With the desire to live freely and build a name for themselves, co-owners Chow Kong-Cheun and Makui Ma established Mum’s Not Home as a means to make that dream a reality. After returning from a work trip six years ago in New Zealand and Australia, the pair decided to quit their jobs and began selling handicrafts and trinkets at local weekend flea markets.
“It was so busy,” Cheun explains. “On weekdays we would be making stuff and then we would only have two days to sell it. The first day we would bring the stuff there and the next day we had to bring it all back. Sometimes we had two markets in a week, so it was tough.”
“We couldn’t go on doing flea markets for our whole life,” Cheun details. “We wanted to have a shop to sell our stuff in our own place. Having a shop, having a brand has always been a dream.”
And with that, Mum’s Not Home found a home in an unassuming residential building in Yau Mau Tei. Although Mum’s Not Home has honed a distinctly bohemian and homey style, Cheun notes that “the space has changed a lot.”
“In the beginning, it was a boutique shop. I would also do haircuts here. Sometimes we would even rent the place for music concerts. The space was very empty and we didn’t have too much stuff, so it was open to doing anything.”
Although the space went through various transformations, its conversion into a cafe was rather unexpected. “We had an interview with a magazine about our boutique,” Chein explains. “At the time, we were also selling this blue tea. The article featured a lot of photos of the food we were selling on the side, and naturally people got confused and thought our store was a restaurant. We thought maybe this was a sign to do something.” And so organically, the cafe was born.
Now, the space is filled with leafy house plants and eccentric decor which Ma, a former visual merchandiser doing window displays, would accumulate from the streets or the garbage.
Cheun gestures at the array of mismatched furniture and explains that this was “all [Ma’s] idea.”
“I just do the planting because I love plants,” Cheun laughs. “I wanted to bring the outdoors in and allow people to enjoy the homey atmosphere. But all the things you see here [have] been built over time. Every year you will see something new.”
Upon entering the building, visitors can expect to be greeted by the cafe’s blonde-haired mascot, which Chuen refers to as Fei Fei. “Most mascots are meant to bring luck. So that’s why Fei Fei has her fingers crossed, as it is a symbol for good luck,” Chuen explains. “Happiness is so important. If you pick up 10 cents from the ground, a happy person will feel so grateful, but if you are a compliant person, you will think ‘why is it so little?’ If you are happy, it will bring you a lot of luck, change your view of mind and allow you to see things differently.”
What also makes Mum’s Not Home such a capricious and unique space are Cheun’s portrait paintings, which have become a semi-permanent exhibit near the entrance of the cafe. “I love drawing, but I didn’t want to make it into a business because I didn’t want to become sick of it,” Cheun details. “I was a fashion designer, I worked in the industry and became sick of it, but drawing is my hobby so I didn’t want to ruin it.”
Although Cheun never anticipated “making money from his art,” it was not until two years ago that visitors would come asking for commissioned pieces from him. “I realized that maybe I can do it,” Cheun says. “In the beginning, I had no confidence, but the customers that came here always pushed me to do this. They helped me become an artist.”
As for the future of Mum’s Not Home, Cheun reiterates that he and his partner are “just following the flow.”
“Last year, the contract of the place had some issues and we were already thinking of moving,” Cheun explains. “We’ve always had a dream of having a shop on the ground floor because you can reach people of all ages, all styles, to show them what we are doing. If the time comes to change the place, then we will probably change the style. The homey style might disappear, it’s not a sad thing but we will miss it.”
Although opening a cafe was never their initial plan, Cheun says it has been an “exciting” experience nonetheless. “We don’t expect what will happen in the future, but we are always open to trying new things,” Cheun says.
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