Saturday, June 14, 2008

Living Among Birds, Trees - And Durians

Source : The Business Times, June 14, 2008


It was love at first sight for David Ng when he decided to buy a house next to a garden in 2007. He and his wife Jolene have since given it a complete contemporary makeover

IT was the nice big garden behind the house that clinched the deal. And the durian tree. 'I'd spent a lot of time looking for a house with a garden - it's really difficult to find one in Singapore,' says David Ng, a financial services manager with the insurance company AIA.

Designer kitchen, bountiful tree: The kitchen of the Ngs' semi-detached house from Kitchen Culture (left) with a 4-m-long marbled countertop (next).

Within five minutes of seeing the semi-detached house in Nim Crescent, the father of three knew he wanted it. He and his wife Jolene bought the house last year and gave it a complete contemporary makeover - with the designer kitchen as the centrepiece while turning the garden into a large wooden deck.

Mr Ng, who previously lived at Kovan, counts this as the last house he will move into. Going all out to modernise the interior, he consulted three designers before choosing the one who suggested he should 'open up' the back of the house that led to the garden.

'That fit my vision perfectly,' he says. As a result, the walls of the dry kitchen were replaced with sheets of glass that provide a view of the wooden deck. The kitchen, designed by Kitchen Culture, gets extra visual mileage when Mr Ng entertains, which is often.

He chose a grey-and-white scheme for the vast kitchen space, which is dominated by a four-metre-long white marbled countertop.

It is here that five people can sit at the counter on bar-stools, while Mr Ng's two daughters get to use it for baking and simple cooking - like instant noodles - on the Kupperbusch induction hob.

The cabinet system is Hacker, with an inbuilt steam oven and oven - Mr Ng is wary of microwaves - also from Kupperbusch. His Liebherr fridge serves him well enough, as he didn't want to splurge on a Subzero.

Avid cook

Airy and spacious: (Here Onwards) Mr Ng and wife Jolene on the third-floor balcony of their four-storey house, the house's rooftop and the one-piece raintree table top where the Ngs have their meals and also entertain under the shade of the durian tree

Mr Ng doubled his original budget for the kitchen after coming across a Kitchen Culture show kitchen at a condominium development he visited. 'I just fell in love with it. I liked the clean lines,' he says. That visit converted the avid cook into a designer kitchen fan.

The man who picked up his cooking skills in the navy recalls: 'There were times when the crew banned the ship's cook from the kitchen and got me to cook for them instead.'

Mr Ng jokingly recounts how he 'ran away' from his four sisters when he was 16 to 'avoid being bullied'. He joined the navy and trained as a mechanic.

After eight years he left and went into insurance, which was so seamless a switch that he has stayed in the business ever since.

At home, it's the jovial 44-year-old - and not his wife - who dons the apron. His signature dishes include chilli crab, cheese-topped prawns made with his own cheese concoction and Assam pedas fish curry.

Mrs Ng once almost set the kitchen on fire, after which she was forbidden to cook. 'It's only David and the maid who cook in this home,' she quips, recalling the dramatic incident. Her husband was deep-frying wasabi prawns when she saw one left over in the container and dropped it into the hot oil, causing flames to burst up from the wok.

The 'real' cooking - in Chinese zi char style - is done in a wet kitchen in a corner of the yard.

The house sits on more than 3,000 sq ft of land, although Mr Ng's friends would guess that it's 5,000 sq ft because of the aura of space created.

'I like houses that have a narrower frontage and which fan out towards the back, because it gives the illusion that the land is larger,' he says.

Enough space

The four-storey house with a nicely paved rooftop yields enough space for each of the children, aged 10 to 15. They have their own bedrooms, while there is also a TV room and a study. Mr and Mrs Ng's bedroom is on the third floor, which has been turned into a master suite.

Since the garden was not big enough to fit a pool, Mr Ng created a patio just outside the master bedroom, where he put a standalone tub - just nice for a rooftop soak and a view of surrounding gardens.

Meanwhile, a minimalist and clutter-free look is achieved through cleverly designed cupboards and wardrobes with concealed shelves and desks, created by Mr Ng's interior designer Interarch.

For decoration, the Ngs bought several paintings from Vietnamese and Chinese artists. 'I have Indonesian clients who collect art, and I'm often with them when they're buying it so I had a pretty good idea of what I liked that was worth buying,' says Mr Ng, highlighting works by Wang Zixin and FengYe.

The family's favourite hangout is a long raintree table on the outdoor deck, which is beautifully shaded by a 20-plus-year-old durian tree with wide-reaching branches. Mr Ng has breakfast there while reading the papers, with dainty tailor birds, yellow orioles and even woodpeckers for company. 'We practically have all our meals outdoors and entertain here often as well,' says Mr Ng.

Stylish: The living room. A clutter-free look is achieved through cleverly designed cupboards and wardrobes with concealed shelves and desks

The 20-plus-year-old durian tree (left) with widely spread branches was practically dying when the couple bought the house, but it has been nursed back to life - and abundant fruition, with this year's bounty exceeding 100 fruit

The durian tree was practically dying when he bought the house, but he has since nursed it back to life, with bumper harvests as his reward. Mr Ng recently strung a large net under the tree, to catch this year's bounty of over 100 fruit.

The privileged few with gardens may be able to gaze at the stars from their homes. But for the Ngs, they have spent many a night lying on deck - durian-gazing. They have seen flowers blossoming and bats fluttering about to pollinate the tree. And now the gaze is one of anticipation - as the clusters of green, spiky durians hold the promise of a delicious treat.

No comments: