This Hong Kong ‘Transformer’ Home Is Seriously Unconventional

Before there were tiny homes, there was this fully-convertible 344-square-foot apartment in China that could morph into 24 different rooms.

Growing up in the crowded metropolitan area of Hong Kong, Gary Chang has been used to small spaces his entire life. The apartment he now owns, purchased for $45,000 in 1988, used to be inhabited by himself, his parents and his three sisters.

Chang knocked down the original walls of the apartment and completely redesigned it into the space in which he resides today—a fully customizable home that converts into 24 separate rooms. What at first appears to be a regular studio apartment begins to transform as Chang pulls out various sliding shelving systems to reveal appliances, countertops, lounge spaces, bookshelves and more.
 
When Chang moved into the apartment with his parents at age 14, he slept on a mattress in the hallway on a sofa bed. The massive high-rise building contains 370 units and is 17 stories.
 
Eventually, Chang went to the University of Hong Kong where he studied architecture. When he purchased his family’s apartment, he was eager to begin remodeling. Over the past 30 years, Chang has renovated the space four times, each iteration becoming more complex than the last. The current stage, known as “Domestic Transformer,” cost $218,000 to construct and a year to complete. The home has been featured in The New York Times, interior design books and magazines and newspapers, and news channels throughout Asia.
 
Chang has designed projects in China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Middle East and Europe with a focus on dynamic, flexible designs that utilize space.
 
In this video tour of his home, Chang stresses the importance of intuitive design and usability. As he shifts the walls of shelving to transform the space, the shelves glide seamlessly across the room.
 
“This movement is actually one of the most important designs to make the operation user-friendly, so that you want to do it all the time,” says Chang as he smoothly pulls a floor-to-ceiling wall featuring his music collection across the space. “That’s why the handle design is actually very important,” he continues. “This is the biggest wall with 3,000 compact discs. Because it is heavy, it is actually more stable and you can still pull it with one hand.”
 
One could surmise that the highly compact but customizable space built inside of a tiny studio apartment paved the way for current interior design and real estate trends including tiny homes, downsizing, ergonomic design, modular furniture and minimalism. Cheng’s compact design is also reminiscent of the popular Japanese capsule hotels where travelers sleep in a futuristic pod that acts as a self-contained, scaled-down hotel room.
 
Modular furniture made a huge splash at design trade shows in 2018 and 2019, according to Keith Chan Shing-hin, founder of Hong Kong interior design firm Hintegro. When attending the Maison & Objet trade fair in Paris, Shing-hin saw a new wave of smaller-scale products that were adaptable to shrinking spaces. Noting a surprising turn from classic, larger European designs, Shing-hin said, “[I saw] modular furniture you can buy like Legos to add on and assemble yourself.”
 
Ten years ago, in his 2009 interview with the New York Times, Chang stated that he hopes some of his designs could be implemented to improve domestic life in the crowded city of Hong Kong overall. “People feel trapped,” Chang told the New York Times. “We have to find ways to live together in very small spaces.” This is especially pertinent today, as studies show that U.S. millennials are happier when moving into population-dense city centers.
 
Student loan debt is a huge contributing factor in the millenial housing market, delaying not only marriage and having children, but first-time home buying. Because of this, trends have shown that millennials are gravitating toward smaller homes that are closer to city amenities. Designs like Chang’s—borne from the necessity of living in a crowded city-center—are crucial in modern design geared toward inhabiting smaller spaces.