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Friday, August 14, 2020, 18:01
Happy together
By ​Rebecca Lo
Friday, August 14, 2020, 18:01 By ​Rebecca Lo

Rebecca Lo observes how the boundaries between work, home and leisure have blurred completely in the time of COVID-19.

The Mills’ co-working spaces, Fabrica and Lab, provide well-equipped facilities to those working in textiles and garments industries. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On a quiet lane uphill from North Point MTR station, architects Johnny Wong and Miho Hirabayashi of FAK3 interior design firm are wrapping up a meeting at Artistry Brewing Company (ABC). 

The lights dim, and Instagrammers begin wandering in from a terrace laced with colorful plants and floor to ceiling glass doors. ABC’s owner Xixi Chen begins the evening’s service, with help from her husband Wong and Hirabayashi. As stakeholders in the recently opened café, the three are used to wearing multiple hats. 

ABC is the latest example of how in today’s COVID-19 world, the boundaries between work, home and play have completely blurred. ABC offers a number of homemade pastries and savoury dishes that rival cuisine found in five-star hotel restaurants. In between breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, the space turns into FAK3’s conference venue — the back room conceals a printer and coffee roaster. At all hours, the space showcases FAK3’s line of bespoke furniture and crockery. 

The Mills’ co-working spaces, Fabrica and Lab, provide well-equipped facilities to those working in textiles and garments industries. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As work from home becomes the norm, more people seek alternate spaces to mimic the buzz from being surrounded by colleagues. Incorporating café culture into co-working spaces appeals precisely because the result is quiet corners to tackle professional tasks without the sight of dirty laundry or dishes to distract. 

“We had our studio here,” Wong explains, taking a sip of ABC’s signature pour over first-origin Ethiopian coffee. “Even though we are really close to the MTR, we are at the end of a lane and it’s very calm. I love coffee, and wanted to offer clients a decent cup during meetings. We learned that we had to get a restaurant license to do that. And when we were designing the space, I wanted to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. That led to our liquor license. Before we knew it, we had a restaurant.” 

Anchoring ABC is a central bar counter made from stainless steel and decorated with shou sugi ban, a weatherproof burnt wood favored in Japan. Contrasting the reclaimed wood furnishings sourced from China and Southeast Asia are zinc-clad walls and suspended serpentine tube lighting. Curios such as glassware and one-of-a-kind vases filled with flowers and plants spill from shelves and tabletops, creating a sense of welcome and a homey ambience.

“The space has Japanese characteristics, such as our use of wood, inclusion of nature, and the craftsmanship,” acknowledges Hirabayashi. “Like many Japanese homes, we don’t use it just for one purpose. But each purpose needs to feel appropriate and comfortable.”

Inquiries to book a spot in The Mills Fabrica co-working space continue apace, says co-director Alexander Chan. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Bean Buro co-founders Kenny Kinugasa-tsui and Lorene Faure believe Bizhouse apartments can easily double as work spaces during the day. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Home-cum-work space 

A few MTR stations west, in Causeway Bay, Hysan Development’s Bizhouse officially opened in June as a hybrid live and work complex with furnished units ranging from 317 to 546 square feet. Designers Bean Buro imagined a hip space for entrepreneurs focused on their careers, yet wanted to be in the midst of all the action.

Originally a walk-up tenement in the former Jardine’s Hill, the building was renovated in 2003 and fitted with an elevator. “We worked with Hysan and developed options that leaned more towards offices or more towards homes,” admits Kenny Kinugasa-tsui, Bean Buro’s co-founding director. “In the end, we struck a balance between the two.”

Bean Buro created a Murphy bed for each unit that easily opens to a double bed. The kitchen comes with a combined washer-dryer and oven-microwave cooking range. The color palette is predominantly white with accents of light wood and soothing shades of pale blue and yellow.

Mandatory temperature check before entering The Mills Fabrica co-working space. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hysan Development COO Ricky Lui worked with design firm Bean Buro to come up with the hybrid live-and-work complex Bizhouse. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In the two larger units, sliding glass doors allow for quiet work areas while a meeting takes place next door. A flexible table allows for larger conferences when extended and meals for one or two when contracted. Storage is plentiful and mostly concealed except for a feature peg wall that can be customized with open shelves according to each resident’s preferences. 

A rooftop terrace is designed for small gatherings, quiet time or barbecues. It offers panoramic city views of Lee Gardens and Causeway Bay to the south. 

“Bizhouse is fundamentally apartments but equipped to work as offices during the day,” Kinugasa-tsui explains. “They appeal to a new demographic of people who seek more comfortable spaces to work in, such as start-ups with flexible staff members — a worldwide trend. Bizhouse, with its white, fresh and airy interiors, is a tranquil bubble in a busy neighborhood.” 

With a color scheme that’s easy on the eye, Bizhouse live-and-work units offer a bubble of tranquility in downtown Hong Kong. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Miho Hirabayashi of FAK3 says she used Japanese elements while designing the firm’s work space, which is also a cafe. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Helping tenants

For those who prefer a more traditional work environment rather than a home-based one with too many creature comforts, The Mills’ co-working space Fabrica in Tsuen Wan provides generous and well-equipped facilities tailored for those in the textiles or garment industries. 

Though Fabrica is quieter in the afternoons than it was in 2019, due to the lack of happy hour gatherings and events since the pandemic hit Hong Kong, it is business as usual for the majority of tenants. Many continue to use their desks in open area workspaces or the Lab for mock-ups or sample production.

“While we have not seen a significant turnover of head count reduction since then, all of the usual gatherings that are hosted are on hold,” notes Alexander Chan, The Mills Fabrica’s co-director. “Instead, people communicate and gather online via webinars and Zoom happy hours.” 

FAK3 interior designing firm co-owner Johnny Wong says the company’s studio grew into a cafe from the desire to serve high-class coffee to clients. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Xixi Chen runs hipster coffee joint Artistry Brewing Company which also doubles  as the work space of interior design firm FAK3. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Xixi Chen runs hipster coffee joint Artistry Brewing Company which also doubles  as the work space of interior design firm FAK3. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Mills Fabrica’s rents are already discounted or subsidized. To help tenants weather the pandemic, it has been offering marketing and business development assistance equivalent to two months’ rent. “Some of our tenants with more than 50 seats will go for this, while smaller ones will assess, based on their business needs and whether they are piloting new products,” Chan says.

Chan acknowledges that strict hygiene measures are here to stay well past the pandemic. “We intend to keep up basic measures such as temperature checks, hand sanitizers and disinfecting spaces,” he reveals. “Hong Kong people are very aware and very careful. Some of our tenants already work in shifts to lower the risk of face to face contact. While the day to day office interaction is gone, we are building up our online community. And we are getting more new inquiries for spaces.”

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