JUST because people don't farm for a living in Singapore doesn't mean you can't live in a farmhouse. Or at least a barn, which is what Ng Tian Chong has for himself and his family in the otherwise very urban Sunset Way neighbourhood. And it's not just one barn, but two. Mr Ng, a vice-president at a computer company, wanted to maximise his land, which used to house a bungalow which the family lived in for 10 years. "We outgrew the space, and decided to rebuild," says Mr Ng.
His brief to architecture firm RT+Q was that his five children had to have their own bedrooms, while still allowing him and his wife to have their privacy.
RT+Q proposed two blocks, one for the children and the other for the couple, with connections on the first and second floors. The blocks are shaped like barns, because "this form allowed for a nice unencumbered attic space", says architect Rene Tan.
Architect Allan Tongol adds that, "the family also had some fengshui recommendations that we had to incorporate into the design, like the tip of the barn could not be sharp, so we made it round".
The project has been nicknamed the Barnhouse, much to the amusement of its residents. "We like the design because it is unusual," says Mr Ng.
The architecture team also reorientated the house, so that the family can enjoy maximum views of the neighbourhood.
One "barn" houses the dining room and kitchen on the ground floor. The five children, aged 10 to 21, have their rooms on the second floor. To maximise space, the rooms are built in a row. The first and last come with ensuite bathrooms, and they belong to the eldest son and daughter. The other two boys and a girl have to share bathrooms. "The kids drew lots when picking their rooms," says Mr Ng.
The attic is a huge cave-like space, with floor to ceiling windows on both ends, that look out into the neighbourhood. "We plan to use it as a family space, which will also double as a gym area for the kids," says Mr Ng.
It's also where Mr Ng keeps two big handcarved antique altar tables which he inherited from his grandparents. "We are still deciding the best place to showcase them, but for now, we'll leave them here," he says.
On the first floor of the other "barn" is the living room. Mr Ng is specially proud of the furniture here, which he and his wife, Pat, flew to Italy to buy. "You shouldn't be printing this, but even after shipping costs, it is less costly to buy the furniture from Italy," he quips.
Mr Ng's study is at the back - with full glass windows all around so he can look out into his own Zen garden. Naturally, it's his favourite spot in the house.
His bedroom is on the second floor, also featuring full glass windows for natural light. Since the house is on a slight hill, the couple can look out, but nosyparkers have problems looking in. They also have their own attic, which is used for storage at the moment.
Separating the home into two blocks allows for a breeze to pass through, and hence, the family can do without air-conditioning even in the day.
A deck runs along the inner parameters of the home, while a pool spans the length of the house. "You can swim from one end to the other, but do watch your head when swimming under the deck that connects the two blocks," says Mr Ng.
The couple have given the home their personal touch through their choice of paintings, one of which is a painting of former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew, which was purchased from Ode to Art gallery. "I admire MM Lee, and this painting of him is friendly, and he has a memorable expression," says Mr Ng.
Another piece is by artist Kyee Myint Saw, of a night market scene which he is best known for. The couple bought the painting at a market in Myanmar. "We weren't sure if this is a real piece . . . then the seller made a phone call, and he had Kyee Myint Saw on the line," says Mr Ng, who in the end, had his photograph taken with the artist.
Mr Ng has also hung up a signboard, bearing the words xinglong, meaning prosperous, thriving business in Chinese, which he inherited from his grandfather, who used to have a shophouse at Beach Road.
They also collect Peranakan crockery, some of them are more than 100 years old, says Mr Ng.
The Ngs are pleased with their Barnhouse, and curious neighbours have also come by to take a look. "Some have asked for the name of the architect, so I guess they must like it too," says Mr Ng.