles have been used to reflect light from the single, small window. 

The bathroom cabinets are crafted from melamine ecological waterproof board, reflecting the use of timber throughout the rest of the interior.

The large windows also frame views of the surrounding hills, evoking the same connection with nature the clients had experienced during their homestay vacations in Taiwan. "The four seasons and the scenery are introduced into the room, perfectly merging home and nature," says Lam. "This apartment is based on the spiritual details of Zen, combining natural scenery and the emotions of a homestay with traditional Feng Shui aesthetics and smart technologies."

Diagram of intelligent features in the Smart Zendo apartment.

The floor plan of Smart Zendo before the renovation. The apartment featured two bedrooms, a living space, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Floor plan of Smart Zendo after the renovation. The apartment now features three bedrooms, with an optional fourth bedroom in the living room and an open plan kitchen.

More by Sim-Plex Design Studio: This Tiny Transforming Apartment Is a Playground For Pets

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Sim-Plex Design Studio / @sim_plexdesignstudio

General Contractor: Le Syndicat Company Limited

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