We talk to Rebekah Nichols and her husband Ewald, who are both pilots, about their stunning village house in Pui O, on Lantau, and how it manages to showcase the best aspects of both their international lifestyles and their island home.
The house feels nothing like a typical Hong Kong village house, and you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the design and fittings; how did you go about it?
We wanted to be able to cook and entertain, so the kitchen was our biggest priority. We also wanted the kitchen to be on the middle level, to take advantage of the views of the trees all around, and we didn’t want to be traipsing all the way to the ground floor if we were eating out on the rooftop. Once we had made that decision, everything evolved from there. Ewald designed the layout on an architectural program on the computer, and we had some technical help from my sister who’s an interior designer. I did a lot of research into where to source fittings and appliances, and ended up buying most of it online from various countries.
That sounds like a lot of fun! Where did everything come from?
All the kitchen and laundry appliances, along with the bath and TV, were bought online in the UK and shipped for less than the amount we saved on the bath. The laundry and outside tiles I bought on a trip to Ho Chi Minh, and they are one of my favourite features of the house. We sourced the Travertine from China through Alibaba. All the wooden furniture in the house, the stair treads, the front door and gate is recycled Indonesian teak from a company in Surabaya. The tap-ware is all Dornbracht with Hansgrohe Rainshowers, bought online and shipped from Germany. I really wanted louvered windows and we found an Australian company that manufactures in Malaysia, and they were able to supply them directly to us. Our LZF bed-lamps were bought online from an Irish company that buys direct from the manufacturer in Spain – I don’t know how he sells them cheaper than the manufacturer! I also found lighting in Italy, the UK and Sydney.
You have some beautiful pieces from around the world; describe your approach to shopping for the house – do you go out looking for something specific, but things you love on sight, or a bit of both?
We never think, “Oh, we need this,” and go and get it (except our Belinda Bath canvas where we wanted to fill a space with something from HK). Everything in the house has a meaning. We have our art from trips to Vietnam, Berber pieces from Morocco, posters and pieces from my trips to India. I’ve also had a vintage baggage label of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo blown up into a poster as it’s where Ewald and I got engaged. My most random purchase was a bunch of old fashioned pharmacy bottles that I found in a market in Strasbourg. It’s a slowly evolving collection. We also have lots of Georg Jensen Home pieces, mainly house-warming and wedding gifts (clever friends!).
You have an interesting little collection of jars, and a wombat in your living room; can you tell me more about that?
We were married at Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney. Wolli the wombat is hand-carved from Huon pine by a local artist, and is a feature at the hotel – he sits on the bedside table and indicates when you want your linen changed (they’re eco friendly so won’t do it every day). We wanted to buy him but there was a waiting list and he cost a fortune, so we decided against it. Ewald bought him for us for our first wedding anniversary. He now sits beside our jars of sand. We did a sand ceremony, combining sand from Australia and South Africa, which represent us – we have individual jars of sand, but also a combined container – impossible to separate!
What’s your favourite piece in the house and why?
Our favourite thing is our poster from the bullfight we spontaneously went to (never again!) in Rhonda, Spain. We searched high and low but could only get a tiny little poster from the ticket window, so we took it to a place in Central where they photographed it and blew it up as big as they could. We think it’s incredibly beautiful, and it’s probably one of a kind. It gives us great memories of our Spain trip, and we had to work for it!
Where in the house do you spend most of your time?
When we’re home alone, E lives in the room we call his Tree House: his music studio/office. I float around on the bottom two floors. I never go upstairs! We designed the ground floor a bit like a hotel suite. It’s a small area but it’s self-contained and I feel quite safe and cosy down there when Ewald is away.
If you had to go through the process of renovating again, what would you do differently?
We’d make sure we have detailed plans. We asked over and over for plans to be done and we were assured they would be. Needless to say, there were no plans and despite our instructions there were many times where the builders made assumptions based on “what all the other expats do.” Too many times we’d turn up and have to tell them to rip things out because we had very different ideas about what we wanted.
If you could take one room from this house to your next one, which would it be and why?
There would be two: the kitchen and the master bathroom. The kitchen is from Poliform and it’s everything we wanted in a kitchen and more. Bathrooms in Hong Kong seem to be a utilitarian afterthought. Our bathroom is so serene; it’s got double rain-showerheads, a bath that fits two people, and views out through the louvered windows onto more greenery. Then there’s the outdoor shower, which is a total luxury in Hong Kong. I think E would like to take his music studio. He’ll always have the equipment, but perhaps not the space to fit it all in.
Your kitchen has some very cool features; can you tell me about them?
There’s the integrated coffee machine, the wine fridge and our chiller drawer. The chiller drawer was a birthday present for me from E. I really wanted one but thought that it was too frivolous, so decided against it. E knew how much I wanted it, so he bought it without me knowing. Thank goodness he did because without it we wouldn’t have nearly enough fridge space!
What are some of the things you love about living on Lantau?
The lush greenery, the buffalos, and we have several families of bulbuls in the trees outside our house. You can actually look into one of their nests from E’s music studio.
You said you started out wanting to achieve a “beachy look” but it evolved into something else. Can you elaborate? How would you describe the look you have today?
We thought since part of the appeal of Lantau and Pui O is its beaches we’d end up with something kind of “beachy”. We have trees out every window so it ended up with a more serene, tropical feel. Our master bedroom and living room look into our lush green garden, and the rooms upstairs have mountain views. The kitchen, which we chose purely because we loved it, is far from a shabby beach style and really dominates the house. Thinking about it, I don’t think we really have a “look”. It’s just us.
127 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
9/F, Horizon Plaza
2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau
Shop 120, Prince’s Building, Central
3 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai
3102 3189 | firstname.lastname@example.org
1/F, Horizon Plaza
2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau
28/F, Horizon Plaza
2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau
This article first appeared in the Oct/Nov 2015 edition of Expat Living. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!
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