There is a new breed of interior designer moving into Sai Ying Pun. As Martine Beale discovers, they are embracing cultural heritage, fusing it with modernity, and stamping it proudly with Made in Hong Kong.
Situated on Third Street in Sai Ying Pun, Stack is one of the latest to join the hip new establishments that have moved west on Hong Kong Island to take up residence in a neighbourhood that is fast being upscaled.
Like many of these new enterprises, Stack resides in a high-ceiling shophouse indicative of the area. But like so few, it has been designed to retain heritage and elements of local character.
The 300 square foot pancake and cocktail bar sits on the ground floor of a 50-year-old tong lau (tenement building) and is wrapped in large mezzanine-height windows that offer an abundance of natural light and clear views of nighttime patrons.
Its facade is clad in a variety of handmade iron grilles, which were once commonplace on windows and doors across the city in the mid-20th century. Here they serve as design features and a tribute to what was once a thriving craft in Hong Kong.
“Sustaining the vernacular neighbourhood and craftsmanship has been a crucial topic of discussion in rapidly developing cities in Asia,” says Wilson Lee, Director of WALL Studio, which designed Stack. “A lot of valuable elements are quickly fading away due to gentrification.”
Looking at ways to positively address issues of community, craftsmanship and transformation formed the basis of WALL’s design ethos when Lee set up the studio together with Alex Siu in 2010, and these continue to be part of their progressive design resolutions.
“To create the grilles at Stack, we collaborated with local blacksmiths that have over 40 years experience in hand‐making traditional metal motifs,” says Lee. “Recalling local craftsmanship has given these craftsmen the chance to get involved in the process of modernising old districts, and allows their skills to carry on.”
The grilles continue on into the interior where they are fitted to walls and ceilings, and formed into a shelving system that hangs above the small kitchen area. They also act as a partition between the kitchen and modern stainless steel bar that runs the length of the narrow space.
The long wall opposite to the bar is left unadorned, which nicely juxtaposes the ornateness of the iron work and gives space and balance to what could feel cluttered and cramped if the wall was decorated with art or ornamentation.
Instead, WALL has cleverly employed a slim shelf, which can be used for resting drinks on, that is under lit with LED lighting that shines up onto the wall and adds ambience without fuss.
Above the bar, the grilles are decorated with the type of red neon lettering that is ubiquitous in the city, and reflected in the bar’s signage outside. What aren’t seen much these days are the original Canton floor tiles, which have been cleaned up and left to exude a well-worn charm.
“We feel that Stack successfully demonstrates the idea of retaining existing components and reinterpreting others in a way that creates an inspiring chemistry in the neighbourhood,” says Alex Siu.
“Our ‘Made in Hong Kong’ design approach has allowed us to showcase traditional elements and craftsmanship, and stand out from our competitors by arousing curiosity.”