Retired Couple's Modern Apartment Renovation Incorporates Traditional Customs

How one urban residence was redesigned to incorporate traditional practices.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio master bedroom

Sim-Plex Design Studio

The modernist movement in architecture is well-known for its rejection of ornamentation and its bold reinterpretation of how form should follow function and not the other way around. Along the way, modern architecture incorporated new-fangled technologies and habits that emerged at the time, such as washing more frequently.

But what about incorporating ongoing ancient customs into a more modern context? That question may a bit harder to answer, but Hong Kong-based architecture firm Sim-Plex Design Studio takes a shot at it in their recent renovation of a small 588-square-foot apartment for an elderly couple with no children. While most of the creative brief called for run-of-the-mill requests like space-maximizing, multifunctional furniture, and plenty of space for houseplants, another of the core components was to include a space where the retired couple could easily integrate their practice of the age-old Chinese custom of ancestor worship into the rhythms of daily life.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio entrance
Sim-Plex Design Studio

Known also as ancestor veneration, the practice dates back at least 3,500 years before the emergence of any major religions in China, as well as in other locales. The belief is that one's family ancestors are always watching protectively their descendants, and it was important to reciprocate and regularly pay respects through the ritual offering of incense, food, and other gifts—either at dedicated temples or at home, at the family shrine.

While such shrines are still relatively common in many Asian homes, the younger generation seems to be drifting away from such practices. As the studio explains:

"The older generation in society generally believed in the culture of ancestor worship and insisted on setting up a place to worship at home. However, most of the young people believe that this would make people feel fearful, and affect the beauty of home. Is it possible to use modern simplicity and elegance as the design keynote and reinterpret the worship space in home to inherit the old culture and improve its social acceptance?"

To answer this question, the designers took a simple but direct approach in remaking this residence, which they have dubbed Floral Aged House. After discussing it with the clients, the studio decided to install a non-descript cabinet in one corner of the living room that would function as the family shrine.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio living room
Sim-Plex Design Studio

While it may look plain, its three-tiered arched form and integrated red lighting do echo the elaborate domestic shrines of the past.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio family shrine
Sim-Plex Design Studio

Storage for various ritual supplies like candles, incense, or floor cushions has been integrated behind the wooden veneer of this cabinet, as well as the grey cabinet beside it.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio family shrine
Sim-Plex Design Studio 

Running along the window is a long multipurpose counter made of marble, which the studio says can be used for potting and maintaining houseplants, as well as displaying them. The architects say that when one is taking care of plants in this space, it "borrows from the scenery outside the window" while also "optimizing air quality."

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio counter
Sim-Plex Design Studio

Tucked underneath this counter are two custom-built wooden seats with integrated storage, which can pull out when in use, or be put away when they are not needed.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio chairs
Sim-Plex Design Studio

Besides these major details, the residence has now been remade to accommodate potential future mobility or safety issues that the elderly couple may have. For instance, the corridor has been kept as open as possible by installing a sliding door that leads the bathroom.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio corridor
Sim-Plex Design Studio

The doors leading to the kitchen and the study have a pane of fritted glass, which not only helps to increase the amount of daylight reaching the corridor but also helps to provide a more subdued line of sight that would likely reduce door-related accidents.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio study
Sim-Plex Design Studio

In addition, other small, elderly-friendly details like easy-to-reach handles and wider clearances around built-in pieces of furniture like the master bed were added.

Floral Aged House apartment renovation by Sim-Plex Design Studio master bedroom
Sim-Plex Design Studio

As a good portion of our urban populations start to transition into retirement, many designers will have to start thinking about how to gracefully and intelligently create homes that will help maintain mobility—and perhaps also some cherished traditions. To see more, visit Sim-Plex Design Studio.