Moving to Mui Wo on Lantau Island proved something of a masterstroke for RACHEL ALI and husband Lorne, founders of kids’ party-planning company The Tepee Tribe. We visit them at home in their beautiful Mui Wo village house and find out more.
While Rachel and Lorne Ali are both from the UK – they lived and worked as teachers in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, before making the move to Hong Kong – Rachel was actually born in Zambia. Her parents worked there in the 1960s and early 70s; it explains why African artworks can be spotted in different corners of their house on Lantau Island. Lorne’s father, meanwhile, was born in India and moved to Pakistan in the partition of 1947, arriving in the UK in the 1950s.
The pair arrived in HK in 2001. Lorne had secured a job working at Kellett School in Pok Fu Lam (where he stayed for 16 years); Rachel was initially at KGV, before shifting to South Island School – she’s taught science there ever since.
They also run a couple of interesting businesses: one is Discovery Dome Mobile Planetarium, an inflatable immersive teaching space that travels around schools teaching about astronomy, space exploration and climate change; the other will be familiar to many EL readers, The Tepee Tribe, which puts together a wide variety of unique themed sleepover parties for girls and boys of all ages, from princesses to pirates.
About the Home
Location: Mui Wo, Lantau Island, in a village behind the beach
Type of home: Three-storey village house
Who lives here: Rachel and Lorne Ali and their three children, Jasmine (16) and twins Jemima and Felix (12)
Length of time in the home: 16 years
Why Mui Wo?
The couple was initially attracted to the area by the close proximity to the beach, the hill trails, and also the relatively close ferry. Today, the attraction extends to the neighbourhood’s sense of community, including the friends the family has made, and the freedom the kids have to roam and play.
“Mui Wo is a fantastic place to live,” says Rachel. “For day-to-day living and convenience, we have all the usual supermarket shops, but we also have some great coffee shops like Café Paradiso and Pause, an excellent artisanal baker, an Italian deli, a butcher and some good wine shops.”
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to restaurants too. Favourites include the China Beach Club (“the best home fries in Hong Kong!”) and The Kitchen for delicious pizza. “We also have a quirky little bookstore called Vibe, a bicycle shop called Friendly, some great gyms and a lovely outdoor swimming pool.”
If that’s ever not enough, Central is only 30 minutes away by fast ferry. Yet Rachel and Lorne are happy to stay put most of the time and soak up Lantau’s outdoorsy vibe. “Our beach is great for water sports and there are places to hire SUPs and kayaks,” says Rachel. “We love hiking and can often be found on the trails around our house. If we want to venture further afield, we can head to one of the other great Lantau beaches like Pui O or Cheung Sha.”
A family pad
Rachel and Lorne bought their three storey village house as a new build; initially, though, they only purchased the top floor – the idea was to use it as a weekender. When their Pok Fu Lam premises came up for redevelopment, forcing them to move, they decided to buy the ground and middle floor duplex too.
“We have pretty much kept the original layout and just knocked a door through to link the spaces,” says Rachel. “Upstairs is a kitchen, a sitting room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms – that’s the grownups’ area. The children each have a bedroom on the middle floor and there are a further two bathrooms on this floor. Downstairs on the ground floor is the main family room and dining space, and another kitchen.”
The couple deliberately avoided playing around too much with the configuration; this way, they have flexibility should they wish to split the house up again in the future. In any case, there’s not a lot they would change for now. “We have superb views of Lin Fa Shan mountain from our front windows across a field that often has buffalo grazing; one of our favourite spots is sitting on the upstairs balcony with a cup of tea and a good book.”
While structurally nothing much has changed, the increased time the family has been spending at home (sound familiar?) presented the perfect opportunity for a makeover.
“We took a look at some of the rooms and decided to refresh them,” says Rachel. The first step was replacing the old cabinets in the downstairs kitchen with IKEA cabinets, and also replacing the floor tiles. “We finished off the new look with a granite worktop from a shop on Lockhart Road. We kept the existing wall tiles, oven and fridge as these were relatively new.”
Next in their sights was the downstairs bathroom. It was completely gutted, with wall and floor tiles replaced with new tiles from Lockhart Road. The toilet, basin and taps came from shops in Mong Kok.
The upstairs kitchen had been serving as an office space for the couple’s two businesses; they decided to reclaim it and renovate. “Again, we used IKEA cabinets and replaced the wall and floor tiles, and we added a custom stone countertop. The built-in appliances are from another Mong Kok shop, Built In Pro.”
IKEA’s Home and Kitchen Planner has come in handy more than once. “It lets you design and work out the cabinetry needed in each of the rooms,” says Rachel. “We played around with various layouts until we were happy; then we used a couple of different Lantau-based workmen to fit the cabinetry and do the painting, tiling and electrical work for us.”
Pieces from near and far
The result of all this is a home with an eclectic mix of old and new, with different textures, patterns and textiles on display. It’s also a showcase for furniture, art and accessories they’ve inherited from family or picked up on their travels.
“Among our oldest items are a drop-leaf table that my grandparents bought from an antiques shop in Cornwall in 1949, and a set of drawers they had during the war when they got married.” The couple’s sofas have some years under the belt too. “We bought them 26 years ago when we were still in the UK; they’re by an award-winning British furniture designer called Michael Tyler. We’ve recovered them once, but they’re ready to be done again. We love their shape, even after all these years – and the company still makes them!”
Elsewhere, you’ll find large woven Zulu baskets from a South Africa trip; Zambian and Zimbabwean drums from Victoria Falls; Australian Aboriginal artworks from a shop in Port Douglas; cushions by CAM (Creatively Active Minds) in Singapore; and a Garuda bird from Bali. The TV cabinet is from closer to home – an antiques shop in Macau.
Rachel loves adding pops of colour where she can. In particular, she has used Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan to transform much of the upstairs furniture in eye-catching shades. “I painted an old brown Tequila Kola cabinet a bright blue – that set the scene for the rest of the room. The Louise Hill prints are also favourites for the colour they bring. I’m a keen collector of textiles and I love the bright kanthas from Jaipur and Jodhpur, the ikat throws from Indonesia and the Thai rice pots from Chiang Mai.”
Outside their four walls, Rachel and Lorne love the neighbourhood’s mix of interesting locals and expats, who hail from all walks of life. “Mui Wo was different when we first moved here; more and more families are choosing to live here now, so there are more home-grown businesses, for instance. And people have really discovered the great outdoors in this part of Hong Kong, from the amazing trails to the new mountain bike park that’s very popular.
Speaking of which, bikes come in very handy for the Ali family – they cycle or walk just about everywhere from home. “We can’t drive our car right up to the door, so we do have to get inventive when we want to move large items or lots of shopping. We use our three wheeler bike and we also have hand trolleys. When we get heavy rain, we pull on a variety of ponchos to stay dry on the cycle ride to the ferry pier.”
Some might see all that as a bit of a nuisance, but not Rachel and her family. “This life isn’t for everyone,” she says, “but it’s the right life for us!”
Thorn and Burrow (“for Moroccan rugs and Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan”) thornandburrow.com
Inside (“for beautiful throws, glassware and candle holders”) inside.com.hk
Zara Home (“for cups, glassware and linens”) zarahome.com
Lion Rock Press (“for amazing cards and wrapping paper”) lionrockpress.com
Indigo Living (“for candles, lamps and picture frames”) indigo-living.hk
Candy in Shenzhen (“for anything to do with fabric”) candybedding.com
Shanghai Tang (“for room fragrance”) shanghaitang.com
IKEA (”for a little bit of everything!”) ikea.com.hk/en
Bombay Dreams (“for a great curry on Hong Kong island”) sandshospitality.com
Branto (”for a great vegetarian curry in TST”) brantoveg.com
The Chinnery (“for comfort food”) mandarinoriental.com
Caprice, Four Seasons Hotel (“to be wowed!”) fourseasons.com
Photography by Col Sim
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2021 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.