Home Decor Lessons, Courtesy of I.M. Pei’s Breathtaking New York Townhouse

Posted in Interior Design

Though it sold within months of appearing on the market, I.M. Pei’s New York townhouse — a four-storey bolthole in the middle of Manhattan’s Sutton Place — is a powerful reminder of the indelible legacy left behind by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, who passed away last year in May. He was 102. More widely recognised for ambitious modernist structures — built everywhere from Hong Kong to Doha — Pei’s longtime abode on US soil is a similarly revealing aspect of his lifelong contribution to the built environment: Drawing on characteristic elements of modernist creative movements such as natural light, tactile materials and an uncluttered aesthetic — always informed by considerations of functionality.

Prior to the sale of Pei’s New York townhouse, Christie’s International Real Estate went to exhaustive lengths to document it for a new generation of luxury property investors. Most certainly, we won’t deny that having a multi-storey home in the heart of Manhattan hurts this home’s prospects on the market as an all-time gem of interior design but, as you’ll see from the images below, there are lessons to be gleaned (largely revolving around what Pei did with the place) which can be meaningful for a broader audience. Let’s dive in.

“A clean, well-lighted place”

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

Upon purchasing the townhouse in 1973 (from a cousin of US president Theodore Roosevelt, no less) I.M. and his wife Eileen embarked upon an extensive multi-year remodeling of the building’s internal spaces. A plethora of new, custom-made features were added — many of which were of Pei’s own design. The most practically significant of these was an oblong skylight, which worked in tandem with a coiled spiral staircase as a prism through which to channel natural light to all of the floors below.

This conjunction (of a built, overhead light-well and an internal staircase) would eventually come to be known as a signature I.M. Pei feature — most famously incorporated into the design of the Louvre Pyramid (1989). Elsewhere, Pei was sure to add floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the property — all but guaranteeing the continuity of natural light between private and communal spaces.

Make materials matter

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

A crucial part of Pei’s remodel was the widespread installation of new floors and build-in surfaces. As with notable public projects (i.e. the National Gallery East Building and the Mesa Laboratory) the architect favoured simple building materials capable of universal appreciation — no doubt by a breadth of Chinese, American, and European guests who crossed his domestic threshold.

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

The majority of Pei’s home is floored in a combination of European marble and Tasmanian oak — materials chosen for their “lean and simple” style and capacity for adaption to various modes of interior design. Similarly, the four wood-burning fireplaces (one located on each floor) are framed by mantels cut from smooth soapstone; with the material serving to draw attention to the overall shape and design — once again, conceived by Pei himself.

Social space as centrepiece

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

To be sure, the size (3,848 sq. ft.) and layout of Pei’s townhouse conferred tremendous boons on his ability to design a compelling domestic centrepiece: Between the dining room, internal staircase, library and private garden looking onto the East River, the property has no less than four settings for socialising. Nevertheless, depending on your lifestyle and the spaces at home which you gravitate towards instinctively, any one of the aforesaid are an illuminating starting point for your own modernist highlight. Bibliophiles would do well to take a leaf out of Pei’s tried and tested book — by turning literature into a focal decoration with the aid of ceiling-high, integrated bookshelves. Against this woody, neutral backdrop, you can dedicate more mental effort to the task of selecting the right furniture for the job — turning an often neglected part of the average home into a nook for work and post-meal chitchat.

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image source: Christie’s International Real Estate)

In the event that you have to be blessed with a location as compelling as Sutton Place, a green-themed centrepiece is another obvious option. Rather than going for elaborate hedgerows or high-maintenance flowerbeds, the Peis opted to open up the majority of their backyard garden so as to take full advantage of their surrounds — including the East River and nearby Queensboro Bridge. This approach emphasises a high degree of restraint. For those looking to replicate this at home, decorative efforts work best when they are pursued with subtlety and limited to simple concepts like a few well-positioned pieces of outdoor furniture or a footpath between the internal and external spaces that is suitably engaging.

Randy Lai

How Battersea Power Station Is Re-electrifying the London Property Scene

Posted in Distinguished Developers

Originally built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott at the behest of the London Power Company, Battersea Power Station was considered one of the world’s largest brick structures until the 1940s. The massive coal-fired power plant, situated on the southern estuary of the River Thames, is well-known for its imposing four-chimney structure; and its pervasive status in pop culture. (It features prominently in the cover art for Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, and more recently, was an important shoot location in the 2008 film The Dark Knight.)

Now, 37 years after being decommissioned, the ‘Temple of Power’ has emerged from years of redevelopment as one of London’s most exciting new lifestyle, living and heritage destinations. Work on the long-defunct Battersea master site has been overseen by a consortium of Malaysian developers (i.e. SP Setia, PNB, Employees Provident Fund, Sime Darby Property) with Circus West Village — the first phase of the project — recently completed.

This regenerated neighbourhood is currently home to over 1,000 residents: A vibrant community made up of hundreds of homes and various retail and dining outlets, against a backdrop of the Thames and the original Power Station building. Reportedly one of the fastest-selling developments when it was first offered to the public in 2013, Circus West offers the sort of well-rounded living experience that has since become a benchmark for premium estates in London: residents occupy a variety of one to three-bedroom flats or a handful of exclusive waterfront penthouses, all of which confer access to the Riverhouse members’ club.

The best, however, is yet to come, as Battersea management continues to work (amid the unique challenges of London’s post-lockdown environment) through the second and third phases of the development.

Battersea Power Station
Retail complex at the Battersea Power Station.

At the centre of phase two is a top-to-bottom refurbishment of the Power Station itself, with architecture firm WilkinsonEyre instructed to infuse the original Art-Deco structure “with a 21st century sensibility.” Currently scheduled to open to the public in 2021, the Power Station will house 253 new apartments in addition to a multi-storey retail complex (mocked up above). Among a host of big international names, Apple has announced it will move its London campus to the building.

Battersea Roof Garden, by Foster and Partners.

For the third phase of Battersea’s redevelopment, both Foster and Partners and Gehry Partners were tapped to design the Battersea Roof Gardens and Prospect Place respectively — intended to function as “the gateway to the entire development and new Northern [underground] line extension.”

The Frank Gehry-designed Prospect Place.

Despite still being in the preliminary stages, Prospect Place is already being hailed as an extremely important project for Gehry Partners — the firm’s first private residence in the UK. It’s reported — in the convention of the traditional London townhome — all buildings will be built with access to a private garden; whereas every individual apartment will have access to its own terrace or winter green space.

For inquiries, email sales@batterseapowerstation.co.uk or visit Battersea Power Station online for more details.

Randy Lai

10 of the Most Iconic Chairs of All Time

Posted in Interior Design

To the untrained eye, a chair is a seemingly mundane object: expressing human beings’ need for functional seating in the various public and private settings life throws at them. And yet, throughout history, few pieces of furniture have stirred the heart and fired the imagination quite like the humble chair.

On a conceptual level, the exercise of designing a really good one transcends concerns of a technical nature to become something akin to an artistic process. Material innovation, practicality, beauty of form, craftsmanship — when done right, a great chair has it all.

Unsurprisingly, the heyday for such creations was the 40-year interlude between the 1920s and 1960s. The convergence of technological innovation and a widening of the European/American middle classes led to the emergence of the artistic movement known as ‘Mid-Century Modern’: the influence of which can still be felt today — in everything from our skyscrapers to pop culture. Naturally then, numerous chairs designed during that era have achieved the reputation of modern classics: here are 10 which we’re positive you’ll still be hearing about in 100 years.

1. Le Corbusier’s ‘Grand Confort’ (1928)

iconic chairs

Popularised by a 1985 advertisement for TDK Maxell cassette tapes, the ‘Grand Confort’ (or “cushion basket” as Le Corbusier himself liked to call it) made its auspicious debut half a century prior. Designed in tandem with architects Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, the Confort is in and of itself the epitome of simplicity: An elegant, open-worked chrome frame that is capable of being separated from the adjoining upholstery. Today, authorised Italian-made replicas may be purchased from Cassina and are available in a variety of single or multi-person configurations.

2. Eileen Gray’s ‘Transat’ (1927)

iconic chairs

For champions of modernism, ideas didn’t just come from obvious, consistently mined sources like biology or built structures. In the case of pioneering Irish architect Eileen Gray, her ‘Transat’ chair was inspired by the deck seats of a transatlantic steamer. The frame was shaped using complex joinery and held in place with a series of chromed brackets. Meanwhile, the headrest and load-bearing part of the seat consist of separate pieces. Despite the relaxed look, Gray’s design isn’t a simple template capable of being copied on a mass scale: That has made authentic period examples a coveted collectible, with those in excellent condition frequently fetching upwards of HK$90,000.

3. Marcel Breuer’s ‘B32/Cesca’ (1928)

iconic chairs

Like many of his Bauhaus contemporaries, Marcel Breuer sought to recontextualise traditional European arts and crafts for the modern era. This lifelong mission culminated in two of the most important furniture designs of the 20th century: The ‘B32/Cesca’ and ‘Wassily’ (more on the latter in a moment). Consisting of two pieces of solid beech fitted with woven cane inserts and affixed to a steel frame, the Cesca is one of the first modernist furniture designs to “exploit the possibilities unique to [its] material.” The bouncy, somewhat levitating sensation users get whilst seated has become almost as iconic as the chair’s cantilevered frame — explaining why it’s still so popular in 2020.

4. Finn Juhl’s ‘Model 45’ (1945)

iconic chairs

Under the broad remit of ‘modernist’ design, many enthusiasts have narrowed their focus to that movement as it appears in specific countries: Lovers of American modern have Eames, fans of Finland have Saarinen and those who gravitate towards Denmark will have heard Finn Juhl’s name crop up incessantly. The KADK alum’s magnum opus is undoubtedly the ‘45’ — an open-frame design that debuted at an exhibition held by the Copenhagen Cabinetmaker’s Guild in 1945. Easily one of the most comfortable chairs on our shortlist, it remains unrivalled to this day for how it mixes organic forms, sublime materiality and cradle-style ergonomics — the result of Juhl’s many years of research into posture dynamics and the ideal seat shape.

5. Hans Wegner’s ‘Papa Bear’ (1954)

iconic chairs

Many of the iconic modernist designers sought to marry pre-existing furniture styles with thoroughly up-to-date notions of ‘function.’ Hans Wegner’s ‘Papa Bear’ chair, which takes the basic tenets of the English wingback and sieves them through a Danish filter, is the obvious case study. Though somewhat smaller than its spiritual forebear — and nowhere near as streamlined in appearance as the chairs of Mies van der Rohe or Arne Jacobsen — the Papa Bear is an unrivalled fusion of traditional Scandi craft and nuances in form. It is, in a word, the sort of chair which ‘swallows’ its sitter whole — in a good way.

6. Verner Panton’s ‘Stacking Chair’ (1960)

iconic chairs

When it first debuted in 1960, Verner Panton’s ‘Stacking Chair’ introduced a number of firsts to the world of furniture design: it was the first single-form, single-material chair to be produced using an injection mould — which helped to optimise it for full-scale production some eight years later. Today, this groovy vision of lacquered polyurethane is still produced by Vitra and will set you back a cool HK$14,000 (approx.) for a single unit.

7. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Barcelona’ (1929)

iconic chairs

Named after the setting for the 1929 Industrial Exposition, the Barcelona Chair is among German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s most influential furniture designs and widely considered an icon of the modern movement. The chair was a centrepiece for Mies’ own pavilion at the Barcelona Industrial Expo — reportedly inspired by his desire to create a resting place worthy of Spanish royalty. Feeding into Mies’ philosophy of “harmonising the old and new,” every Barcelona chair is an elevation of industrial material to an artistic plane. Since the 50s, the best reproductions have been made by Knoll: featuring a hand-buffed, mirror-finished frame (resplendent of Roman thrones) and upholstery cut from 40 individual panels.

8. Eero Saarinen’s ‘Tulip’ (c. 1955)

iconic chairs

One of the defining features of Scandinavian modernism (particularly of the Finnish variety) was a desire to depart from — or the very least, reinterpret — settled design conventions. In the realm of chairs, modernists such as architect Eero Saarinen sought clean and efficient solutions to the traditional four-legged construction — what Saarinen himself derisively referred to as “a slum of legs.” The Tulip was a response to that style’s perceived failings, characterised by a fluidly sculpted silhouette inspired by, yes you guessed it, flowers of the same name.

9. Marcel Breuer’s ‘Wassily’ (1925)

iconic chairs

Yes, we’re well-aware that this is the second Breuer object to make our list, but honestly, between the Cesca and Wassily, it’s hard to settle on which had the most outsized impact within industrial design. Self-described by Breuer as his “most extreme work … the least ‘cosy’ and most mechanical,” the Wassily takes the basic conceit of a club chair and strips that back to its bare (verging on austere) essentials. Akin to a metal sling, the Wassily’s seat, arms, and back appear to cradle the sitter mid-air; with their body never touching the steel frame. Named for Breuer’s friend and fellow Bauhaus colleague, Wassily Kandinsky.

10. Charles and Ray Eames’ ‘Lounge Chair and Ottoman’ (1956)

iconic chairs

Whether your first brush with greatness came courtesy of a certain NYC apartment in Mad Men or a much-thumbed Herman Miller catalogue, nothing expresses the halcyon days of American modernism like the Eames’ ‘lounge and ottoman’. Imbued with “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt,” the design emerged from Charles and Ray Eames’s experimentations with steam-moulded plywood. This expertly manipulated material forms the basis of the ottoman and Eames chair: ensuring that both provide a supportive resting experience, unparalleled comfort and improve with age. Invariably, the most desirable examples are always vintage pieces manufactured in rosewood, though modern reproductions can be had for just south of HK$60,000.

Randy Lai

Give Your Bathroom a Hotel-Style Makeover With These Luxe Interior Design Trends

Posted in Interior Design

When it comes to the ‘wow’ factor of any great luxury hotel, we think you’d agree the bathroom is an important part of the conversation. Stands to reason, if you could import any element of your favourite five-star suite into the home, a hotel-style bathroom would feature high on the list.

In fact, as far as building a design-led living space goes, having the right kind of bathroom is a highly effectual means of conveying an eye for beauty and detail. From spaces that explore texture to the ultimate terrazzo temple, take a leaf out of the playbook of some the world’s most breathtaking hotel bathrooms, with seven of our favourite interior decorating tips below.

A slice of nature

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: Four Seasons Resort Bali)

Embrace a sub-tropical atmosphere by situating your bathroom closer to nature — à la the Four Seasons resort at Jimbaran Bay. Each suite’s heirloom faucets and large tubs (with caddy fittings) imbue the traditional Balinese household with a European touch.

Terrazzo edges

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: The William Vale)

In Brooklyn, The William Vale lends a healthy dose of inspiration with its all-white guest bathrooms: each a spectacular barrage of geometric mirrors and all-over terrazzo surfaces. If this composite material isn’t to your liking, try substituting with granite or veined marble for a similar (though somewhat softened) visual effect.

High contrasts

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: Vue Hotel Houhai)

For a successful case study in ‘how to intermingle high contrast in low light’, take a moment to survey Vue Houhai‘s hotel-style bathrooms. A whimsical selection of tinted screens — used on showers and mirrors — creates a pleasing foil to dark, alabaster flecked marble surfaces. Contrary to popular belief, this is a great visual trick to use in smaller, apartment block bathrooms — lending an easy-to-execute element of luxury hotel cred.

Creative tiling

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: The Calile Hotel)

If you’re bored of conventional, horizontal, slatted monochrome tiles then there’s never been a better time to eschew those for a pop of colour. In 2020, embrace new finishes and shades in the manner of the extraordinary Calile resort in Australia: which alternates the tiling in each guest bathroom between a serene palette of blue, green, and reddish pastels.

White marble

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: Hotel Café Royal)

White marble is both the most financially exorbitant yet visually striking resource for turning your wash space into a hotel-style bathroom. We’ll simply say this: if you’re going to use marble to spruce up the fit-out, its well worth using a lot of white marble. Guest bathrooms at the Hotel Café Royal in London handily illustrate the value of this advice: even extending the Tuscan masonry motif to the bathtub. For best results, make yours a centrepiece by tweaking the tub’s size and location relative to the rest of your space.

Wooden floors

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: The New York Edition)

For once, it pays to the take the old adage ‘stay grounded’ a little too literally. Standing surfaces are often a missed opportunity to impart a dose of warmth upon otherwise sterile, perfunctory spaces. In a simple twist, private bathing spaces at Ian Schrager’s Manhattan Edition swap out unpleasant linoleum tiles for blond wooden flooring — a fine match for ultra-sleek countertop and soaking tub surfaces.

A retreat-like atmosphere

hotel-style bathroom
(Image source: The St. Regis Maldives)

Another decorating tip from the always reliable ‘bigger is better’ playbook is to simply build out a huge bathroom space. For this, turn to sprawling resorts like The St. Regis Maldives for inspiration: taking note of decadent surface area-intensive features like a balcony, walk-in closet and multiple vanities. In a nutshell — everything you’d expect from your favourite five-star spa.

An edition of this article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.

Randy Lai

6 Ultra-luxe Homes in Asia to Buy This June

Posted in What to Buy

This month in ‘Ultra-luxe Homes’, we’re once again diving into a plethora of impressive residences across the region: including a winter retreat in one of Japan’s most prestigious ski villages; the world’s tallest luxury apartment (complete with “sky car porch”) and much more.

No matter whether you’re in the market for a brand new getaway property or lucrative investment opportunity, here are six of the most staggering options we’ve found this month.

1. Saladaeng One, Bangkok

ultra-luxe homes

This ultra-luxe condominium is part of a wider residential development at the heart of Bangkok, by local real estate developer SC Asset. Located just across the way from stunning Lumpini Park, this one-bedroom unit boasts uninterrupted views of the surrounding Silom financial district; with tenants also having access to the complex’s club, rooftop pool and fitness facilities. Saleable area for this property comes to a total of 613 sq. ft., making it an ideal bolthole for the frequent business traveller.

2. Ford Avenue, Singapore

ultra-luxe homes

Designated by Singaporean authorities as a ‘Good Class Bungalow’ (one of the city-state’s most desirable residential property classifications) Ford Avenue is a slice of resort-style living that remains close to the heart of affluent District 10. At 15,600 sq. ft. there’s ample room for a family of six or more, with carport space and a suitably lengthy 23-metre pool to match.

3. Four Seasons Private Residences, Bangkok

ultra-luxe homes

Part of an ultra-luxe complex exclusively made up of corner apartments along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this Four Seasons-administered property is the Canadian hotel group’s first waterfront residential concept in all of Asia. The 3,830 sq. ft. space is taken up by four bedrooms (each with their own freestanding bath), making this an ideal permanent base for affluent property owners who prefer a touch of hospitality in the home.

4. Galleria Costa, Ashigarashimo

ultra-luxe homes

Less than two hours drive from Tokyo in western Kanagawa Prefecture, Galleria Costa promises to be a getaway home unlike any other. Consisting of 8.5 acres of pristine oceanfront real estate (including a two-storey guest house), the property offers breathtaking, unparalleled view of Sagami Bay; with each room possessing an ocean view. The outdoor pool and baths (rotenburo) have been intentionally designed to give the impression of an infinite horizon; and when you finally manage to pick your jaw off the floor, there’s no shortage of amenities indoors (i.e. a gym, tennis court, karaoke, and golf simulator) with which to keep yourself entertained.

5. Glasshouse Niseko, Hokkaido

ultra-luxe homes

Nestled atop a tranquil woodland escarpment, this bespoke glass, concrete and steel build is one of the most stylish lodges to retreat to after a day spent skiing down the slopes of Mt. Yotei. The ‘Glasshouse’ is the brainchild of award-winning architect Hikohito Konishi: incorporating traditional Japanese building elements, such as an indoor spa handmade using Hinoki wood, into the otherwise contemporary two-floor layout. It’s great as a permanent retreat during ski season, or failing that — to rent for your next excursion to Niseko.

6. Moon Shadow Villa, Phuket

ultra-luxe houses

Located in Phuket’s affluent, resort-heavy neighbourhood of Kamala, ‘Moon Shadow’ is a stupefyingly large private villa, with six bedrooms and a saleable area totalling 12,366 sq ft. Incredible views of the Andaman Ocean are to be had at quite literally every angle throughout the house — excluding the wine cellar — with standout features of the project including a waterfall feature, double-wide terrace and peripherally connected private terraces.

As of the publishing date of this article, any aforementioned properties were available for sale. We cannot guarantee that these properties will be available for sale indefinitely, so please check the respective listings for the most up-to-date information.

Randy Lai

Insane ‘Billionaire Bunkers’ Where the Ultra-rich Will Wait Out the Pandemic

Posted in How the One Percent Live

For us, it’s the end of days. For them, an excuse for a remote destination holiday — armoured convoy included. We are, of course, referring to ‘billionaire bunkers’: those inscrutable edifices built by the one percent in order to wait out war, natural disasters, or, in 2020, a certain global respiratory infection.

Over the last decade, the ultra-rich have become increasingly paranoid about the advent of such cataclysms; and with a limitless supply of capital and ever-dwindling array of meaningful investment options, there’s more interest around a state-of-the-art luxury bunker than you’d initially think.

Here are three of the most insane examples: far from the dank, slightly bleak vibe of National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers or the fallout shelters from cinema and video games; these allegedly indestructible structures all come equipped with pools, private cinemas and much much more.

billionaire bunkers
California-based Terra Vivos have constructed a number of bunkers available for co-share, including this one in South Dakota (roughly the same size of Manhattan).

Europa One

billionaire bunkers

Marketed as a “modern day Noah’s Ark”, the Europa One compound is California-based Vivos Group’s answer to the quintessential continental holiday home — notwithstanding a few, shall we say, upgrades. For starters, the whole structure is carved out of solid bedrock; beneath a 400-foot mountain in the free state of Thuringia (Germany). At the time Vivos originally earmarked it for modernisation, it had been a Soviet military cache — used to store Red Army munitions during the Cold War. When buyers acquire one of the Europa One bunkers (private apartments from €2 million, approx. HK$16,782,900), the typical ‘starter kit’ involves a 2,500 sq.ft. residence spread across two floors; and access to a variety of communal facilities such as a chapel and pub. Factored in to the cost of purchasing one of these modest, subterranean fiefdoms is a full-time coterie of staff and security personnel.

The Oppidum

billionaire bunkers

Whereas a majority of the existing billionaire bunkers around the globe enable multiple wealthy families to clump together (strength in numbers everyone!), The Oppidum is a strictly ‘sole owner’ proposition. And when it comes to apocalypse-proofing, it boasts some pretty mean credentials. Originally developed as a joint military installation between Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union, construction began in 1984. This massive, fortress-esque compound was built (in theory) to withstand manmade disasters and nuclear attack — it was the 80s, after all — but underwent extensive beautification in 2013. The price is only disclosed to serious buyers, but the lucky owner can expect what’s allegedly the ‘largest billionaire bunker in the world’ (77,000 sq ft) to be accompanied by a subterranean garden (with artificial lighting to mimic natural sunlight), lap pool, spa facilities and wine cellar. Clearly, the remodellers had their priorities in order.

The Survival Condo Project

billionaire bunkers

Given the highly specific proclivities of the ultra-rich, there’s even an underground bunker that could make Ernst Stavro Blofeld jealous. Said to be “at an undisclosed location in Wichita, Kansas,” the Survival Condo is a 15-storey facility that is built into a decommissioned Atlas missile silo. (For all you military nuts out there, that’s the first ever intercontinental projectile developed for the US Air Force). Survival Condo CEO Larry Hall describes it as “true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” replete with all the classic bells and whistles you’d expect, from pool and spa to Kohler bath and kitchen amenities in each unit. The project is designed to sustain 75 people comfortably for more than five years, and prices start from US$1.5 million for half-floor units at 920 sq.ft.

In a slightly unnerving twist — the mechanics of which seem tenuous at best — under a ‘crisis scenario’, the Survival Condo’s board of directors may restrict a resident’s ability to leave the bunker without first securing permission. Remain indoors — it’s for your own safety.

Randy Lai

Should you Invest in Hong Kong’s Property Market during CoViD-19?

Posted in Ask An Estate Agent

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past 10 months, you’ll know that Hong Kong’s real estate sector has been experiencing its sharpest decline in nearly a decade. Amid the worst economic contraction in the region’s history (8.9 percent in the first quarter), commercial investments have proven particularly vulnerable — hit by the lethal one-two combo of months-long anti-government protests, then the global coronavirus pandemic.

Data released by investment firm CBRE indicates these factors (and the resulting slump in consumer confidence) contributed to one of the worst quarters for retail property transactions since 2009: only 20 deals, roughly amounting to HK$7.5 billion, have been made so far this year.

By contrast, though there remains an air of caution among consumers, experts’ prognosis of the city-wide housing market is steadily improving. To make sense of the government’s quantitative easing policies, the latest price data, and ultimately, whether you should wait longer for the market to bottom out; we phoned up Victoria Allan — an ex-director at Colliers who now manages her own premium realty firm, Habitat Property, here in Hong Kong.

Let’s start with an overview: what sort of shape was Hong Kong’s real estate market in at the end of 2019 versus around the time that the first wave of coronavirus infections hit? What are the most noticeable changes?

VA: Towards the end of 2019, the city’s property market already wasn’t in a great way — given all of the (ongoing) political protests. Those had a significant unsettling effect on the market, pushing prices down across the board by about 10 percent. As for CoViD-19, market sentiment was already becoming negative as early as Christmas 2019 — that’s because it was playing out in conjunction with a wider global downturn brought on by the pandemic.

Given the current position of the housing market, have there been any changes in government policy that have made it easier to purchase residential property?

VA: As a result of the pro-democracy protests, the HKSAR government actually altered the policy for first-time homeowners: enabling them to gain easier access to property valued at under HK$10 million (by reducing the amount they’d have to pay in their deposit). At this time, no further adjustments in policy have been made to take into account the economic impact of CoViD-19. It’ll be interesting to see if the government relaxes these policies. However, having had tight restrictions on lending over the last decade, there’s very little debt in the Hong Kong property market which can help to support price levels.

What have some of the most obvious impacts been on buyers since the property market was hit by Covid-19?

VA: We’re seeing many buyers seize the opportunity to invest — especially where it’s for self-use. Market prices are being discounted by 10-20 percent (as compared to 12 months ago), so it’s actually an opportune moment for those who want to purchase their first property or sell the one they currently own and upgrade. Sellers also need to keep a closer eye on personal liquidity, so it’s easier to negotiate with them for a reasonable price.

Hong Kong property
The sprawling penthouse in Repulse Bay has come down to a price (negotiable) of HK$95 million over the past two months. (Image source: Habitat Property)

In the case of new homeowners, it’s a great time to enter the market with either a small investment or property for self-use. Ditto for listings where the price is below HK$10 million — that’s a huge opportunity to buy at lowered prices whilst being able to finance at a higher level (i.e. up to 90 percent financing for properties priced below HK$8 million; and 80 percent for those below HK$10 million).

Hong Kong property
The Villa Helvetia penthouse includes amenities made possible by the surrounding environment of Repulse Bay – including a terrace, private garden and fibre optic cabling. (Image source: Habitat Property)

Foreign investors are also starting to re-examine the Hong Kong property market, as experts generally see it as a market with more medium-term stability than Europe and the U.S. As the number of CoViD-19 cases increases in those regions, their economies are projected to be worse-hit than Hong Kong.

Continuing in that vein, could you give a brief rundown of the opportunities that investors now have that mightn’t necessarily have been available if they were purchasing pre-CoViD-19?

VA: Absolutely! In addition to the reduction in market prices that has averaged 10-20 percent, another side effect of the public health emergency has been that a more varied range of properties has come up for sale. Even though we’re seeing some evidence that suggests the market hasn’t yet bottomed out, most buyers can be confident that if they buy now they’ll be able to take advantage of some discount.

Which residential districts in Hong Kong do you think best support these findings about the current market?

VA: For the purposes of easy illustration, the most dramatic reductions representing good ‘value’ can be found in high-end areas like Repulse Bay. The median price for a three-room apartment in developments like Ruby Court, for instance, has come down to HK$53 million.

Hong Kong property
Buyers and nascent investors will find the best, most dramatic bargains in non-urban neighbourhoods such as Repulse Bay (pictured) or Stanley.

To wrap up: can we get you to make a top-line prediction about the market’s trajectory over the next 6 to 8 months?

VA: Personally, I think that the market is already starting to stabilise — there’s more confidence locally given that Hong Kong seems to have the total number of CoViD-19 cases under control. However, the region’s borders still haven’t been reopened — which raises the possibility (however remote) of a third wave of cases. Last but not least, we have the reoccurring issue of protests: that’s bound to keep a lid on consumer sentiment and pricing. All told, I think the market could fall another 5-10 percent in 2020 before making a full recovery.

Hong Kong property

Victoria Allan is the founder of Habitat Property, a real estate company specialising in the sale and leasing of luxury property in Hong Kong. Prior to establishing Habitat in 2001, Allan held the position of Commercial Leasing Director at Colliers Jardine. She has over 25 years experience in residential and commercial real estate across a variety of global markets — including Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Randy Lai

Q&A: Award-winning interior designer Fiona Barratt Campbell

Posted in Interior Design

Though most design boffins will recognise her considerable body of work throughout Europe, Fiona Barratt Campbell is making rapid headway here in Asia. The Northumbrian designer — who has headed her own interiors firm in London for well over a decade — is best known locally for collaborating with The Upper House, and recently completed work on one of K11 Artus’s 3,703 sq. ft. penthouses — bastions of stylish living, nestled high above the revitalised Victoria Dockside development. With her first regional project in the bag, we thought now would be the perfect time to grab Barratt’s hot takes on all things design: from her love of historic architecture to challenges facing the industry in 2020.

First up, tell us how you got into the industry — it’s well-known that you initially studied at the Chelsea College of Art and Parsons School of Design. Did you always suspect you would end up designing interiors?

Fiona Barratt Campbell

As a child I enjoyed creating and building things. I’d originally planned to study architecture at university, however I quickly realised that my passion lay within the home. After graduation, my first job was for a well-known design firm in London. I gained about three years of invaluable experience there, before going on to establish my own firm — that was 14 years ago now. I’m very much a people person, so the main object of my practice as a designer is to understand and interpret someone else’s vision. The personal journey and evolutionary process you go through with each project is something that I’ll never tire of — every client is unique.

You always credit Sir Lawrie Barratt as a significant mentor and influence on your work. Tell us a little about how he nurtured your talent and/or supported you when you made the decision to start your own studio in 2006?

My grandfather [founder of Barratt Homes] was a major inspiration. I always enjoyed the fact that his job yielded something physical, and that he was creating opportunities for people to actually own a home (he was instrumental in creating the first affordable housing of its time). He was incredibly supportive of my passion for design. Point in fact: he helped me secure placement for work experience at a London-based architecture firm. That said, he had a pretty tough philosophy that every generation of our family must begin their own business without help — as he had done.

You often speak about how historic and naturally occurring phenomena has been a strong theme throughout much of your work. What about it speaks to you?

Fiona Barratt Campbell

I grew up in Northern England — where we’re fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of wonderful, very inspiring World Heritage sites that can be dated to the Roman era. I was fascinated by how progressive their building style was for their time period. That inspiration is everywhere: from the shape and pattern of their drinking vessels to the columns they used in temples and choice in building materials. In particular, I gravitate to how the Romans used natural wood. It’s a material that’s in a state of constant evolution and there are an abundance of different textures, colours and materiality — often within a single species. There’s also something very comforting about it: wood is literally grounded in nature, so there’s some aspect that’s relatable to everyone.

As somebody who works on numerous residential projects, what’s your biggest challenge when it comes to practically realising the desires of a client?

The first rule of thumb is always to foster a strong sense of mutual trust: the client has agreed to let you create their home; and so it has to reflect their own ideas and living requirements. That’s not to say there’s no underlying philosophy threading its way through every project: it’s just manifested in a unique way depending on the client. A ‘good’ interior is one that enhances, not dictates, the way in which you live. For the K11 Penthouse, I worked closely with Adrian [Cheng] to deliver on his vision for a showcase that was very artisanal, yet at the same time, capable of co-existing alongside all the unique artwork he’d sourced for K11. So the challenge was to tell the story of British craft in Hong Kong, albeit through my own philosophy of design and experience.

Just expanding on that: what were some of the unique challenges and advantages associated with the K11 Penthouse project?

Actually, the main challenge associated emerged right at the beginning. We took several months to do spatial planning, as K11 were highly specific about what amenities — storage being a key one — needed to be incorporated within the space. We managed to create a fantastic fluid layout, incorporating a view from every room. For me, the latter element was fundamental to the project because its location is so unique. On the one hand, you’re basically on the water but also have unbelievable views of Central and lush green mountains beyond. As [Fiona Barrett Interiors] are known for our unique use of texture, it was obviously crucial to include a selection of specialist finishes within the space too.

In the master bedroom, the wall flanking the steam room/shower was actually clad in antique barn wood that’s 100 years old. The wood has been tinted with silver paint that is then coated in resin, in order to make it waterproof. Whenever we sample wall finishes or joinery, we work very closely with local craftsmen — communication at every level is really key whenever you’re translating such a meticulous detail into reality.  

If we can get overly critical for a moment, what are some of the biggest challenges that have developed in the design industry over these past few years?

For me, it’s the blatant plagiarism of a brand’s products — typically furniture pieces and lighting. I have my own furniture brand [FBC London] and we’ve seen many of our own designs plagiarised in other projects. Also, in a way the deluge of information on the internet (e.g. Pinterest, Instagram) that we’re exposed to on a daily basis has made it increasingly difficult for clients to be decisive — they’ve been overexposed to so much choice.

You’ve described the object of your design philosophy as being “to enhance, not dictate, the way [clients] live”. Care to expand on that?

Homes are one of the most important spaces you’ll inhabit throughout your life. They are shelter; comfort; and an incubator of memories made amongst family and friends. Ultimately, home should be a place where you can recuperate from the toil of everyday life. So naturally, there are a lot of factors that go into creating a unique living space. I firmly believe that the interior should always enhance a building’s external elements and take the surrounding location, heritage and materiality into account. In a previous project in Mallorca — a private villa — we took some of the sand and small stones from the surrounding beach and incorporated them into a specialised plaster that we used to finish the walls of the home. We also used woods like iroko and teak, selecting those materials for their suitability and relevance to the project.

Now for something a bit more personal: what’s one indispensable trick/tool that you use to boost productivity during your work day?

I don’t eat breakfast. Everyday I fast until lunchtime and that keeps my mind sharp (along with several cups of black coffee). I also allocate blocks of time to the completion of specific tasks and try to stay vigilant about these.

Finally, if you could travel back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Fiona Barratt Campbell

I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” That advice is particularly resonant for this day and age — when everyone and everything’s business is so very visible. Better to stay true to your core beliefs and vision.

Randy Lai

Neighbourhood Look: The Best Areas to Buy in New York

Posted in Where to Live

According to data released by US real estate investment firm CBRE last April, New York City — to no one’s surprise — remains one of the 10 priciest markets for residential property worldwide.

Undoubtedly, there are an array of challenges (e.g. complicated state and federal tax rules, over-leveraging) affiliated with the ‘City that Never Sleeps’ but the good news is that the median sales price has grown steadily over the past decade. (For context: last November, the average New York home sold for US$670,000, 50 percent more than what buyers would have been willing to part with just 9 years ago.)

So yes, if you’re thinking of buying a new pied-à-terre sometime in 2020, chances are you’ll still be doing so in a seller’s market. That said, assuming the current climate doesn’t have you spooked, we’ve put together a quick primer featuring five of the best areas to buy in New York, with an eye toward neighbourhoods which balance capital gain potential with a solid quality-of-life.

Lower Manhattan

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: 25 Park Row)

If cost is no object then a reliable medium-term profit is all but assured when looking in the Financial District — since 2019, the median sale price has risen 70 percent to total about US$1.4 million. As you’d expect, Manhattan’s nerve centre is also a hot bed for new luxury residences. The iconic offices at One Wall Street are nearing the end of a blockbuster transformation which will see them turned into 566 condominiums, whereas architect David Adjaye’s imposing William Street high-rise is expected to make its highly anticipated launch later this summer. Rejuvenation appears to be a consistent trend throughout the area: at 25 Park Row, formerly the site of J&R Music, 110 palatial apartments that offer sweeping views of City Hall Park are also nearing completion.

Long Island City

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: G&M Realty)

Located along the western extremity of Queens, Long Island City isn’t coveted with the same breathlessness as most major Brooklyn and Manhattan-centred neighbourhoods. However, local residents have long favoured the former industrial area because of its relative remoteness from the commotion of Midtown. Investors are also closely monitoring growth potential: since 2010, median house prices have climbed 53 percent; and the area is poised to receive the lion’s share of fresh New York developments this year. A pair of residential towers at 22-44 Jackson Avenue are the main attraction. Built (somewhat controversially) atop the foundation of the 5Pointz mural space, this complex will introduce over 1,000 new condominiums into the neighbourhood. Good proximity to over-ground rail networks is likely to drive up the development’s desirability once it opens later this year.

East Harlem

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Investors who are up for a little risk and long-term growth potential would do well to direct their attention towards Harlem. Rezoning efforts in 2017 have put a number of projects in forward (albeit slow-trundling) motion: with ‘6’ train and ‘Q’ metro lines predicted to extend into the neighbourhood over the next decade. Three more stations are also planned by 2029. On 146 East 126th Street, Bjarke Ingels’s 11-storey residential project — colloquially dubbed ‘The Smile’ — is a portent of things to come: a cheerful, futuristic exterior that channels the whimsical, adult-playground energy of its interior spaces.

Bedford-Stuyvesant

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: 1134 Fulton)

If the Brooklyn brownstone is the structural archetype which most tickles your fancy, then Bed-Stuy will necessarily be where your research begins. As the result of a 2012 rezoning, residential developments here tend to conform to historic urban planning norms — a pleasant peculiarity in a city obsessed with ever-glitzier reinventions. Most developments comprise less than a dozen apartments, and it’s a rare thing to see any freestanding build in the neighbourhood that’s taller than 10 storeys. In 2019, the median asking price clocked in at US$1.2 million, and while that’s not the kind of dramatic gain you’d see if you’d invested in, say, Red Hook 10 years back, it’s indicative of more sustainable and accessible growth. Plus: a place where you and your loved ones might actually enjoy living.

Downtown Brooklyn

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: Brooklyn Point NYC)

Brooklyn’s vertical cityscape has changed immensely over the past half-decade. At various times, all of the city’s big development cartels have battled to build ‘Brooklyn’s tallest condo’, with the current titleholder being Extell’s Brooklyn Point: a 483-condo skyscraper located at 138 Willoughby Street. The project is endemic of the critical mass that the neighbourhood is reaching, in terms of gentrification. With Brooklyn Point comes a procession of similarly timed openings, including new department stores, food halls and the city’s latest Alamo Drafthouse (a chain of boutique cinemas originally from Texas). Rising rentals brought on by the influx of these yuppie-friendly businesses are guaranteed to enrage ‘real’ New Yorkers, but assuming you’re an itinerant landlord, the news remains, for the time being, good.

Randy Lai

Building Spotlight: Tai O Heritage Hotel, Hong Kong

Posted in What to Buy

Far from Hong Kong island’s maddening crowds, overlooking rustic stilt houses and agile fishing craft to and fro across Lantau, travellers will uncover glimmers of Hong Kong’s colonial past — lovingly restored, beautifully preserved and worthy of an extended residence. In our latest instalment of Building Spotlight — a monthly series spotlighting the structures which have come to define the city’s cultural legacy — we retreat to Tai O Heritage Hotel, a Grade II historic building set against the most westerly point in Hong Kong.

QUICK FACTS
  • Address: Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau Island
  • Built: 1902
  • Site Area: N/A
  • Gross Floor Area: 1,000 sq. mtr.
  • Price per square foot: N/A

The Tai O Heritage Hotel is perched atop a hilly outcrop overlooking the village of the same name: a historic Hong Kong fishing community that has populated western Lantau for over three centuries. Managed by the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation (HKHCF), the property consists of 9 rooms which occupy the site of the former Tai O police station. The original station was built in 1902 — among the first of its kind to be set up in the New Territories. Over the centuries, this expanse of coastline was a frequent target for pirates conducting smuggling runs in and out of Mainland China, making it a point of sustained interest for British naval forces, and later, Hong Kong’s colonial-era police force.

Tai O Heritage Hotel

For much of the 19th century, the station was only minimally staffed, yet during the 80s the total number of police posted here grew to 180 (due to increasing triad activity across the westerly part of Lantau). By 1996, a significant decrease in crime across the HKSAR resulted in the station being downgraded to a patrol post, before it was eventually vacated in 2002. In 2008, the HKHCF earmarked the complex as one of seven buildings that would be adapted for commercial reuse under the ‘Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership’ scheme. An estimated HK$64.9 million was allocated to the station’s redevelopment: as a boutique hotel that opened to the public in late 2011.

Tai O Heritage Hotel

Within the hotel grounds, the two structures originally housing the Tai O police station have been preserved: there is a main black and an outhouse, both two stories high, connected by an overhead footbridge on the first floor. The main block meshes traditional Chinese building techniques with Western architecture, illustrated in a tiled ‘pan-and-roll’ roof, cantilevered eaves and large, airy French windows punctuating the building’s facade. The outhouse was added in the 60s to enhance the station’s self-sufficiency: outfitted with multiple kitchens, a drying room and an interpreter’s office. To capitalise on the station’s hilltop location, a watchtower was constructed at one end of the outhouse.

Today, these historic spaces have mostly been converted into a handful of tastefully appointed spaces. Suites and guestrooms all bear the name of a vessel or rank used in the marine police. ‘The Commissioner’, formerly the station’s charge room and armoury, has been rebuilt as a suite with two vanities and a private terrace; while the ‘Eagle’s Point’ takes the on-site canteen and transforms it into a roomy, 375 sq. ft. abode — ample space for two intrepid vacationers and their children.

Tai O Heritage Hotel

In a city prone to incessant commercial redevelopment, the Tai O Heritage Hotel stands out for its rare blend of significant cultural heritage and commercial viability. But don’t take our word for it: in 2013, UNESCO conferred the coveted Award of Merit on the property, citing an “extensive cultural mapping effort that has greatly informed the restoration work and…enhanced social and economic opportunities provided by the building’s new use”. Now that’s the tagline to a hotel getaway that we can really get behind.

To learn more about the property or make a booking, visit Tai O Heritage Hotel online.

Randy Lai

Here are 10 of the Best Interior Designers and Architects You Should Know

Posted in Interior Design

Whether you’ve just put down a deposit on your first-ever home or are a dozen acquisitions into the investing game, prettying up one’s living space is never a bad choice. Well-designed rooms can help shore up resale value, and if the property in question is one which you actually plan on living in — well, then personalisation is nothing short of essential. To stimulate your inner decorator, take a look at 10 of the best interior designers and architects currently working below.

Adam D. Tihany

best interior designers
(Image source: @tihanydesign)

Tihany is the award-winning Romanian interior designer behind such pioneering hotels as The Breakers in Palm Beach and Belmond Cipriani. Additionally, he’s equally celebrated for his hospitality projects — including Chef Richard Ekkebus’s recently renovated Amber restaurant in Hong Kong. Tihany’s lofty, warmly tinted spaces have won him no shortage of acclaim. Among other celebrities, Thomas Keller is a fan — the award-winning chef has collaborated with Tihany on numerous occasions since 1980, notably on the former’s three Michelin-starred destination Per Se.

André Fu

best interior designers
(Image source: @a.f.s.o)

For design enthusiasts in Asia, Fu’s name is one that is virtually inescapable. In many ways considered to be one of the most sophisticated designers working in the region, the Cambridge-schooled architect is best known for his work on the iconic Upper House property, completed in 2010. Since then, Fu has gone on to refine a design style which blends modernist architecture with Asian-influenced decoration. In recent years, Fu has also launched his own line of homewares — meant to complement the work he’s doing in the structural field.

Francis Sultana

best interior designers
(Image source: @francis_sultana)

The one-time gallerist to Dame Zaha Hadid now serves a clientele which reads as a ‘who’s who’ of the international jet set, having honed a covetable decorating style which marries Baroque scale with a pop art sensibility. Ever the multi-disciplinarian, Sultana’s residential projects are invariably inspired by his background in fine and contemporary art.

Kelly Wearstler

best interior designers
(Image source: @kellywearstler)

The “Grande Dame of West Coast interior design” possesses a creative footprint that stretches from Texas to California, oscillating between chic hotels and private projects for shadowy (mostly celebrity) clients. Notable projects include any of the stylish accommodations under Proper group, including the U.S. hotelier’s eponymous new digs in Austin.

Lee Kwangho

best interior designers
(Image source: @_kwangho_lee)

After graduating from Hongik University’s prestigious College of Fine Arts, Korean designer Kwangho Lee decided to set up shop locally in Seoul. For over a decade, from the happening district of Seongsu-dong, he’s been ginning up ‘materially experimental’ design objects: ranging from vaguely Lovecraftian, textile covered lighting appliances to characterful side tables (pictured above) that have been influenced by traditional Korean arts & crafts.

Lyndon Neri

best interior designers
(Image source: @nerilyndon)

In the 15 years since Lyndon Neri and Rosanna Hu established their eponymous architectural firm, both have become significant forces within China’s growing collective of internationally recognised design talent. From The Shanghai EDITION to Bloomberg’s stunning regional HQ in Hong Kong, Neri brings a very recognisable style to all of his projects — blurring the distance between users, collective spaces and the overarching structured within which both reside.

Norman Robert Foster

best interior designers
(Image source: @officialnormanfoster)

Despite the stately age of 84, Pritzker Laureate Norman Foster remains one of the most prolific, active British architects working today. Design enthusiasts probably best know him for commercial landmarks like The Gherkin (i.e. 30 St Mary Axe, London), but the award-winning architect’s social media feed is full of useful examples of good design — whether that takes the form of sculptural chairs or a gull-wing Mercedes-Benz.

Piero Lissoni

best interior designers
(Image source: @pierolissoni)

Although Lissoni came to prominence in Asia for his work on the undulating louver-clad exteriors of The Middle House, the Italian architect boasts a critically beloved interdisciplinary practice that goes back to 1986 (the year he founded Lissoni Associati alongside fellow designer Nicoletta Canesi). In particular, Lissoni has produced an impressive array of home furniture over the years: including his signature ‘Edamame’ chaise and a series of rodded aluminium tables designed in collaboration with Living Divani.

Tamsin Johnson

best interior designers
(Image source: @tamsinjohnson)

Already considered a darling of the Aussie fashion set — with profiles in Vogue Living and WISH Magazine — Sydney-based designer Tamsin Johnson is fast becoming an international sensation thanks to her clean, luminous, meticulously comfy interior decorating style. In spite of her signature ‘look’, Johnson is careful to practice a restrained, contextual approach when working with private clients — big on heirlooms and light on trends.

Tony Chi

best interior designers
(Image source: @tonychi_official)

‘Whimsical’, ‘sensory’, ‘narrative’ — these are words you’ll habitually hear used when describing the work of interior designer Tony Chi. The Taiwanese-born hotel wunderkind has been contributing steadily to the medium for over 20 years; and has been instrumental in reshaping the idea of hotels as a luxury destination. For a closer look at his award-winning approach to designing desirable interior spaces, see the hotel coverage over at our sister website Lifestyle Asia.

Randy Lai

5 New Condominium Developments to Know in Singapore

Posted in What to Buy

2019 saw a flurry of activity in Singapore’s residential property market — the bulk of which can be pegged to the island-nation’s increasing number of en bloc (collective sale) transactions. Though state-backed cooling measures are likely to reduce the frequency of new condo openings — especially when compared with the frenzied buying period between 2017-2018 — underlying market conditions in the Lion City appear to be stable. To kickstart your year, here are 5 new developments, ready to ship in 2020, that have caught our eye.

Leedon Green

Singapore condominium developments

Formerly home to Tulip Gardens, Leedon Green is the latest complex of freehold condos to be launched by Singaporean consortium MCL Land. Situation within District 10, less than ten minutes’ walk from the Farrer MRT station, Leedon Green will prove especially enticing to Singapore’s resident foodies (the development is a short drive to the major dining destinations of Sentosa and Holland Village). As is befitting of luxury condos at this scale, MCL have decorated the public spaces with an assortment of life-enhancing facilities: there are landscaped waterfalls, pools ideal for both exercise and leisure, and entertainment suites intended to facilitate residents’ social needs. Flats available for public viewing are configured in 1 to 4-bedroom layouts.

The M Condo @ Middle Road

Singapore condominium developments

The M is one of several residential sites to be auctioned off as part of the Singaporean government’s ongoing land sales program. Winning bidder Wing Charm has developed the site, located at the heart of Bugis, as a mixed-use development. A total of 375 leasehold flats are available, bifurcated into two zones of 20 and 6-storey buildings. 
The development’s Middle Road location presents an array of benefits that are attractive for quality of life purposes: there’s excellent accessibility to Circle, Downtown, and the North-South Corridor; in addition to a wealth of dining options on one’s doorstep.

The Enclave Holland

Singapore condominium developments

True to its name, luxury developer Three Sixty-Nine’s ‘The Enclave’ is a collection of 26 ultra-secluded duplexes — ideal for young homemakers who wish to remain close to the action. A variety of floorplans are on offer: ranging in size from one to four bedrooms (several even include double-height ceilings, for an unrivalled amount of space).
The project was overseen by celebrated local architects Park + Associates, making quite the impression with its mullioned, low-rise silhouette. Many of the property’s public spaces seize on the feeling of a shared, suburban domicile. There’s a single pool at the back of the ground floor shared between all residents, in addition to communal attic space above the 5th floor — both unusual details by Singaporean standards.

3 Cuscaden

Singapore condominium developments

Sustained Land’s revitalization of the historic Cuscaden Mansions consists of an exclusive 11 apartments, sprawling out across a massive site measuring 21,560 sqm. Across the road from Four Seasons Singapore and Orchard Road, this is an apt choice for private investors who demand a property which ticks all the boxes when it comes to convenience and connectivity.

Kopar at Newton

Singapore condominium developments

Conveniently located near the Central Expressway, North-South Line and Newton Circus, Kopar is the newest strategically situated development to be built by Singaporean developer CEL. Being in District 9, purchasers will have good access to a range of exciting areas throughout the city, though the clear trump card is Kopar’s proximity to Newton Food Centre: a major dining hub for locals and tourists alike. Currently, a total of 435 condos are up for purchase — available for a leasehold of 99 years.

Randy Lai

7 Places in the World Where You Can Buy a ‘Free’ Home

Posted in What to Buy

Astute property watchers will remember the furore this May when the Sicilian municipality of Sambuca began auctioning abandoned homes at the starting price of €1 — essentially free. The initiative, geared towards resuscitating the town’s economy, resulted in a massive injection of foreign investment (a large number of Sambuca’s ‘free’ homes sold for as little as US$1,200, on the proviso that buyers spend US$17,000 on renovations over a 3-year period).
Given the success of that scheme, an increasing number of sleepy, rural hamlets (mostly in Italy) are trying to get a piece of the ‘free’ home action. But what’s the catch? Read on to find out…

Cumnock, Australia

Once an important stopover in the New South Wales railway network, Cumnock is about a 4-hour drive from Sydney. Over the years, the population has dwindled to fewer than 300 people, so in order to attract new residents the town is offering homes with ‘a typical Australian country feel’ for as little as US$1. Even a 3-bedroom house — complete with fireplaces and a palatial veranda — will only set you back US$100 a week.

Okutama, Japan

By now, rapid population ageing is a well-documented issue affecting multiple aspects of Japanese society — housing included. In order to attract younger residents back to the countryside, rural towns are allegedly giving away unoccupied properties. The most desirable of these ‘free-housing’ schemes is located in Okutama, a remote municipality that is in fact part of the western Tokyo Metropolis. Naturally, eligible properties here aren’t exactly free: families, whose children are under junior high school age, may only claim ownership pursuant to paying off a 22-year mortgage (totalling roughly US$120,621).

Monti Scìaga, Switzerland

Not content to let the Sicilians have all the fun, Monti Scìaga — a mountainous village bordering Italy and Switzerland — is currently selling its empty homes for the princely sum of one Swiss franc (US$1.01). Situated a stone’s throw from Lake Maggiore — the largest lake in southern Switzerland — and about 100 km from Milan, Monti Scìaga is among the most remote villages in the region. Not a bad spot if you’re looking for peace & quiet (in the middle of the Continent no less).

Mussomeli, Sicily

The runaway success of Sambuca’s dollar auctions meant it was only a matter of time before other Sicilian townships launched similar schemes. While all of them benefit from being able to offer housing in a temperate, serene environment, the city of Mussomeli has gone above and beyond with its very own online property listings. This freestanding, 70-sq.-mtr. house is in a style that’s fairly typical of the area — boasting a balcony and sufficient space for multiple bedrooms. Still, it goes without saying that a substantial restoration will be required, in order to account for the property’s lack of internal heating or electricals.

Patrica, Italy

Patrica, an ancient commune on the outskirts of Frosinone, is another of the small Italian towns which have recently joined project Case a 1 euro — one of the biggest nationwide efforts to combat rural depopulation. At 450m above sea level, the town’s biggest drawcard is its breathtaking views of the surrounding Valle Latina. Each of the 38 houses on offer overlooks the Sacco and Liri valleys: reason enough to pay the (approx.) US$28,000 renovation fee.

Sambuca, Sicily

The one that started it all: since mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo launched his pilot ‘free housing’ scheme in May, the quiet Sicilian hamlet of Sambuca has experienced nothing short of a revitalisation. Currently, 66 properties have already been sold to private owners including the Discovery Channel (who intend to document the progress of other foreign investors in the town next year).
New international arrivals aside, Sambuca possesses a host of features that make it a fantastic spot for an idyllic holiday home: Cuisine is influenced by Sicily’s long history of Greek and Arabic migration; the town boasts an enviable location near the coastline; and Mt. Etna looms majestically on the horizon.

Randy Lai

10 Ultra-luxe Homes in Asia to Buy This December

Posted in What to Buy

Following nearly a decade of unbroken expansion, Asia’s real estate markets are in for choppier waters. U.S.-China tensions, rising interest rates, expensive debt financing — the region has its fair share of challenges. Nevertheless, market fundamentals in 2019 remain solid: high-level acquisitions continue — backed by massive reserves of institutional capital — and, despite volatility, experts are predicting investment in the region will rise to US$108 billion. For now it seems, the cycle continues. To help you get the most out of it, we’ve curated a mixture of 10 ultra-luxe homes — both condo-style and freestanding. Located in mature and emerging Asian markets, these will make a welcome addition to any private portfolio (or at the very least, a stunning holiday home). Read on below.

YOO8 Residences, Kuala Lumpur

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Located in the heart of the KL city centre, YOO8 sets a bold new benchmark for premium living in Southeast Asia. The apartments, designed by British interiors guru Kelly Hoppen and ranging in size between 705-1,328 sq ft, are part of the ambitious mixed-use development at 8 Conlay — local developer KSK’s answer to world-class dining, residences, and retail all rolled into one. 

Martin Modern, Singapore

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Situated within earshot of the Singapore CBD, and 5 minutes walking distance from the Great World MRT line, it’s all ‘location location’ at Martin Modern — the newest addition to GuocoLand’s coterie of luxury residences. In the best tradition of Singaporean condos, the development makes ample use of the native landscape: residents have access to 15 different green spaces (e.g. forest trails, rain gardens, mazes), whilst 80 percent of the site has been intentionally earmarked for arboreal use.

28 Barker Road, Hong Kong

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Located amidst the billionaire enclave of Barker Road, this 4-bedroom property — much like neighbouring addresses on the Peak — boasts uninterrupted views of Victoria Harbour. It’s part of an exclusive 7-house development, with all residents sharing a private clubhouse and indoor swimming pool. Each house features a private lift and includes two covered carports. 

ARNA Ekamai, Bangkok

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Located at the intersection of Thong Lo, Ekamai and the upscale Emporium mall, ARNA is a relatively serene development consisting of 11 private residences. Homes are available in three configurations: all of which feature a 4-car garage, and a bare minimum of 3,710 sq ft interior space. Additionally, the development’s location (off of 65 Sukhumvit Road) gives residents unprecedented access to some of the best transport infrastructure in the capital.

Damansara Hilltop, Kuala Lumpur

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Located in the Damansara township straddling the border of Petaling Jaya, this lofty 5-bedroom listing is an ideal base of operations for families — not to mention throngs of errant bachelors — but is still within driving distance of Malaysia’s capital. No expense was spared in the entertainment department, with the property boasting an infinity pool, gym, and purpose-built home cinema.

Siyut Villa, Bali

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Quiet beachfront villas are something of a rarity in Bali nowadays yet this five-bedroom listing — at the centre of a sprawling 2.23 hectare estate — is a potent reminder of why holidaymakers fell in love with the province in the first place. A stone’s throw from the southeastern town of Sanur, this listing meshes airy modernist architecture with Balinese interiors à la Bill Bensley. Not to be missed: the jaw dropping pool-slash-courtyard.

Le Nouvel Ardmore, Singapore

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

WingTai’s latest luxe abode — overseen by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel — is set within the heart of Ardmore Park, boasting all of the bells & whistles one would normally associate with Singapore’s new wave of premiere condos. There’s a clubhouse, concierge service, even a full-size tennis court, but it’s the building’s facade — clad in a mesmerising grid of luminescent material — that proves the most striking.

15 Northcliffe Terrace, Gold Coast

ultra-luxe homes in Asia

Gilt with pristine ocean views as far as the eye can see, this 3-bedroom condo — at a covetable address in the heart of sunny Surfers Paradise — mixes Antipodean cool with the very best in modern living. The property is accessed via dedicated key-coded lift, and opens out onto a verdant living space which doubles as a jewel box of natural light.Finishes make ample use of premium timber and Carrara marble, whereas all kitchen appliances come courtesy of Gaggenau.

Majes Tower, Tokyo

Within earshot of retail/dining hotspots such as Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills, Majes Tower is a fantastic option for residents who wish to explore Tokyo’s more cosmopolitan side. While the average floor plan here veers toward cosiness, Majes Tower’s location more than makes up for this — yielding excellent views (particularly at nighttime) of surrounding Minato-ku.

One Riverside, Taipei

Residents at this high-end development, pitched across the water from New Taipei City, enjoy panoramic vistas of the Taiwanese capital’s many landmarks. Taipei 101 and the Keelung River are all within sight, and for those who prefer exercising outdoors a 204-hectare public park — popular with Taipei locals — is within walkable distance. Residents also enjoy proximity to some of the city’s ‘it’ destinations, including Miramar Commercial Circle and The Mandarin Oriental.

Randy Lai

Billionaire’s Row: The Most Expensive Property in New York City

Posted in How the One Percent Live

In affluent metropolises across the globe, the term ‘Billionaires’ Row’ is one that gets substantial airtime, usually in reference to a street or thoroughfare on which lofty, palatial abodes of the 1 percent are erected. In New York City, the term describes a growing number of Manhattan highrises, collectively constituting the most expensive real estate in America — possibly on the planet.

StreetEasy (a leading New York online realty marketplace) calls it “an enclave around 57th Street [that has] become a symbol of the city’s increasingly stupendous riches”, but the Row has morphed over the years into a loose conglomeration of ultra-luxe skyscrapers, walkable distance to Central Park and Fifth Avenue. It’s a common misconception that the boundaries are demarcated on 57th Street. More sprawl as opposed to continuous stretch, realtors generally think of it as a loose affiliation of eight towers, crisscrossing between 57th Street, 59th Street and 8th Avenue. 

220 Central Park South

Despite low physical occupancies, most of the eight towers that make up the proverbial Row have benefited from stratospheric buying power. Just this July, British rocker Sting reportedly traded in his Manhattan duplex for a US$65.7 million penthouse at 220 Central Park South — the development on the Row with the best proximity to Central Park. Details regarding most of the Robert A.M. Stern-designed tower’s listings are extremely sparse, though according to Architectural Digest, Sting’s recent acquisition features three bedrooms, five and a half baths and panoramic views of the surrounding parkland. The sale comes mere months after realtors managed to make a deal with billionaire fund manager Ken Griffin, for a US$238 million penthouse that’s now regarded as the most expensive home in America. 

The view from a bathroom inside Steinway Tower.

Of the Row’s eight towers, three are concentrated at the western end of 57th Street — surrounded by NYC landmarks such as Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room. Assuming you’re descending from Central Park, your next encounter with the Row is likely to involve a development at 111 W 57th St — more commonly known as Steinway Tower. Situated atop the site that was once Steinway Hall, this 1,428-foot monolith will bear the distinction of being the ‘world’s skinniest skyscraper’ once construction wraps in 2020. Inside, the vast majority of the development’s 60 condos are comprised of full floor residences — including 20,000 square feet of amenities and a residents’ lounge complete with Steinway grand piano.


One57

Down the block from Steinway Tower you’ll find One 57 — a 90-storey high-rise that completed construction in 2013. Nicknamed the ‘Billionaire Building’, One 57 was among the first skyscrapers to catalyse development of the Row, and its residents list has the credentials to back this. Within a year of opening, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell had set up shop in one of the building’s US$100 million penthouses, before being joined by other members of the 10-figure club such as hedge fund guru Bill Ackman and Shanghainese billionaire investor Liu Yiqian. Competition, however, is quite literally on the doorstep: with One 57 located just a stone’s throw from 225 W 57th St — site of Extell Development’s new Central Park Tower. Upon its completion in 2020, the series of luxury condos will include a 7-floor outpost of American luxury retailer Nordstrom and is slated to usurp the title of ‘world’s tallest residential building’. 

A rendering of an home inside 53 W 53rd St.

If you taxi a few blocks south toward 53rd Street, you’ll happen across 53 W 53rd St — the southernmost facing of the Row’s gleaming high-rises. Scheduled to reach completion at the end of 2019, numerous offers for the building’s 145 units have already been made — including, reportedly, the sale of one of the development’s US$33.5 million penthouses. The location does seem at first isolated from the majority of the action on the Row, though 53 W 53rd Street’s trump card is its excellent proximity to New York’s premiere cultural institutions — MoMA and Rockefeller Centre, to name a handful.

432 Park Avenue

If you fancy a brisk jog, head northeast towards Park Avenue, home to two covetable addresses. Even a country mile away, the “basket grid” silhouette of 432 Park Avenue hovers into view. The property was previously crowned the ‘world’s tallest residential building’, before being dislodged by the still-under-construction Central Park Tower.

A rendering of Central Park Tower.

In the course of wandering further north, you’ll be confronted by 220 Central Park South — yet another Neoclassicist marvel designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Resplendent in limestone cladding, the building exterior evokes Stern’s other work throughout Manhattan, and is the only Row highrise to occupy a spot in the Upper East Side — home of the Met and Guggenheim museums, and The Carlyle by Rosewood. According to Luxury Listings NYC, 520 Park Avenue offers “perhaps the highest ratio of amenity-to-unit space of any building in the city”, encompassing a range of recreational facilities suitable for both families and individuals. 

A rendering of 252 E 57th Street.

To close out your journey, heeds the words of William Douglas and go east. A three-block stroll will put you within spitting distance of 252 E 57 Street, the shortest and most decentralised of the Billionaires’ Row towers. Completed in 2017, this impressive 712-foot-tall tower channels the seamless, arboreal form of Alvar Aalto’s ‘Savoy Vase’. Interiors are suffused with a similarly splashy quality, courtesy of celebrity designer Daniel Romauldez, who is best known for working with a range of private clients including Mick Jagger and Tory Burch.

Randy Lai