At Home With Mark Lee

Funnyman Mark Lee's home is filled with art

A 3m-long work by Beijing-born artist Wu Qiong is mounted on the ceiling in Mark Lee's home

It is a moment of incredulity to hear comedian and TV host Mark Lee rattle off different interior looks such as Manhattan and resort styles.

But the funnyman, better known as Singapore's favourite Ah Beng than for his knowledge of interior design, is not taking the Mickey out of decorating. He knows what he is talking about.

As the co-host of five seasons of the popular home makeover programme, Home Decor Survivor, Lee has picked up a few tips about how to dress a home.

The 46-year-old, who has also hosted shows such as Home Makeover and DIY My Home, confesses: "My knowledge of interior design started from zero. I thought it's enough if there's a table, sofa, television and bed. But when I started doing interior design shows, I bought magazines, and went on the Internet to see how interior designers did it. You just try and try, and you will get it eventually."

While he was designing for other families on the reality shows, his skills - and taste - were put to the test when it came to designing his own 2,680 sq ft condominium apartment last year.

He worked with local interior design company Weiken, for which he is the celebrity ambassador, to create the look for the five-bedroom, single-storey apartment in Upper Thomson Road. He lives there with his wife, their three children aged between one and six, his mother and elder sister.

With Lee designing the apartment, it is a role reversal for the couple, who used to live at the Nuovo condominium in Ang Mo Kio. His wife Catherine Ng, 41, went for a resort-style look for that four-bedroom apartment. Lee says: "My wife did it all. I just gave her the budget and I was not involved."

Was she then worried about leaving their new home in his hands? "She knew I had taste when I married her," he deadpans.

Indeed, the result is a modern-looking apartment, with a mainly white palette and pops of colour from the furniture. The apartment also has an expansive balcony, where Lee replaced the grass with wood-like tiles so he could enjoy the outdoors.

But what surprises guests the most is his art collection, in particular from Beijing-born artist Wu Qiong. "They are shocked. They say, 'Eh, this Ah Beng collects art?' But why can't I? There're many Ah Bengs who play golf too."

He came across the 33-year-old artist's works in a magazine he saw at friend and celebrity hairstylist Addy Lee's house and later met Wu at an art exhibition in Marina Bay Sands.

He says of the paintings that feature adorable babies: "I thought they were cute. I'm not an art collector, but when I saw the paintings, I liked them so much."

He has four pieces, including a small statue of a baby with tattoos and a 3m-long painting. He spent about $40,000 on three pieces and the fourth was a gift from hairstylist Lee.

The prices of the artist's works range from $4,000 for smaller pieces to $30,000 for larger ones. They are available at Ode to Art gallery.

As the painting was too long to be hung on the wall, Mark Lee had his interior designer figure out a way to mount it on the ceiling. "From the decorating shows that I had done, some home owners pasted wallpaper on the ceiling for decoration. So I thought I could do the same.

"The interior designer said the painting might be too heavy, but I gave him the idea so he had to think of how he could do it. He thought of many ways and he did it. It's just that a bit of the painting's middle sags a little. But I don't mind."

He redesigned some spaces too. For example, the original dining area had a 2.2 sq m island, which would have made it tight to put in a dining table, so Lee had the island removed. He then created a small kitchen nook for the coffee machine and easy dry food preparation. This spot was originally part of a wall of cabinets, which Lee removed.

He also had part of the false ceiling in the living room raised by 30cm as it was too low for his liking. "It just made me feel very claustrophobic and uncomfortable when I was in the room."

In addition, he replaced the mustard-yellow floor tiles with marble ones. "I had no plans for a marble floor initially and wanted to use marble for the walls, to give my home a luxurious feel, like a hotel. But when I saw the floor tiles, I had to change them. They were ugly and, with the low ceiling, they made the room look very dark."

For him, the heart of the home is the living room, which is why he spent much effort designing the area. "It's the first thing you see when you come in, so it should be attractive. If you don't like what you see, you will not want to stay for long," he explains.

"The living room is also where the family watches television together and the children play. If it's not cosy or comfortable, they wouldn't want to be here and would all be in their rooms."

For now, this is home for Lee, even if he has the means to upgrade to a landed home. He runs Galaxy Entertainment, a production and artist management firm which he co-founded, and has a string of businesses such as eatery chain OldTown White Coffee, which he brought here from Malaysia in 2008. "My family likes the condominium setting. If we live in a house, my children won't have other kids to play with," he says.

Would he consider setting up his own interior design firm since he appears to have a flair for it?

He baulks: "You have so many people to deal with, such as the contractor and electrician. If something goes wrong, the clients will call only you. And the problem comes when you want to collect the cheque. You have to hunt them down. It's tiring. I don't want to do it."

Additional reporting by Gwendolyn Ng

This is the last of the At Home With series.

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