Case study: Finding the sweet spot

AB Concept couldn’t say no when offered the chance to design a new home – its first residential project – on this spectacular site in the south of France

Cultural blends are hard to achieve, as anyone who has grown up with a foreign culture will know. There is a natural urge to find the sweet spot that exists in that mix, where both parts are allowed to sing, be heard and complement each other. This house in the South of France has found that sweet spot. Created by Hong Kong design company AB Concept, it is a family-centric getaway for a Western business man who already has a home in Hong Kong; a three-storey villa that is both impressive and subtle, east and west, in equal measure.

The staircase with its translucent glass treads runs like a contemporary dramatic thread through all three floors

‘The project was still under construction before Terence and I started,’ says Ed Ng, co-founder of AB Concept, with Terence Ngan. ‘We received an enquiry from France to see if we would be interested in designing a house. When we received the floor plans and renderings, we saw it as a significant milestone for us as it would be our first residential project in Europe. It had been designed to accentuate and complement the natural surroundings while the interiors present a space that remains true to the studio’s design philosophy.’

The layout comprises three bedrooms, two reception spaces, a swimming pool, hammam, a guest area and library and had already been fairly fixed by the architect. Despite its size and stature, the client wanted an understated feel and chose AB Concepts for its elegant but cross-cultural style. This has become something of a signature look for AB Concept following projects like the Ten Trinity Square, Four Seasons project in London, as well as a converted British colonial building in Hong Kong (the former Central Police Station), which houses a luxury Chinese and Western restaurant under the same roof.

The site has a spectacular vantage point with views down the French coast, something the designers were keen to highlight

‘The villa sits on the French Riviera, one of the most renowned vacation spots in the world, and naturally we took our first bit of inspiration from the impeccable view of the coastline,’ says Ng of their first steps. ‘We wanted to use the local elements to contrast with a foreign feeling that is unique to the location, hence the introduction of elements from Asian culture whilst merging them with Western features. The client knew we could understand such expectations. He didn’t want the Oriental aesthetics to be too bold, but wanted something subtle that could co-exist with this modern building by the French Riviera.’

The seamless result has been achieved with a blend of exotic materials associated with the east for all the detailing of the key stand-out pieces in the home, of which there are many. These include the large scale cabinetry fronted with sections of shagreen leather; mother-of-pearl cladding on the walls of the reception areas; bespoke bronze oriental motifs over custom glass panels, and the marble used so much in the East which was equally perfect for a South of France property. At the request of the client these were all sourced from, and pre-made in, China.

A sophisticated mix of materials is layered in every space – leather and metal chairs contrast here with the stone around the fire

‘When the client asked us to appoint a contractor in China, we thought it was very brave of him, as logistically, it could have been a mess,’ says Ng. ‘The home’s interiors were prefabricated in the workshop and every single piece, from a vanity counter to the doors were disassembled, put into containers and then reassembled on site. This was a big challenge, requiring a lot of precise co-ordination and site visits to the workshop as well as the actual site. With great co-ordination between the workshop, French architects and extremely skillful workers, everything turned out perfectly and ended up being quite seamless. So the moral of the story is that geographic “hindrances” really shouldn’t be hindrances at all in design these days.’

Given the beautiful light of the Cote d’Azur, one key aim was to keep the space as open and reflective as possible. In the entrance hall and first reception room the afore-mentioned mix of mother-of-pearl and travertine marble are a typical example of the clever use of materials throughout.

Details such as shagreen panels and bespoke shelving provide continuity, as here in this striking dining room with its dramatic table

‘We tried to use as much glass as possible on the ceiling skylight to allow natural lighting to shed through. The living room and dining room flooring are light beige filled travertine marble and all other areas are wide plank smoky oak,’ says Ng. ‘There is also a glass staircase that sits in the middle of the house and really is the core of this villa. Consistent throughout the entire home, the shelving units along with sofas and upholstery were a mix of bespoke cabinetry designed by Terence and myself as well as items from the homeowner’s personal collection.’

A purpose-built bookshelf extends from the top floor down to the basement, which highlights the verticality of this villa and also allows for the client to enjoy the blue sky throughout the year. It serves as the main daylight source throughout the building with minimal usage of artificial lighting.

Flooded with light in the day, the bedroom’s sheers, blinds and shutters provide the darkness needed for deep sleep at night

Down the staircase at the garden level is a marble-topped, wood base standalone bar standing proud in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, as well as more of the beautiful shagreen cabinetry which also acts as a door which leads to the stairwell. On this floor there are also guest quarters, plus an office space, a second guest bedroom and garden terrace.

The sanded limestone bath forms a dramatic centrepiece in the main bathroom

Above this are the master suite and a third bedroom space and bathroom. In the master suite the client requested a continuation of the feeling of understated luxury which has clearly been achieved. This detailing is evident in the slightly more elaborate versions of the Chinese style mini screens, this time in oak rather than bronze. The bed’s pleasingly curved headboard is in Canvas by Hermes and sheer curtains have been used to diffuse the light, with blackout blinds integrated into the window system. At night, the shutter comes down to provide extra security and full a full blackout effect.

The bathrooms in the home are definitely the location of some of the most knock-out features of the property. Again there is the cooling feel created by marble but this time mixed with the more humble material of limestone at its centre.

The calm interiors extend into the spa areas. Simple stone detailing here allows an ornate water fountain to take centre stage

‘The inspiration here comes from traditional Chinese art,’ describes Ng, ‘including nearly transparent embroidered double-sided silkscreens to cover the windows. As an extension to the tree branches outside that are visible from the space, the silkscreens include embroidered flower branches and birds, a further reference to off indoor-outdoor living. Whilst the screens allow ample natural light to flood the space, they also serve as dividers for privacy. It’s quite a raw feature, but we tied the entire bathroom together with a bathtub made of sanded limestone. This surprising central feature breaks up the luxury associated with the south of France to bring in the naturalness of the surrounding environment.’

AB Concept has certainly delivered the client’s aim for a subtle cross-cultural vision, a very ‘feng shui’’-style balance has been achieved in the convergence of eastern and western cultural styles, tranquility and grandeur, opulence and calm.

‘We fully understand that cultures can co-exist with others harmoniously and they all influence each other,’ concludes Ng, ‘creating the most interesting visuals when multiple cultures are blended together.’

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