How Designing And Building His Own Landed Property Turned Elvin Ng Into A Vulgarity-Spewing Ah Beng
He went through hell to build his own 5,500 sq ft piece of heaven. So what does Elvin's three-storey semi-detached home look like?
Elvin Ng is plying us with alcohol. At 11am. On a Monday. It’s a weird sort of day, one which started at 8am when we arrived at the freshly-built Ng family home in the Western part of the island. The semi-D property sits on 3,300 sq ft of land, and its imposing three-storey façade, fronted by two balconies and shielded by 1.8m-tall trees (that’s Elvin’s height, by the way), reveals nothing of its famous occupant. The gate opens to a rustic patio, and a koi pond that runs along the side of the house. The front sliding doors lead to an expansive living room with a custom-made sofa that’s way longer than your usual family lounge and a very large TV screen, under which is a console filled with at least 20 Star Awards (Those things are heavy; yes, we held one and pretended we had just won it). Off to one side, there’s a second living room, with another lounge set. The centerpiece of the entrance area is a technicolour fish tank filled with Nemos, Dorys and other colourful water creatures. Elvin would later explain to us how difficult it was to maintain this fragile ecosystem. In the middle of the split-level first floor, a modern glass and wood staircase winds heavenwards in Escher-ish perfection. Past the staircase is a large dining table, and along one side of the wall is a floor-to-ceiling display cabinet filled with an impressive cognac and liquor collection (Elvin’s mum’s and late dad’s, we learn). To the back is a herb garden, filled with plants that Elvin has personally selected. Some of these leaves and fruits make it into family dinners, which are cooked in a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen to the side of the house.
It’s all very modern, cosy, tasteful and impeccably-designed. You’d be even more impressed to know that Elvin conceptualised it all himself. Who knew the man had such hidden talents? He hired no interior designer and no architect, despite the fact that he tore down the existing house and rebuilt it almost from scratch. What he did have were nightmare contractors and a project manager who didn’t do his job. To hear him tell it, it’s like Elvin practically built this entire house himself, brick by brick, with blood, sweat and tears. Elvin Ng as Phua Chu Kang minus the yellow boots and, like, way more handsome? You better believe it. Elvin’s growing résumé of talents also includes Host with the Most. The minute the shoot at his not-so-humble abode wraps, he hotfoots it to his wine fridge and takes out two bottles of wine. No one knows how to use his fancy wine opener, so he has to open the bottles himself. Mama Ng stands to one side of the kitchen, filled with pride at her son and the house he has bought and built for their family. At the time of our shoot, Elvin had yet to receive his All-Time Favourite trophy at the Star Awards, and when we asked Mama Ng how she felt about this year’s Star Awards, she says shyly, “Okay lah — at least this year we can relax.”
Elvin is pouring glasses of tipple for the entire shoot crew — about eight of us — and urging us to drink. “Cheers, cheers!” The man is in high spirits and an excellent mood, and we all drink and congratulate him on his new home. To our surprise, Elvin has also asked his helper to prepare a full lunch for us, complete with fried rice, ngoh hiang, fried chicken, and other dishes. He stands around as we tuck in, sipping his wine and making sure we’re eating, and asking us if we want coffee or tea (“With sugar and milk?”). It’s like we’re all pals at his housewarming party, except that — oops — we haven’t brought a gift. It seems the shy boy we first interviewed many years ago has blossomed and become #likeaboss — the king of his castle (and perhaps of Stars Avenue, too?).
Fans and those close to the actor know that it was his late father’s wish (Mr Ng passed away in 2012) that his family live together on a landed property. The idea took hold and materialised when the family of six moved into the 5,500 sq ft house in January this year, just days before Chinese New Year. They include Elvin, his mum, his younger sister, 33, who is an accountant who works from home, and his younger brother, 30, who used to work as the PM’s bodyguard and is now in security management at RWS and his wife and two-year-old daughter. Despite his contractor woes (ironically, his parents were renovation contractors, although his mum and his siblings didn’t help with the reno), Elvin is pleased with the way things have turned out in his dream home. Works of art add to a sense of grandeur at stair landings, and family pictures are found all around the house (We met his brother and niece during the shoot and saw pics of his whole family, who have remained largely private, and we have to say, Elvin looks nothing like his siblings or even his parents. “Yes, I was picked up from the rubbish dump,” he jokes.) Halfway through the grand tour, Elvin suddenly knocks on his mum’s door on the second floor. When she opens it, he ushers us in to show us mama Ng’s simple but stylish room: “She wanted it all in marble, so I made it all marble — you see?”, he gestures proudly while mama beams. There are three other rooms on the second floor, one for his sis and two for his brother’s family (his sis-in-law is expecting the couple’s second kid). Elvin occupies the third floor — “it’s like a bachelor’s pad, sort of like a SOHO unit by itself” he says — where he has a cavernous room complete with walk-in wardrobe and en suite bathroom and a large karaoke/living room/pantry across the hallway.
Perhaps it’s a complete coincidence that Elvin completed this massive personal project in the same year he hit a career milestone — 10 Top 10 popularity Star Awards. Now that his wishes have been fulfilled on the home and career front (for now) — what’s next?
8 DAYS: Congrats on the new place! It’s fabulous! Why this huge landed property?
ELVIN NG: Thanks! (Beams) This whole thing started ’cos of my dad — he was the one who wanted a piece of land, and for us to live on landed property, and since he passed away, I’ve been wanting that. Before this, we were all living in a five-room jumbo HDB flat in Jurong East, but my brother is having a second kid and we would need another room. I asked my brother if he wanted us all to live together. If he didn’t, I would get a smaller place. But he said he did. My initial plan was to continue living in the jumbo flat and buy myself two condo units and rent those out, then I can semi-retire earlier. (Laughs) I don’t know when I changed my mind. I had bought one condo at Jurong Point, but I sold it to buy this house. I reasoned that I can still earn money now, so do I want to keep the money for myself or upgrade everyone’s life?
So you ‘sacrificed’ yourself lah. You paid for everything? Mind telling us how much?
Yes, I paid for the house, which cost $3.5mil, and the renovations, which cost $1mil. I think it’s considered a good price. It includes building up the house ’cos we tore it down and left only the old structures.
How do your siblings feel about living in your house, so to speak?
I don’t know leh — you have to ask them! (Laughs) I don’t think they mind lah — we are a close-knit family. Sometimes when I’m stressed at work, I may be a bit more hot-tempered or just blunt, so initially they were like, “Wah we stay in your house, wait you this cannot, that cannot. Or later you not happy, you tell us to move out.” (Laughs) I’m like, “No, that won’t happen.” For us as a family, it’s the good, the bad or the ugly — everything is okay.
Did they pay for stuff in the house?
I wanted my brother and sister to contribute at least one or two pieces of furniture. Their rooms all have built-in furniture, which is included in the reno, so they didn’t have to pay for that. But it’s about them doing their part for the family, and not just me providing all the time. I needed them to help. So I think they contributed like one sofa downstairs. (Laughs) But I still paid for most of the furniture lah. But we split the utilities bills three ways — I think that’s fair.
How does everyone feel about living together under one roof?
Living together has its pros and cons. Communal living is good ’cos you have everyone’s support. I think we have all opened up a bit more, even my mum. I was surprised that she came out earlier to say hi — last time, she would just hide in her room. If I was leading a tour and she came along, she would tell me not to tell people she was my mother. Now I can see she’s more positive and cheerful, and her sisters and siblings would come over to our new place a lot. There’s a lot of family time now, and it’s great.
It feels like there’s a new openness with you as well. You’ve opened up your whole house to us.
Yeah, there are no secrets lah. Last time, I would have more walls and, but now — maybe it’s age — I think, “What else is there to [hide]?” I tried to keep my private and public personas more separate, but it’s all merged in one big mess. (Laughs) Anyway, I’m just like that. Whatever good or bad, strengths or weaknesses — I’m just like that. When I moved here, I tried to maintain [some privacy], but people still seemed to know I was moving here. (Laughs) When we first got here, kids from the nearby school would call my name and a few naughty ones would come and ring the doorbell, but they’re harmless lah. At the market next door, word got round that I was moving in. (Laughs)
Why didn’t you choose to have your own space? Strike out and live your own independent life?
First of all, I’m not independent enough. I’m still quite pampered lah. (Laughs) I need people to cook for me, wash clothes… I think the convenience of having your family around you is nice. I haven’t experienced that much independence, except maybe when I was away for one month in Europe writing my book. I think I can have my own space when I go away. But I cannot imagine having to do household chores myself. (Laughs) I would still have to employ a maid.
And you designed this whole place yourself.
Yes. I don’t know how I did it. (Laughs) I have no background in interior design — I only looked at Instagram photos for inspiration. There was no designer and no architect. I’m proud I did it. It was like playing Sim City. (Laughs). Whatever I imagined became real — it was very surreal. At first, I was only looking for a place we could move into, and just do some minor renovations. But then I found this place, and I liked it ’cos it’s near the new Mediacorp campus and there’s a hawker centre nearby. When I was looking for a place, I dealt with the property agents and sellers myself. It was quite tough, especially as an artiste. It’s really putting yourself out there. If you buy something, of course you want a good price and you bargain, right? I’m not a superstar earning some heavenly price. But if I bargain, people may say, “Wah, he very ngeow, or he very difficult.” I guess some people saw a very ‘real’ side of me.
Elvin Ng the towkay?
(Laughs) I became more business-minded. Because I went out there, I met people, and got some sponsors for my house, which helped to defray the costs. My floors and fans and some of the furniture is sponsored. I could, in a way, use a bit of my fame to get stuff. I was never this business-savvy — I was always just in my own world. I was like, I’m a celebrity, but so what? I never used my so-called fame. And my [inviting 8 DAYS to come and do a photo shoot in my house] is not meant to show off or be ostentatious. Maybe it’s ’cos I’m more open and wanted to share a bit about my space, and also ’cos sponsors came in, I had to feature parts of my house on Instagram (Read about how we made Elvin Ng join Instagram — yes, we take credit for his 245,000 followers!), which also helped me to open up a bit more. I was afraid I would become less liked ’cos people would think I was showing too much, but fortunately, that’s not the case.
What was the style you envisioned for your home?
I didn’t want a modern contemporary style, which was cold. I wanted something with a lot of wood and was cosy, with like a Bali resort feel. I wanted plants. I wanted to come home and feel like it’s a haven away from the world. Everything I came up with is practical and family-oriented — it’s simple with a bit of design. Nothing is extravagant or show-off. I even went knocking on doors of houses I liked, saying, “Hi, I’m doing reno, can I have a look?” It was a bit of abusing my [fame] lah. (Laughs) I didn’t think I would rebuild a house and take one year to do it. They say moving house is stressful, but doing renovation and moving house is just crazy. When I wasn’t filming, all my time was spent on the renovation. It was like 40 per cent of my time was spent filming [long-form drama 118 and Hokkien drama Eat Already?] and 60 per cent was spent here, doing the reno. There was nothing else. (Laughs) It took up a lot of my life. I haven’t gone to the gym — there was no time to do a lot of things.
How bad were the renovation woes?
It was a nightmare. I also opened up [about my house] ’cos I had so many problems with contractors, and the papers [reported on it], so I [might as well] talk about it. Basically the contractors were irresponsible and went MIA. We were supposed to move in in October. But I knew they couldn’t make it, so I gave them three more weeks. I didn’t ask for any compensation. After that, there was a penalty for every day they were late. So then I wanted to move in before my birthday, on Dec 23. But cannot. By Christmas also cannot. Before New Year also didn’t make it. In the end, we moved in just a few days before Chinese New Year. Actually, I moved into my room at the end of December so I could straightaway supervise them the minute I woke up and push them to complete the place. So my birthday, Christmas, and the whole festive season was all burned. There were no celebrations. I was here with the workers, telling them what to do.
Sounds horrible. Did you really have to be here all the time?
Yes, because the people in charge were not around. I had a project manager but he didn’t do his job. I literally had to tell them what to do. If I was not here for two days, things would be very jialat. There will be mistakes. When there was no electricity, I would take a torchlight and check, check, check to make sure everything is correct. Once some of the things are done, they’re very hard to change. If the mistakes accumulate, that’s it. It took away the happiness and excitement of moving in.
Why didn’t you just sack them?
I wanted to! But whenever I wanted to terminate, they would be like, “Oh, we can do it, we help you to complete.” They will buck up for three days, then go back to being jialat again. When they went MIA, I was tearing my hair out and screaming vulgarities, and spoke to them like I was some Ah Beng, ’cos they were behaving like ruffians! It probably didn’t reflect well on me. (Laughs) When I dealt with these people, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I’m an artiste and I have to behave a certain way. All my Hokkien came out lah! (Guffaws) There was a problem with the roof and water was coming into my room, and they didn’t do anything for three weeks. They told me it was not in the contract [to fix it]. I was like, “Did I sign for a contract that causes flooding?” Other times, I’d be trying to reach them and they would say things like “Sorry, my phone going flat.” I would be messaging in bold: “Where the hell are you! Get the f*** here!” When after a while the bold messages didn’t work, I would send voice messages saying, “Excuse me! What the f***!” I used more vulgarities last year than in my whole life! (Laughs) I wouldn’t normally behave that way but it was just too crazy, and it was just me handling it.
Why didn’t you ask your brother or sister to help? Or someone else?
They were busy with their own things, and only I knew exactly what I wanted. My brother and sister would only come to me like, “Eh, kor, my room hor, why like that?” I took charge of everything and once in a while, they will drop by like some tourist and say, “Wah, why like that ah?” Then I will get irritated. (Laughs) I’ve been very angsty and easily frustrated this past year — I might need to go see a psychiatrist and get some help. I think this whole thing shortened my life by three years!
Why didn’t you just get an interior designer or an architect or someone to help you manage?
I felt I was up to the job. If my contractors had been good and done their job, it would have been okay. In a way, I’m proud I sort of did this singlehandedly. I actually have some design sense, and I could picture everything. I knew exactly what I wanted, so I felt I didn’t need an ID. Maybe I have OCD and I’m a control freak. (Laughs) I can be quite controlling when it comes to certain things. So with this house, every corner, every little detail — it was all me leh.
But it’s all worth it, cos you’re happy with the result, right?
Yes, when I see my family happy and enjoying the place, it’s all worth it. But you know, it’s not over yet. The stupid contractor has gone missing, and we’ve not made final settlement ’cos they have to pay me compensation of $30-40K for delaying the completion for three months, and also, I held on to five per cent to make them come back and do touch-ups. But now he’s telling the sub-contractors that I don’t want to pay him, so he cannot pay them. He’s spoiling my name. I’ve sent lawyers’ letters to tell them to settle, and to stop saying all these things, ’cos it’s defamation. I’m trying to make payment but there’s no one to accept the check. I want this to be over; I’m like, “Let’s all f*** off and break up — I don’t want to see you again; you shorten my life!" When I talk about this, I get so agitated!
Yikes! Hopefully it will be sorted soon. What a year it has been for you — new house built almost from scratch, and your All-Time Favourite Artiste award. Is this the culmination of all your hopes and dreams?
I feel comforted about this milestone, being able to get the [Top 10 Popularity] award 10 times and not having to play that game anymore, but it’s also a bit of, “Now what? What’s next?” The three major spheres in life are Love, Career and Family, and I’m handling all of them. I was a lot more blue and gloomy last time, but now, I’m in a happy place. I used to get stressed about stuff but I’ve learned to chill and handle problems one at a time. But the past year hasn’t been easy, ’cos of the renovations!
So career and family are sorted. How about love?
Love? Love has always been a big part of my life.
Are you seeing anyone?
Let’s not go there, but the thing is, everything is good lor. (Smiles)
So like you said, what’s next?
Sustain it lor! It’s only the beginning. I don’t really have a big plan in life. I never thought 10 years ago that I would get the [All-Time Fave] award, move into a new house and go through all this contractor sh**. None of this was planned. A lot of things are beyond yourself — you can only can do so much. When my dad passed away and someone close to me was not well, I realised that sometimes we are so narrow-minded that we miss the larger picture. I think we just do what we can. (Smiles)
For more Elvin Ng interviews and stories click here.
Photos: Aik Chen / Art direction: Pyron Tan / Styling: Sharon B Tan / Hair: Sylin Yer / Grooming: Lolent Lee