Writer and editor Brooke Chenoweth has lived in Hong Kong for a decade. The mother-of-two explains why she loves living in Sai Kung and how she has made their house feel like a home.
What brought you to Hong Kong and when?
We moved here ten years ago after David was offered a job with an airline. I had always wanted to live in Asia so we saw it as a chance to have an adventure before having kids. I planned to stay for a year or two but, as is so often the case with Hong Kong, I fell in love and never left! We came as newlyweds, just the two of us and our dog Pikie, and now we’re a family of four, so it feels like a huge part of our life has been spent here. Both our boys were born in Hong Kong, so it’s home for them. We have an amazing community of friends here, and the lifestyle is pretty unique, so we’ve never regretted the decision.
How long have you lived in this particular home?
We’ve been here two and a half years, and I don’t plan on living anywhere else while we’re in Hong Kong!
You previously lived on Lantau; why did you make the move?
Lantau offers a really nice beachy lifestyle, and the community is very small and tight-knit. We liked the open space it offered, and because we knew a few people who lived there already it took a lot of the stress out of moving to a new country. We loved our time on the island, but we did feel a bit isolated after the boys were born. Schooling and basic necessities are a bit limited compared to other parts of the city, and it came to a point where we either had to move back to Australia or try somewhere new within Hong Kong. We managed to get the boys into a school over this way so we made the move, and we haven’t looked back.
What’s the biggest difference between life on Lantau and in Sai Kung?
Despite being on opposite sides of Hong Kong there are a lot of similarities between Sai Kung and Lantau. They’re both gorgeous areas, with lots of space and nice beaches, great communities, and they’re remote without being too far away from Central. Sai Kung offers more in terms of schooling, medical care, shopping and weekend activities – all those things you look for when you’ve got a family. Being on the eastern side of Hong Kong, it’s also a lot cleaner, and we’ve noticed a big difference in the air and water quality over here. It’s further from the airport, but slightly closer to Central than Lantau.
Tell us a bit about your place.
When we decided to move out here we didn’t have much time to find a place and move in before we left for the summer. We had tried village life on Lantau and it didn’t work out at all, so we knew what we wanted, but we traipsed about with estate agents for days and didn’t find anything. We came across this complex after seeing a Facebook post about another house here and we liked it instantly. David actually came out and signed the lease without me even seeing the house – I saw it for the first time the day we moved in! It’s the first house we’ve lived in here that has felt like home.
The house is a three-story villa, in a small complex. It’s a five-minute drive to Sai Kung town, and seven minutes to school. We have views over the yacht club on one side, and the mountain range on the other. There’s a pool and tennis court, and the front area is gated and fenced so the boys can ride their bikes outside and play with the other kids without getting into too much trouble. We have about 1,700 square feet, with three bedrooms and two living rooms; it’s just the right size for the four of us. Even though we are only renting, it suits us, and there is very little I would change. I love this house!
How would you describe your interior style?
I’d like to say I’ve mastered the beach chic/Hamptons style but I think we’ve ended up with something more sentimental and eclectic! I read a lot of interiors magazines and am on Pinterest all the time, but the reality of living with two small boys has dictated a lot of our decorating choices. We inherited a bit of furniture from friends when we moved to Hong Kong, and we made do with that and IKEA while the boys were really small. We lived in a tiny 750-squarefoot villa for years and it wasn’t until we renovated it that we had an excuse to invest in some really nice furniture.
We’ve always had the philosophy that we wanted pieces that would stay with us forever and be a part of the home we want to live in when we go back to Australia, rather than simply buying things that fit the house we lived in at the time. I’ve had quite a few pieces custom-made too, with the idea of taking a bit of Hong Kong style home to Australia with us one day. We’re lucky that everything we’ve bought works in our current home. Even though I’ve tried to create a certain look at times, I always end up collecting pieces on our travels, or buying one-off bits of furniture that I’ve fallen in love with, regardless of whether or not they go with anything else in the house! To me, it’s more important that you feel at home and surround yourself with things that make you happy, and I’ve definitely achieved that.
Are there some specific pieces in your home that you love most or that have special significance?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just a couple of pieces, but if I had to choose my absolute favourites I’d say our artwork is pretty special. We were given an original Charles Blackman etching as a wedding gift, that I adore, and a painting we bought in Bali on our first anniversary is a real statement piece. I also have prints by Belinda Bath and Louise Hill that I had to buy after meeting both of them, and lots of little pieces that we’ve collected over the years. As well as all that, we have framed drawings that the boys have done, and lots of family photos, which are obviously priceless! Each piece has a story attached, so despite lacking financial worth, our art collection is incredibly valuable to us.
We also have a couple of “antiques” that have been with us for years. When we moved to Hong Kong we didn’t bring much with us, but we each chose a piece that we couldn’t bear to leave behind. I have an ancient chest of drawers that I bought at a second-hand shop for eighty Aussie dollars the day I moved to Sydney. It was from a hotel in the Blue Mountains that had a fire go through it, so it still has scorch marks. It’s old and the drawers don’t work but I’m very attached to it. Dave brought over a bookshelf that’s very impractical and doesn’t hold all our books, but it matches the chest of drawers and has as much sentimental value to him.
I love our bed too. We invested in a Heveya mattress a few years ago, and it was the best purchase we’ve ever made. The headboard is from Bowerbird and it feels like a beautiful grown-up bed. I miss it when we go away!
Our dining table is another one of our aspirational pieces. We bought it at Shambala in their closing down sale, with visions of hosting fabulous dinner parties and family gatherings. It’s a bit big for just the four of us, but it has seen some good times and great meals already, so I know it’ll live up to its potential over many years.
What’s your favourite room or area?
I needed to make a home here that felt lived-in and comfortable. When you’re an expat and you’re not here for long it can be tempting to make do, but I made an effort with every room in the house, and I’m really proud of it. Each room has something that I love, but I have to admit that my favourite space is my office. I spend a lot of time in it, and it’s the only room that I don’t have to share. Being the only girl in the house, I like having a room that’s just for me – I can fill it with flowers and pink things, and no one can complain! I also have my armchair in the living room downstairs, and that’s my favourite place to curl up with a book or a cup of tea. The boys know that it’s “mummy’s chair” and treat it like a sacred space, so it’s possibly the only corner of the house that doesn’t have any Lego in it.
What do you enjoy most about your neighbourhood and Sai Kung in general? And how does a typical weekend unfold?
We love this neighbourhood because it’s so close to everything, and many of our friends live nearby. The complex is small and there are lots of kids, so there’s always someone for the boys to play with, and it’s safe too. Sai Kung itself has a lot to offer, and it’s all pretty much on our doorstep.
Every weekend starts with pancakes, and a leisurely coffee or two. When the weather is good we try and do a hike to Trio Beach or in the country park, or we jump on a sampan to one of the many beaches nearby. We recently joined the Victoria Recreation Club at Emerald Bay and weekend barbecues out there have quickly become a regular event. It’s a fantastic place for the kids to run around and explore, and it’s a nice spot year-round.
The boys play football (soccer) on a Sunday with the Sai Kung Bulldogs, so we usually spend the afternoon at the pitch and come back via the markets along the waterfront. One of the best things about the area is that there’s always something happening. There are enough clubs and facilities in the area that it’s easy to entertain the kids when you need to be indoors, but it’s also naturally beautiful and so there are plenty of outdoor options too.
Little Cove Espresso 34 See Cheung Street, Sai Kung Padstow 112 Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung
The Conservatory 26 Wan King Path, Sai Kung enotecagroup.com
Bowerbird Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau bowerbird-home.com
Heveya 13F, The Plaza, 21 D’Aguilar Street, Central heveya.hk
Indigo Living indigo-living.com
Sofa Sale sofasale.com.hk
Yong Chang antiqueyc.com.cn
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARIELLA AMITAI
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This article first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.