House & Garden

The site – the top two floors and roof garden of a thirty year-old block of flats in Hong Kong -was a pretty dismal affair when the current owners first saw it.  A series of small, cramped rooms, it bad lain empty for two years after repossession by the bank during a previous renovation. It had been gutted and lacked windows, and the fabric -the concrete and steel -had been corroded by the salt air and general humidity of Hong Kong. But the view, a 270-degree sweep over both Repulse and Deep water bays, and the South China Sea, was sensational. The new owners, a Korean investment banker and his wife, first approached interior designer Peter Hunter early in 1996. The brief was to maximize the available space, to make the flat as light as possible, to take full advantage of the wonderful views and, most important, to do everything to the highest possible standard. To that end Peter brought in architect Hans Brouwer, who bad previously worked as project director of Norman Foster’s London practice; Peter considered Hans’s international experience of architectural engineering essential for the success of this project, which was nicknamed ‘The Eagle’s Nest’. During the first six months, the design team produced more than sixty floor plans, before one was finally approved. In order to overcome the relative darkness of the interior, they decided to install a glass ‘void’ -a contained well which would enclose the staircase lo rise up through the centre of the flat, with all the rooms arranged around it. Now shafts of sun fall through the glass enclosure on to the steel staircase with glass sides and treads, the effect one of a column of light piercing a cube.

The complexity of the structural aspects of the operation was enormous. Only twenty per cent of the overall cost was spent on internal fittings, the rest expended on engineering and external architecture. ‘Everything had to be hoisted up the outside of the building,’ explains Peter, ‘huge hot-water tanks, air-conditioning units, even the grand piano. Everything had to be taken up in parts, then assembled in the flat. The staircase was made in England, shipped over, winched up and then welded together ‘ Not an easy task.

Entering the main living area on the twentieth floor, the visitor is overwhelmed by the apparent transparency of the place. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow the view to function as backdrop to the flat. Such an expanse of glass was achieved by an …