“If you’re lucky, and a building succeeds, the real product has many more dimensions than you can ever imagine. You have the sun, the light, the rain, the birds, the feel.”
A house, as with most buildings, is a material and immaterial construct. This is well captured in the words of Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who is celebrated for his atmospheric Therme Vals spa design. If one thinks this way, marble is not just stone.
The coolness of touch, the sense of movement evoked by dancing veins, the anchoring of a space with its weightiness all contribute to making haptic and intangible memories, dreams and associations.
Wee Teng Wen and Dawn Ng’s home reminds me of this. Wee is the co-founder and managing partner of The Lo & Behold Group that has birthed novel hospitality concepts such as Loof, The Warehouse Hotel and the three-Michelin-starred Odette. Ng is a contemporary artist who has exhibited internationally, and whose oeuvre about time and space has made an indent in the collective memory of Singaporeans. There are plenty of material things in the household they share with their four-year-old daughter Ava, Welsh corgi McMuffin and two live-in helpers—but not the consumerist kind.
“I want to create a home where we are able to feel free in our skins and dangling limbs, instead of worrying about scratching, breaking, spilling and staining something or other”
Brick is one of the things talked about by the couple as if it were gold. I first encounter it at the ground-storey foyer as a composition of purposeful, monolithic structures framing verdant greenery and bodies of water, still like mirrors. Like these naked walls, Wee and Ng’s home is a transparent exhibition of their personalities, obsessions and even mistakes (more on this later). At their foyer patterned with honeycomb tiles underfoot, two bicycles lean casually against the wall, suggesting frequent use. A photographed installation from Ng’s 2015 exhibition A Thing of Beauty composes ubiquitous objects like a pail, toy soldier and film of seaweed snack in the way of still life paintings, as if heralding the couple’s philosophy of home as a receptacle for precious memories rather than precious things.
“I want to create a home where we are able to feel free in our skins and dangling limbs, instead of worrying about scratching, breaking, spilling and staining something or other. These are all parts of the texture of life that I value more than perhaps the singular beauty of objects,” says Ng. She is being prepped by our make-up artist for the photo shoot, clothed in her own linen dress from a shop in Lithuania that she cannot recall the name of. Its off-shoulder cut emphasises her slender build and its loose structure prioritises comfort over display. Ava is in school and the hush of the early morning still lingering will soon be replaced by breezy indie tunes from the likes of The Postal Service and The Velvet Underground that Ng attributes to “being quasi-suspended in our early 20s”.
The brick walls reappear outside the vast windows, enveloping a balcony greened with a boisterous family of potted plants as a result of Ng’s enthusiastic jaunts to the nursery. It melds into the abundant tree foliage that blocks views in while letting the tropical light percolate but not overwhelm the interiors. Like the brick walls, Ng speaks lovingly of the light. “For me, it’s very clear how a space feels and this one felt right.” Adds Wee who brings us coffee in textured, alabaster espresso cups made by Singapore-based Kiwi ceramicist Carragh Amos: “I love that the house is wrapped in greenery and the irregularity of the plan makes it odd and quirky.”
The couple engaged Takenouchi Webb for its design. The husband-and- wife team is behind many of The Lo & Behold Group’s well-recognised establishments, starting with The White Rabbit. “I always love to visit a designer’s home or office to get a sense of what their inherent style and vibe is like, and for Marc Webb and Naoko Takenouchi, it was exactly like their personalities—laid-back and not overly designed,” says Wee.
Takenouchi Webb enlarged the portal between the living and dining areas, and replaced the existing ’90s-style finishes with a modern canvas of oak timber floors and a timber veneer-slatted ceiling. Four bedrooms were remodelled into three, each with an en-suite, improving functionality. A blush Arflex sofa fills the expansive living room well, its relaxed profile an invitation to lounge. This accompanies several custom-designed furniture pieces, such as the dining table and tiered shelf topped neatly with books and potted plants.
The home’s paraphernalia, amassed selectively over time, reflects the couple’s interests in architecture, design and art. It also symbolises their love story spanning decades and cities. “It’s a story about a long friendship and about meeting Teng over and over again, [first] when we were 18. Later when I was in New York, we were together in our 20s. We split again, then in my 30s after I moved back from Paris, we got together,” Ng narrates. This affinity reflects on the home front where they are aligned on everything.
There is a vintage armchair shipped back from their New York apartment they just sold, mid-century modern vintage mirrors and a Memphis-era side table in the balcony from Tokyo, and a duo of dark-wood dressers in the living room from Sweden purchased from a photographer operating out of a basement. Two black Tobia Scarpa-designed Model 925 armchairs balance the living room’s soft tones. Sculptural play abounds in Studio Toogood’s Element coffee table that sparks many a tale about a precious glass table top with moveable bases and an energetic pre-schooler. “None of our friends understand how Ava has not killed herself with it yet. When she was younger, she’d always try to take the round base out,” Ng laughs.
Within its geometric symphony of table legs, an inscribed marble slab from her 2019 Monument Momento exhibition fits right in. This is one instance when Ng’s art creeps into the domestic tableau. “A lot of our home is aligned with Dawn’s style and art,” Wee reiterates. On the living room’s copper console, two pieces from her January 2021 exhibition—one, a painting made from coloured ice melting onto paper, and the other, a photograph of the same ice block—stands alongside a Richard Deacon ‘Sleeping Beauty’ print from the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. “It’s hard to find artwork we both truly like for the home but we instantly loved this when we saw it,” says Ng.
Also on the console is a concrete bust picked up from a roadside stall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for its resemblance to illustrator Quentin Blake’s characters in Roald Dahl’s storybooks. Its roughness juxtaposes with two sleek marble blocks, also from Monument Momento, which are like miniature cousins of the sea-green Verde marble coffee table and Fior di Pesco marble dry kitchen island. On the bookshelf, Wee’s vintage lamp collection—many sourced from flea markets—sits like sculptures among titles on architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Ricardo Bofill, designer Ettore Sottsass, and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andrée Putman, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and existentialist writer Henrik Ibsen’s Four Major Plays—some tinted with age.
“The house is constantly evolving with our lives. Four times a year, the objects do a bit of musical chairs”
Like Ng’s art, traces of Wee’s work life find their way here. In a living room corner, a timber-framed glass cabinet with splayed legs came from an early, unsuccessful venture called The Curious Teepee—a retail shop- cum-social space. It now exhibits a three-dimensional still life that includes a potted plant, a special-edition emerald Snoopy lamp from Flos designed by Achille Castiglioni, a ball from one of Ng’s installations for A Thing of Beauty, and a Julian Schnabel clothbound book selected for the site-appropriate title Draw a Family.
These subtle insertions have morphed the feel of the house and deepened its meaning over the past six years. “The house is constantly evolving with our lives. Four times a year, the objects do a bit of musical chairs,” says Ng on practising her styling chops at home (she also styles many of The Lo & Behold’s venues). Another display is at the dry kitchen, where ceramics and art mirror a row of bottled spirits beneath. The triptych is a school project, the compressed paint sculptures from artist Kanchana Gupta, pottery from East Germany, and fragments of paper mâché left over from a collection made during the circuit breaker.
“This home is truly an amalgamation of work life, and of things that didn’t quite work out elsewhere but work out here,” says Ng. It also contains tales of kinship. “John Lim from This Humid House is the only other nutter about East German pottery I know. The two of us are always on Etsy trying to find new pieces,” she says, referring to the botanical designer based at Wee’s private members club Straits Clan. “As for Kanchana, she’s a dear friend and we both belong to the same gallery Sullivan+Strumpf. I got these from her and she’s got a piece of my work; we’re big fans of each other!”
Perhaps the most heartfelt touches in the home are those pertaining to Ava. The house is void of plastic, neon-coloured children’s furniture as the couple bring to their daughter’s upbringing the same ethos of tempered beauty as they do in their lifestyles. Ng is obviously the tutor of art but not just as a medium of expression. “I’ve been careful about not buying things. When Ava asks for something, I try to make it instead. It’s something my mum did with me growing up, which helped me in my practice later on and shaped my attitude to life,” she ruminates.
One of these projects is in the living room. “When Ava turned one, I wanted her to have a space where she could draw but not feel like it’s an isolated process. I designed the round resin table to her height and for ease of spreading out art materials or enjoying the company of friends for a make- your-own-pizza party. I made her sit on a stool and measured her little calves to know how much allowance to give so she could sit on the chairs comfortably. The table height can be adjusted over the years by remaking the legs,” says Ng.
During the circuit breaker, she involved Ava a little in her work, letting her mix pigments and create her own paper mâché vessels in a room-turned- home studio. “It was particularly meaningful because I knew that she was sleeping close by while I worked. And the first thing when she woke was to look for me in that room because she had been so excited to know how far the process had gone on while she was sleeping. I throw so much of myself into my practice that I don’t think anything apart from the circuit breaker could have taken me away from spending time with Ava quite like this,” says Ng.
The family stuck to a strict schedule. After breakfast, Teng would take Ava out to a park while Ng worked. They swapped roles when father and daughter returned. “It allowed us to be very free and creative within slots of time. I was up at 5am mixing pigments, preparing the pulp for sculpting later, and when Ava was napping in the afternoon for two hours, I got to work on them,” says Ng. Agrees Wee: “It was a real shift in how I spend my time; we cut out a lot of distractions in our lives. In many ways, we’re still trying to hold on to some of that by spending more time together.”
Ng also returned to the kitchen after leaving the cooking to her helpers in recent years. Not one to gloss over things, she persisted at fine-tuning a recipe from Wee’s grandmother—a large Chinese pancake that Teng calls a Chinese pizza. “It is something everyone in this house has to suffer with, including the helpers, as for a long time we will be eating that dish I’m trying to perfect. So, one month of eating Chinese pizza!” she laughs.
This quest for completeness is a virtue Wee admires of his wife. “Dawn’s definitely more fanatical about achieving amazing outcomes. I can cruise,” he jests. When Ava returns from school, we witness the family’s tight-knit bond. The sounds of the happy trio once again united reverberate through the home that is capacious both in space and spirit.
Deputy Editor: Amelia Chia
Art Director: Henry Thomas Lloyd
Fashion Director: Desmond Lim
Photographer: Sayher Heffernan
Hair and Makeup: Greg’O using Keune and Estée Lauder