A 40 year old walk-up apartment in the heritage centre of old Macau. Once an abandoned hoarder’s home its now been given a fresh start
When local investor and small property developer Mr Wong first saw the Hong Cheung Mun apartment it was in a shocking state of disrepair. Previously the home of a long term tenant, an extreme-hoarder, it had been abandoned and condemned as a health risk by the authorities. One could barely open the front door for the floor to ceiling pile of tangled refuse and possessions. Unsafe exposed electric wires, infestation of fleas and mice, and a water supply pipe that hung from the ceiling by a piece of string; drastic intervention was required.
Being an contractor Mr Wong was undaunted by the prospect of such an extensive renovation. “My passion is breathing life into places like this,” he explains, “to take a property that looks so miserable and to give it a new lease of life. And this is particularly important for Macau where many local families just can’t afford to buy in the shiny new residential towers. Besides, it’s all about location and convenience for many and central Macau is still very popular.”
Hong Cheung Mun is a 40 year old building, set back from the main road on a little calcada-tiled square. From the apartment there’s no view to speak of, just a row of walk-ups opposite, the rusted corrugated iron roof tops of some low rise buildings and behind these the blue façade of the Central Hotel. But the neighborhood has ‘old Macau’ charm and is buzzing with a myriad of little local shops, excellent restaurants and the famous shoe shop Mei Mei. The Leal Senado multi storey car park is at the end of the street.
Importantly Mr Wong could see the apartment’s potential. “When we were able to get things partly cleared and could actually walk inside, in spite of the mess and smell, I had a good feeling; with the balcony and big windows in all the rooms there’s plenty of light and good ventilation, a pleasant through-breeze from the balcony to the kitchen, and I was confident that I could give this place a fresh start. The location is excellent” – on the colloquially described ‘Pinoy Street’ (Filipino Street), just round the corner from Rua da Felicidade (the old Red Light district) and 100 yards from Senado Square, “so I felt it was worth considering.”
Once purchased, Mr Wong’s team of builders set about demolishing all the fixtures, removing all surfaces. All new electrical rewiring and water supply pipes were installed. The challenge in a walk-up is always accessibility – for construction debris to go down and new construction materials to go up. Third floor, 71 steps!
A stunning solid wood main door, with heavy duty brass handle and accessories helps set the scene for the transformation inside. The layout over 600 square feet includes two good-size double bedrooms able to accommodate queen-sized beds, one in the front of the property and one down a corridor to the back. Custom-made floor to ceiling built in hanging and storage wardrobes have sliding doors so as to save space. The bathroom, though compact, has been thoroughly modernized, with Italian tiles in wet areas only, waterproof white paint elsewhere, one wall in mirror to enhance the space, and a hand-beaten stainless steel wash basin, set on a concrete topped vanity.
After slightly enlarging the kitchen Mr Wong opted to keep it open, again to give a better sense of space. The colour scheme is grey, black and white; a concrete counter top and custom concrete sink is matched with white handle-less cabinetry, a mirrored splash-back, grey refrigerator and gloss-black cook top. Dark grey floor tiles, a wall-hanging display of over-sized stainless steel cooking utensils and a black and white rug finish this very modern contemporary look.
The living room area is long and thin; the wood flooring – beautiful solid Burmese wood with a soft golden glow – was therefore laid at a diagonal slant of 45% angle from the front entrance, a ‘tromp d’oeil’ trick so as to widen the perspective and give the space better proportions. Crown molding was installed in the living room and bedrooms to give that ‘finished-off’ elegant look. All new double-glazed windows mean that you can hear a pin drop!
All the air-conditioners are reverse cycle for heat and cooling. In the living room a ceiling light and fan has been installed. A clever design, with transparent fan blades above the light, this is now becoming popular in Macau if ceiling heights permit.
Through sliding doors that open wide from the living room, the concrete accents from the kitchen and bathroom flow through to the little balcony, with its concrete floor and wall finish, and bright white ceiling. A couple of stools and a table serve as the dining area.
The use of white always helps make a space look clean, bright and bigger. Hence all white doors and white venetian blinds hanging on all the white-framed windows except for the living room where, for coziness and a bit more luxury, white sheers and deep golden-cream embroidered silk curtains hang behind a white pelmet
Against white ceilings and white walls, a feature wall will give contrast and depth. This apartment has three feature walls – one vibrant Chinese-red at the entrance, teamed with a little Chinese red cabinet, silver based lamp with red shade and a large handsome silver-framed mirror. For the walls directly ahead of the entrance and behind the sofa, a pale caramel-cream paint has been used, that perfectly complement the silk curtains.
Furnishing is simple and a mix of modern European and Chinese traditional. The 8 foot sofa that doubles up as a pull out double bed if needed comes from IKEA. Opposite is a two-sectional Chinese style cabinet which houses the TV, internet WIFI and CableTV gadgets. “It’s very useful storage and the TV is hidden when not on – so one is not always staring at a TV screen on the wall.” Two pieces of original artwork hang – one behind the sofa is by renowned British artist and resident of Hong Kong for over 50 years, Brian Tilbrook, the other on the wall by the kitchen is by an unknown Parisian artist.
A Buddha statue, solid wood with a beautiful wood grain and sheen holds pride of place next to the cabinet. It was rescued by Mr Wong from another apartment that was being demolished. “It weighs a ton”, he laughs, “and the owner was throwing it out so I had to take it and give it a home!”
Having taken this apartment from caterpillar to butterfly Mr Wong will now turn his attentions to other projects. “Meantime my son and his friend can enjoy this place for a few years whilst they save up for their own places. It’s tough for youngsters these days to come up with enough down payment to buy property so I’m happy I can give them a helping hand.”
Photo credit: Kam Ka