If you have been following MasterChef Singapore, you’d know that contestant Aaron Wong, is a whiz at coming up with innovative modern interpretations of Asian culinary classics. Outside of the kitchen, the full-time photographer is rather handy with DIY projects. In fact, his cosy wood-accented home in Telok Blangah – which was featured in the print version of SquareRooms in 2016 – is filled with handmade furniture and fixtures that Aaron and his wife, Lynette, made themselves.
“Contractors and interior designers may be good at what they do, but they aren’t able to do what is outside the norm,” Aaron said. He made the decision to do up his own home renovation after realising that there wasn’t anyone that could deliver on what he wanted exactly. “My wife and I wanted a home where most of the things in the house were recycled.”
The couple also loves the feel and look of real wood, which prompted them to do up their home – a resale flat – using recycled wood that they salvaged from junkyards. “Everyone told us to use laminates; maintenance is easy, but we wanted the real touch of warmth that can only come from solid wood,” recalled Aaron.
Rather than the clean and smooth planks we see in the new wood of wood yards, the pieces that they picked up from junkyards were dirty, encrusted with rusty nails, and crawling with bugs. “We had to go around choosing the ones that were in better condition, but they are cheaper and a lot more interesting because they had a life before this. Some of them would have been part of a building’s structure or even a cargo box!”
But while they may look interesting – a few even had shipping stamps on them – lugging them back to his apartment and reworking them to make them usable again were not easy tasks. Some of the planks were so long that Aaron had to borrow his company’s van to ferry the planks back home. “We even had to put a marking to indicate that it’s a long vehicle!” he said. The longer pieces also couldn’t fit into his lift, which meant that he had to carry it up a flight of steps into his second-storey apartment. Then began the tedious process of de-nailing and sanding them down to create a smooth surface so that they can be safely used. “I basically created an entire carpenter’s studio down here!”
For the first month, Aaron hired a contractor and a carpenter to do up a few of the major structural work such as the flooring, and the hacking away of walls and the building up of new ones, which were deliberately left unplastered for a rustic, unfinished look. The result is a roomier bedroom and living room, and an open-plan layout which allowed the small home to appear larger than it really is. For the next six months, Aaron was on his own. He constructed most of the furnishings from scratch. This included the bedframe, wardrobe, study shelving, coffee table, TV console, dining table, and kitchen cabinets and counter.
Did he have a background in furniture making? “I like building things; I even did up a mobile bar once!” Aaron also revealed that he did up the renovations for his small kampong home on Tioman Island, where he and his wife frequently go on their diving trips. “In a way, that small house was a prelude to this. But this was way more intense.”
With most of the furniture in place, what’s left was to put in the finishing decor touches to the major project. “We wanted the home to reflect who we are, so we did it up to look like a little beach house since we both love to dive, and we furnished it with the things we collected over the years and from our diving trips. We can’t afford to stay by the beach, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have the feel of living by one!” Each decor item is a major conversation starter, with a story behind it. “We didn’t just want to put something up that might look nice, but didn’t have a link back to us,” explained Aaron.
When asked if he would do it all over again, Aaron replied in the negative. “It’s just too much work! It was a very fun journey, no doubt, and we’re really happy with what we have. But would I do it again? Probably not!”