Lifestyle & Belief

One man's Hong Kong man cave, at 100 square feet

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Credit: Charlie Shroeder

Seth Leslie's 100 square foot "man cave" in Hong Kong.

Seth Leslie lives in what can confidently be called a man cave. It's a 100 square foot studio.

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The Australian actor makes his home in Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated places on earth. The population density is more than 22,000 per every square kilometer of developed land. Here’s another way to look at it -- every Hong Kong resident has just about 130 square feet of space – about the size of four queen sized beds.

In his tiny apartment, Seth Leslie has just one small window that, at first, looks transparent.

“Well, it's translucent,” he says, “but you'd never know because out there it's just murky darkness.”

"Out there" is the building's shaftway, with plumbing fixtures, air conditioners, and grime. His apartment is on the second floor of a 16-story industrial building in one of Hong Kong's most crowded neighborhoods. It only gets about ten minutes of sunlight a day, when the sun is shining directly at the top of the building.

But the flat’s most prominent feature is the "wet room."

“It's the nice Hong Kong way of saying a bathroom that has enough room for a shower head and everything else goes underneath the shower head,” he says. It takes up about 20 percent of the living space and has glass walls.

“It makes it a little bit awkward when guests are over and suddenly want to use the bathroom,” he says. So when nature calls, his guests go down the hallway to Leslie's other tiny apartment. This unorthodox living arrangement -- two tiny flats -- is Leslie's way of paying less for more space. He pays just over $550 a month. That's about a quarter of what my wife and I pay for our Hong Kong apartment, which is just 417 square feet.

Before we moved last year, we were living in a two-bedroom in Los Angeles, so it’s taking some getting used to. Most Hong Kong apartments don’t have closets; we had to get a hydraulic storage bed to store clothes, bedding and luggage under the mattress. Every appliance here is built with space-saving in mind. Our garbage can is six-inches wide, our refrigerator not much wider than me. I typically dry my dress shirts on metal rods above my desk.

While I struggle to adjust to my new environment, some Hong Kong residents are thriving in their space. They've turned cramped living into an art form.

Recently, I visited the architect Gary Chang in his 360-square foot flat. He calls his apartment "domestic transformer" because it has movable walls that hide and reveal rooms - well, "scenarios" as he puts it. All told, there are 24 possible configurations in this tight little space. He shows me one sort of an annex to his bathroom - his bathtub, which for most of the day is hidden behind a large wall of CDs.

“I enjoy taking a bath, but I don't take the bath for 24 hours, so the rest of the time I don't need my bathtub” - so it stores away.

Chang lives alone now, but as a kid he shared this very apartment with five family members and a tenant. Back then, Chang slept in the corridor on a sofa seat. He says the biggest challenge of living in tight quarters isn't how to utilize space, it's how to get along with your fellow occupants. He says it has an impact on the way you interact.

“I remember when we were kids, when we were all living together. I don't know why, but we sort of learned to be pretty silent,” Chang says. “Imagine if everybody is talking and yelling.”

But even as family size shrinks in Asia, Gary Chang tells me that people continue to opt for smaller apartments. Take Seoul, South Korea, where the most popular apartment size is less than 300-square feet. People there sacrifice space so they can live in the heart of the city.

Same goes for Chang. He says that being able to live in the middle of the city, and not necessarily in a big apartment, is the real definition of home.

“It makes you venture out to enjoy what city life means to you,” he says.

I know what he means. After sitting at my desk for hours with laundry grazing the top of my head, I really have to get out, and explore my new home.

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    Credit: Charlie Schroeder

    Seth Leslie sitting on his futon/bed in his tiny Hong Kong apartment.

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    Credit: Charlie Shroeder

    Seth Leslie's 100 square foot "man cave" in Hong Kong.

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    Credit: Charlie Schroeder

    A view of Gary Chang's "domestic transformer" apartment in Hong Kong.

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    Credit: Charlie Schroeder

    Gary Chang, architect, in his 360 square foot Hong Kong apartment.