American furniture and interior designer Sean Knibb has created a stunning city-centre apartment with his latest project in Vietnam. By Brett Davis. Photos by Vinh Dao.

CIA station apartment. American furniture and interior designer Sean Knibb has created a stunning city-centre apartment in the old CIA stationThe building on the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Dong Khoi has seen some history. It was the CIA station during the American War where officers worked and lived with their families. Today it is home to an eclectic collection of cafes, art galleries and creative agencies.

It is also now home to an incredibly stylish apartment designed by renowned American designer Sean Knibb. Part crash-pad for when he is in town and part showroom for his work, he has managed to wring the most character out of the compact space to make it something that is both sleek and extremely warm and inviting at the same time.

Knibb and his Los Angeles-based design studio have done interiors for Hollywood luminaries such as Robert Downey, Jr and Jennifer Lopez. He also recently completed the design for the ultra-hip Line Hotel in the city’s Korea Town neighbourhood.

“It’s all about the view,” Knibb says of the central idea behind his design of the apartment, a large balcony that overlooks the green space in front of the Vincom Centre and the neoclassical and colonial buildings of downtown Saigon. Indeed, as soon as you walk into the apartment the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that separate the living room and the generous balcony are its defining feature.

The ultra-high ceilings also allow for the loft bedroom that sits above the bathroom, in which there is still enough clearance to stand comfortably. The loft is accessed by a steeply pitched ladder staircase.

The other element that runs through much of the apartment is the raw, unvarnished feel of the materials used. The walls are covered in a traditional whitewash rather than paint and the oak floorboards and granite in the bathroom are left unpolished. The large slabs of white marble that form the deck of the balcony and the dining room tabletop are also unfinished.

“I really wanted to stay away from glossy,” says Knibb, who feels the approach creates a stronger connection to nature and history.

There are also some quirky and custom features throughout the apartment. For instance, the base of the dining table is an old truck engine topped with a circle of raw marble, while the coffee table is made up of stacks of assorted sheets of paper. Many of the light fittings are also individual antique pieces.

The transformation from an apartment that had been cluttered with possessions by the previous occupant is quite astonishing. “[The previous tenant] wanted to sell everything in the place as well, which took some time to figure out,” Knibb says.

These hurdles overcome, the result is something he is clearly proud of. “I wanted to do something world-class, and there is really no place like this in the world.”