Not many homeowners can look at an empty shell and see the potential, but that’s exactly what pilots LISA and BEN GRANT found in their Shui Hau village house on Lantau Island. After a full renovation, this comfortable, country-style home shows what happens when Scandi cool meets DIY design.
When you travel for a living, it’s important to find a place you really feel at home in. After living in Soho on Staunton Street when they first moved to Hong Kong 14 years ago, Ben and Lisa have spent the last 12 years on Lantau.
Ben is Australian and Lisa is Swedish, and Lantau offered something that appealed to both of them. Lisa says, “It was fun to have lived in the city, but we knew it wasn’t for us in the long run. We liked the Lantau lifestyle and Shui Hau represented more value for money.
“After living here for a while, we’ve grown to love it. The expat community is constantly growing and we now have many friends we get together with every week. And the locals are friendly too and quite often stop by to have a chat when Ben and I are outside in our little garden – I think they like that we do most of the work ourselves, and they’re probably a bit surprised by it!”
After a brief stint in Sweden, the couple returned to Hong Kong three years ago and got to work renovating what was nothing but a concrete shell. Despite the fact that their jobs keep them busy, Ben and Lisa did a lot of the work themselves, from designing the home’s layout to sourcing fixtures and fittings. They even made some of the furniture!
Their main priority when planning the house was a big kitchen with lots of storage. Lisa says, “We love cooking and my husband has a habit of buying a lot of kitchen utensils and appliances when he is away on trips!”
Keeping everything within a tight budget was also essential. She adds, “The kitchen is from IKEA. So are the bathroom cabinets. The Smeg appliances we imported from the UK, as it was a fraction of the price we would have paid in Hong Kong. We spent many hours walking up and down Lockhart Road to find tiles and appliances that would fit inside our budget.”
Rooms with views
Not only is the kitchen everything they hoped it would be, it’s also unique as it sits on the top floor, rather than on the ground floor as in most traditional village houses. Lisa says it’s their favourite thing about their home.
“I’m so happy that we decided to have the kitchen on the top floor. This way, we’re only one floor below the rooftop, which means we cook and hang out on the roof all the time! The mountain views surrounding the house are amazing and I love coming up to the kitchen in the mornings and taking that view in. This also created more of a proper entrance downstairs to take off shoes and hang your coat or umbrella.”
As experienced renovators, Ben and Lisa have learnt from past mistakes, and were able to create a space that was more in keeping with how they spend their time when they’re at home. Lisa says, “We were determined not to have too many rooms and bathrooms in the house for potential guests. We’d made that mistake before, and in reality we usually only have one other couple staying at a time. So, having two extra bedrooms felt unnecessary.
She continues: “We also didn’t plan for an office in this house as both Ben and I mostly sit at the kitchen island when we have to do admin or study. We decided instead to use the extra space for a TV room, which leaves the upstairs lounge room television-free, for socialising, listening to music and reading.”
A cosy feel
Well-placed lamps and soft furnishings add to the cosy feel of the home, and invite you to sit and stay a while, something Lisa has worked hard to achieve. “I love blankets and throws and I have them all over the house to make our home feel inviting and a place where you want to hang out. I also opted for more lamps rather than lights, except for where it’s absolutely necessary, like in the kitchen and bathroom – I wanted to create a cosy and warm ambience with no harsh lighting.”
A savvy sense of budget-friendly design and considered choices give the home an eclectic but sophisticated feel. Each room is filled with a carefully curated selection of pieces that the couple have either bought on their travels, had custom-made, or tweaked. “I love our bed,” says Lisa. “It’s been with us for a long time; it was custom-made by Bricks and Stones in Wan Chai and has storage underneath.”
Meanwhile, the desk and chair at the entrance are flea market finds from Sweden. “I painted them, changed the handles and re-upholstered the seat as a little project,” says Lisa. “The lamps and rugs are also from Sweden.”
There are little touches from Hong Kong in the home too. The dining chairs are one-of-a-kind, and possibly the cheapest item in the kitchen. Lisa says, “I bought them from our local dai pai dong here in Shui Hau for HK$50 each and was going to paint them; but after sanding them down in preparation they looked so lovely in their natural state that I decided to keep them like that.”
Not one to be outdone, Ben has taken up welding in his spare time, and put his new skills to good use when it came time to furnish the home. Lisa adds, “He made both the metal frames for the coffee tables and the firepit in his workshop. All I had to do was get the marble and stone tops made to order in Wan Chai.”
Focus on art
is another interesting feature of the home, and Lisa has scoured a mixture of flea markets, galleries and auction houses around the world for pieces that bring colour and texture to the rooms. Her favourite is the piece by Vietnamese artists Van Tho in the dining area, which she purchased in Hanoi and brought back to Hong Kong to be framed. Another very special piece, in the guest room, was created by Lisa’s close friend, artist Tanja Ocenasek.
From the open-air living room and garden on the rooftop, to the welcoming foyer on the ground floor, every room has been designed with purpose, practicality, and comfort in mind. The couple’s flair for DIY and keen eye for stylish homeware ensure that this is a home you’ll want to hang out in.
Lisa’s DIY Decorating Tips
- “Make an artwork with fabric! Find a nice piece of fabric, and make a wooden frame or buy a big piece of styrofoam. Fold it neatly around your frame and staple the fabric in place. Voila!”
- “IKEA hacks: I bought marble tops for our bedside tables and ordered new legs from PrettyPegs.com to raise them up. I had some left over doorknobs lying around that I put on them as well. There are numerous companies – Bemz.com for example – that provide more stylish sofa covers, legs and knobs for your IKEA furniture, which I think is fantastic!”
Art King Framing
105 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
31 Aberdeen Street, Central
homeless.hk (various locations)
Bricks and Stones
97 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
Photography by Col Sim
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.