It is well known that Hong Kong is one of the world’s least affordable places to live. Just talking, no, thinking about rent can be a big challenge for the local youths, let alone the young overseas students and expats trying to settle down in Hong Kong. As the housing demand remains quite strong in recent years, there is a new industry and trend popping up, namely “co-living”, and perhaps it could be a way out.
The co-living concept started from zero
Founded in 2012, Contented Living is the first operator of youth hostels run by the co-living mode in Hong Kong. Not only it has been evaluated highly amongst the overseas students, but it also gains recognitions from local universities as one of the recommended off-campus student hostels. Recently Contented Living has listed more than 1,500 high-quality accommodations, becoming the biggest matching platform for co-living accommodations in Hong Kong.
“The idea of starting a co-living hostel comes from the horrible stories of those new students who just settled in Hong Kong,” Venny Chan, the co-founder of Contented Living Limited, shared an interesting brand story, “As my two partners and I were all graduates from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), we first discovered the struggles of overseas students in settling down off-campus in a casual conversation at a school event of CUHK where the new students would share their difficulties or questions with the alumni students. We found that the newcomers facing not just the fuss of setting up the house or utilities but also finding reliable flatmates and trustworthy landlords. The most bizarre case we heard was that a student eventually placed her newly-bought double bed at the sitting room after finding out her reserved bedroom was too small for a double bed.” With the intention of helping the fellow overseas students to settle down, Venny and her partners founded Contented Living, hoping to provide a cool co-living space with convenient location, comfortable and furnished living condition, comprehensive management service; and most importantly, reasonable price.
“Contented Living aims to provide warm and comfortable co-living apartment for those who just arrive in Hong Kong for study or work so they can enjoy the fun of staying in Hong Kong.” said Venny.
At times, the concept of co-living was relatively new to Hong Kong and it was certainly not as popular as studios and serviced apartments in the rental market; nonetheless, Venny was pretty determined to position Contented Living as shared-flats accommodations with a strong belief that co-living is the way out for the youth generation. “Our initial intention is to provide a solution for those overseas students who did not manage to secure a room inside the campus, so our product would be quite similar to that in a student hall; it is not until later we expand our client base to the expats and local youths as we noticed that the traditional housing options could not really fit the needs of this particular group.“ Venny further explained, “First it is all about cost. Accommodation is always the biggest burden for those youngsters. The primary objective of co-living is to reduce the housing cost by sharing the living space without giving up the living conditions, so our hostels were designed to provide a shared sitting room, bathroom and kitchen, with our guests could still enjoy their privacy in a room space of around 50 to 80 sf. at a reasonable cost of HK$4,000 to HK$7,000 per month. Second it is the housing provision. Our hostels are fully furnished with management service, which is very important because our target clients are mostly very occupied with their daily lives and they would not need extra worries on setting-up or managing their new homes. Third it is the social needs. As most of our guests are new to Hong Kong, it would be nice to meet someone with similar background and support each other during their journey in Hong Kong. Therefore, when assigning rooms for our guests, we also consider their backgrounds and try to match. All in all, based on the particular needs of our target clients, we decided to position our residences as a serviced co-living space with the best value to money.”
From minimalist design to colourful expression
Contrary to the usual plain style of the housings of Contented Living, the new project 29-31 Battery Street at Jordan is quite a breakthrough considering it is a total different style designed by a designer. Though this is the first time that a designer has been invited in a project of Contented Living, Venny has met the interior designer, Nico Yeung, a few years back. “We were both members in a co-working space designed by Nico back then.“ Venny shared, “And I was quite impressed by the simple but delicate design of Nico that I told her perhaps she could help design our co-living space in the future. And here we are!”
In the design of Battery Street project, Nico has replaced the plain tones used in the previous projects of Contented Living with the vivid colours of blue and yellow. “To me, Contented Living is a dynamic company and its target clients are mainly young people.” Nico explained her choice of colour tones, “So I would like to pick some bold colours like yellow and blue which makes the place more energetic and refreshing; and these colours are quite popular amongst both male or female as well.”
Beside the unique choice of tones, Nico also create an ambience by the use of soft lightings. She explained her intention, “According to the human psychology, soft and dim lighting would help release the tensions and relax people.” Nico hopes to create a more inviting common area where guests could relax and share their days with each other.
With the soft and dim lightings at the common area, it brings in a relax and homey vibe.
In addition to the vivid design and pleasant vibe, it is also important to be pragmatic when designing a co-living space. One of the catches of staying in a co-living space is to enjoy a fuss-free home. By Nico’s design, furniture has clean lines with smooth, sleek surfaces which is easy to maintain, guaranteed to reduce the stress and cleaning efforts of the guests in their bustling city life.
The furniture is designed to be durable and easy-to-clean but still comes with style.
Finally, when it comes to the hardest part of designing the project of Battery Street, Nico has no hesitation, “Cost control!” she replied. Venny also explained that lots of co-living spaces in Hong Kong have invested a huge sum in interior renovation work which in turns leads to expensive rent rates; yet this contradicts to the primary intention of co-living spaces which is to lower accommodation cost. Thus, when designing the project of Battery Street, Nico had to consider the material cost, as well as to avoid complicated and costly renovation work procedures.
“To achieve a good design with controlled cost, we would need to be thoughtful on the construction materials and decorations.” Nico shared some of her insights in the project. “For example, I have designed a feature wall to each unit with budget-wise wooden boards as a background. This helps with the layering visual effect and gives a touch of nature to the house.”
“I have designed a sloping ceiling for some of the flats, it not just bears great aesthetic but also helps hide the ceiling beams in the original setting of the house. Yet, in some flats I have designed wooden ceiling beams and created a special visual effect with the lightings.”
With the sloping ceiling with warm lightings, the ceiling beams are well-hidden and the house feels very homey.
On the other hand, Nico also made an effort on the decorations. “Those paintings and photos are all delicately chosen, and some of them are my personal works.” Nico welcomes guests staying here would replace the decorations with their own photos or drawings to make this place more personalised with their own characters and flatmates could share their stories through the decorations. “I also picked some Van Gogh’s paintings for decoration. Not just because he is my favourite and most admired painter but also his brilliant pick of colours echo with the bold colour selections of this project.”
Both Venny and Nico love the Van Gogh’s paintings.
Coincidentally, Venny happens to like Van Gogh’s paintings very much as well. “Nico and I never really discussed about the exact decorations she would use at this project;” she added. “And I was quite surprised that what she picked are actually my all-time favourites.” Those paintings of Van Gogh recalled her memories when she studied her Master degree in France. They also give an exotic feeling to the co-living place. All in all, Venny is impressed with the work of Nico in this project.
Innovate with creativity, Execute with caution
After the project Battery Street, both Venny and Nico are hoping to have further collaborations in the upcoming projects. The co-living spaces of Contented Living were very standardised in minimalist style for easy management in the past; as the demands and expectations of living spaces have become higher through times, Contented Living would catch up and be ready to make changes to meet the requirements of the target clients.
When comes to the design ideas for the upcoming projects, Venny and Nico have their own interesting preferences. Venny is hoping to create a co-living space in an industrial style with the use of raw, unfinished, and almost factory-like material; while Nico would like to design a living space with the touch of “old Hong Kong” with the decorations from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Besides of design ideas, Venny would also expect diversity over the locations of the co-living spaces in the future. Instead of the busy districts, Venny hopes to cover more distant locations as she explained, “In my opinion, co-living in distant places could offer a more attractive rate and spacious living condition.” Venny further elaborated, “To me, I do believe that the accommodation cost should be less than 1/4 of the income to ensure a certain living standard on other aspects of life; yet, even with a lower accommodation cost, the living space per capita should be remained a certain level, for this, I think co-living at a distant location could achieve both.” Nonetheless, with the COVID situation unsettled, Venny is still taking a wait-and-see attitude for any expansion plan in the future.
Currently the co-living spaces at Battery Street are fully booked, and the next batch would be opened for reservation by November.
Please stay in touch by the Facebook, Instagram and Official Website of Contented Living for updates.
Special Thanks: Nico Yeung / www.metaltree.hk