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Need for speed
WHEN it comes to briefing their designers, some homeowners specify that they want as many bedrooms as possible, while some others say they want to have a spacious kitchen.
Businessman Spencer Ong asked his designer Kelvin Bing, from Renaissance Planners & Designers, to create a car porch big enough to park seven or eight cars. "The car porch must not have any pillars," adds Mr Ong, 65, president of an avionic parts distribution company.
For those who don't know Mr Ong, that may sound like an unusual request. "I like mechanical things and speed," says the avid car collector.
On the day we visited, there were five cars parked on the porch. "There are a few more, they are at the workshop," says Mr Ong, adding that one of them is a Volkswagen Kombi cabover panel van that can seat nine people.
Mr Ong, together with his wife Irene and their son, live in this two-storey (plus attic) corner terrace house in the Sunset Way area. The family has been living here since 2000. The Ongs have another two daughters who are living overseas.
According to the Ongs, the home was previously badly renovated. "It didn't help that over time, the soil shifted and cracks started appearing around the house," says Mrs Ong, who works in the nursing sector.
A few years ago, they decided it was time to rebuild the family home, and hired Mr Bing to do the job. "Kelvin was designing my neighbour's home, and I liked his work," says Mr Ong. The other home won a design award, and "I told Kelvin that my home had to win an award too", quips Mr Ong.
The house picked up two awards - a Singapore Good Award from the Design Chamber of Business Singapore and a silver A'Design Award, given by Italian firm OMC Industrial Design Studios.
Other than his request for a large car porch, Mr Ong pretty much left the design of the home to Mr Bing. Unlike now, Mr Ong could park only three cars in his compound before the renovation.
Mr Bing took up the challenge, and also incorporated a passive cooling design into the home, so that the family need not frequently rely on the air-conditioning to keep the 4,100 square feet house cool.
On the first floor, the living and dining areas have direct access to the garden by the side, and most of the time, the sliding doors are left open to let in the breeze.
In addition, the double volume dry kitchen not only makes the home look bigger, it feels more airy as well. A small fountain at the bottom of the staircase also helps to keep the house cool, while the skylight at the top of the stairs has a small window to let any hot air out. This skylight also helps to brighten the attic and second storey naturally.
On the second storey where the bedrooms are, Mr Bing created a timber screen on the facade to keep the bedrooms cool.
Up in the attic is where the family area is, there is also a fairly large balcony, and again, the sliding doors are usually left open to encourage cross ventilation throughout the home. It is also in this room that Mr Ong displays his collection of car racing trophies and model cars.
Since Mr Bing had full rein of the design, he added special touches to the home, such as a hidden study in the couple's bedroom, which is accessible only through a door behind the bed. "The door is flushed against the timber wall feature, so no one knows there is a study behind it," says Mr Bing.
A wall in the couple's bathroom is made entirely of one tonne of granite. It complements the other travertine walls while providing some texture to the space.
While Mrs Ong spends her free time playing mahjong at home and caring for their three dogs, Mr Ong is only too pleased to spend time on his cars.
Weekends are often spent polishing and tinkering with his cars, especially his two classics, an MG TC and MC A. He's fascinated with the mechanisms of such old cars, he says, adding that he bought the 1948 MG TC last year. "I'm hooked on classic cars."
The two MG cars were bought from classic car websites. Mr Ong declines to say how much he paid for them, but in addition to the price, he has to pay GST, import duty tax and road tax. It comes out to a princely sum, but he says it makes him happy.
"There's no point complaining about him spending so much on the cars, so long as he is contented," says Mrs Ong of her husband. "He has worked hard for them. When we met, he only had a motorbike and a Mini Cooper."
Apart from collecting cars, Mr Ong also enjoys racing, and has been doing so since the 1970s. "I like speed," he says. He shares a story about how he once drove his Porsche at 300kmh in Malaysia. Mrs Ong was in the passenger seat and recalls: "I was so scared, I kept telling Spencer to slow down."
This year, together with his son, Mr Ong won the Porsche charity rally, and the prize is a trip to Nurburgring, the motorsports complex in Nurburg, Germany, which has a Grand Prix race track and another race track that loops around the village and medieval castle of Nurburg.
"It will be fun to try out the tracks," says Mr Ong, who is going in October.
Under LTA regulations, classic vehicles are only allowed on the roads for up to 45 days a year as they are not meant to serve the day-to-day transport needs of their owners.
Mr Ong occasionally takes his classic cars out for a spin. "I don't drive very far in them, mostly around the neighbourhood, and the neighbours will be out waving at me," he says. Only Mr Ong drives the classic cars. "Irene and my son don't drive them as they won't know what to do should the cars break down," he says.
His everyday car is one of his several Porsches, says Mr Ong, who is also a founding member of the Porsche Club in Singapore. "When it was first founded in 1988, we had only 25 members, and now there are over 300 members."
For now, there is no more space for another car in his already generous driveway. A small garden by the side can however, be paved over so that more cars can be parked there.
"That's a possibility," says Mr Ong, breaking into a smile. Mrs Ong, however, doesn't agree. "No, we are not getting rid of the garden for another car," she insists.