Renovating your new home in Hong Kong?

Regina Kwok, Creative Director of Artwill gives you tips on how to work with your interior designer

Q. I just bought a new home in Hong Kong and want to renovate it.  How do I get started?
Contact several interior designers and get them to submit design and fee proposals.  Finding designers through referrals is always recommended, but looking at local publications e.g. SCMP or Perspective for features on completed projects is also a good way to learn about designers.

Q. How do I best convey my needs to the designer?
Taking our firm as example, we are the ones who will proactively take the effort to understand client needs before we put together any proposal.  Not only will we learn about their basic requirements, such as design style, number of rooms or how large they want the kitchen to be, we always try to get to know the client and the family personally – their daily schedules, hobbies, travel habits, and how their needs may evolve in a couple years’ time, etc.  This way, we can leverage our expertise and provide the best design advice.  The best design solution is usually jointly worked out by the designer and client together.

Q. How do I choose between different design firms?
There are pros and cons to choosing large firms.  A well-known brand can serve as a mark of quality.  On the other hand, small firms can be more attentive because you may have a dedicated project manager (PM).  They may be more experienced in your specific type of design needs, e.g. large homes, layout re-planning, etc.

Another critical consideration is the working relationship between the designer and the contractor.  Our firm has a long-term partnership with three contractors.  They know how to interpret our design and execute on them.  We are also very confident of their workmanship.

Q. How much time does a typical project take?
For a home of ~2,000 sq. ft., the average project duration is 4-6 months from design to completion.  If the client asks for a lot of changes, it will be longer.  The pace of work in Hong Kong sometimes surprises people who have just moved here from overseas; but it is indeed quite common for multiple works to happen in parallel and for contractors to be working long hours.

Q. How do I keep track of construction progress?
Before construction starts, the PM must walk the client through the work schedule in detail.  You should be able to follow the progress with the schedule you’ve been given.

The PM is the key point of contact for the whole project.  Our PM will be at the client’s home at least twice a week, and our on-site foreman will report to us on daily progress.  We are very flexible in adapting to clients’ schedules, especially as we work with a lot of expats.  For example, if the client has a very busy schedule or is traveling, we can email photos of the work in progress on a daily basis.

Q. Any tips on what to watch out for during construction?
In Hong Kong, especially due to several recent cases of unauthorized building works that were highly publicized, it is important to have a designer who will follow all legal procedures for filing alteration works with the government’s Buildings Department.  For example, unlike in single-unit houses, some walls in tall apartment buildings are structural, and so cannot be torn down without BD approval.  Changing the size or location of a window or even external planters also require BD approval.

Because of the humidity here, contractors need to pick suitable wall and floor coverings.  Primers and anti-mold paint are critical, as is multi-layer flooring or underlayment to keep hard wood floors flat and dry.

In terms of windows, well-sealed double-glazing is sufficient to keep your home insulated from strong winds during typhoon season and extreme heat in the summer (so your air conditioning bill can stay manageable in August).  But if you are in a particularly noisy area or if your window faces west and gets direct sunlight in the late afternoon, then your designer may need to suggest alternative solutions.  Tinted, UV-blocking glazing or heavy curtains may be the solution.

An experienced designer should be detail-oriented enough to get all the ergonomics in your home correct.  If your family members are all taller than average, the designer should be installing all the towel racks and bathroom sinks at a higher height.  If you have children, the designer should proactively discuss with you how and where to round off the corners and edges in your home.  The contractor obviously needs to execute on these specifications correctly.

Q. What should happen at the end of the project?
A. When the works are complete, the PM will usually do a thorough check first to pick out any gaps between the wall and the skirting board or any sealant not evenly applied, etc.  When they hand the keys over to you, he/she will do a walk-through with you to check for last fixes needed.  Designers should be available for questions for several months after move-in.