August 16, 2008 Saturday

The ball is in his courtyard

Michael Ngu's home has all his favourite features, because he built it himself


Flanked by creepers and plants, the 8m-tall water feature in the courtyard not only cools the home, but also provides a soothing ambience to it.

This section of the living room is where guests mingle, and it looks out to the courtyard and dining room (background).

'I would have liked to add another window (in the dining room) but couldn't because the maid's room is behind
Architect Michael Ngu on the dining room which, despite looking out onto the courtyard, tends to be dim

A lounger by the side of the master bedroom lets the owner, architect Michael Ngu, take in the view of the green courtyard while bay windows look out onto the surrounds of the house.

A sunken bathtub in the master bedroom allows the user to climb in and out more easily than a conventional one that rests on the floor.

While the 3,200 sq ft home is built mostly of wood, the staircase leading to its five bedrooms is a modern glass and steel one, a style usually found in commercial buildings.

Architect Michael Ngu is known for designing high-end condominiums such as Scotts 28 in Scotts Road, Cuscaden Residences in Cuscaden Road and the Cosmopolitan in Kim Seng Road.

But when it comes to private homes, the president and chief executive officer of local firm Architects 61 has done only one - his own.

That home is a two-storey plus attic semi-detached house in Tanjong Katong built 10 years ago, which he and his family still live in today.

The 52-year-old describes it as 'not outlandish, but real and practical'. It incorporates features you would normally find only in a commercial building - as befits a commercial architect - along with some distinctly personal touches.

One such personal quirk includes having a living room with a glass floor through which Mr Ngu, from the comfort of his sofa, watches koi fish in a pond.

On the other hand, he has done away with curtains in the home, the way that commercial buildings also do not have them. Roller blinds are used instead to keep out the sun.

The five bedrooms have bay windows which look out onto the neighbourhood - an idea he says he took from the design of Scotts 28, which has the same feature and was completed in 1998.

The Kuching-born, Singapore permanent resident lives there with his homemaker wife Mei and their three daughters, aged 13 to 25.

Although the home is 10 years old, it does not look dated. The family keeps up with times by simply updating the furnishings instead of changing the structure.

Building the home involved tearing down an old house on the site and constructing the new one from scratch for $650,000 inclusive of fittings, which he says was a big amount even then.

There was just one 'hitch' in the design process: His wife dislikes big spaces. 'But I'm a modern architect and I like bigger spaces,' he says.

Koi pond is indoors

Visitors will note that the result is a compromise. The 3,200 sq ft home is spacious, yet has intimate spaces.

For example, the living room is split into two areas: A bigger one just by the entrance of the home allows guests to mingle. Slightly off to this, left and up a few steps is a smaller, cosier living area.

While most owners have endless wishlists of what they want in their home, there were just two features Mr Ngu had to have: a courtyard and a koi pond.

He says he likes how some old homes have a courtyard and incorporated one in his that is the central attraction, separating the dining and living rooms.

A 8m-tall water feature stands on one side, flanked by creepers and plants that are lovingly cared for by his wife.

'The 'waterfall' not only cools the air, but the sound of water is relaxing too,' he says.

He designed the bedrooms on the second floor and attic to look into the courtyard. A piece of glass covers its top to keep out the rain, but this has been designed to allow hot air to escape, keeping the home ventilated.

As for the koi pond, most owners would site theirs outdoors in the garden but not Mr Ngu.

He says he seldom goes outdoors, so he built his pond indoors. Part of it is under a small section of the home, where the smaller living area is, with its distinctive glass viewing floor.

To give the house a more homely touch, he used timber throughout. 'Timber is seldom used in commercial residential projects,' he notes.

He adds that the wood is no ordinary wood but 'selangan batu', a type of heavy hardwood that was brought in from his late father's timberyard in Kuching. His second brother, Stephen, 53, now runs the company.

Ten containers of timber were shipped in. 'This timber is dense, doesn't shrink much and is good for both outdoors and indoors,' he explains.

While he loves his home, there are still some niggling complaints for this perfectionist: for example, the dining room.

Although the room looks out onto the courtyard, it tends to be dim. 'I would have liked to add another window but couldn't because the maid's room is behind,' he explains.

The family is very attached to the house, especially youngest daughter Francesca, 13. She once told Mr Ngu that if they ever had to move, the house should be torn down so no one else could live in it.

'I told her she cannot be so selfish,' he says with a laugh. The family, who moved to Singapore 18 years ago, are staying put.

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'I would have liked to add another window (in the dining room) but couldn't because the maid's room is behind'

Architect Michael Ngu on the dining room which, despite looking out onto the courtyard, tends to be dim