Situated on 139 Selegie Road, Night & Day Bar + Gallery + Friends has a lot of historical baggage. The Art Deco building was originally constructed in the 1950s as an automotive parts business, owned by Ong Beng Yew and his two brothers. It was concurrently made into an office, a storeroom, as well as a place of residence for the extended Ong family. Three families lived here under one roof until 1967. The building is currently owned by the Ong brothers, who inherited the building from their father.
Striving to preserve the family’s legacy and the architectural heritage of the building, the Ong brothers have turned down many offers from buyers looking to convert the space into either a budget hotel or office premises. When zArch architect, Randy Chan came along with his plans of a multi-purpose space for the arts, in accord with the building’s rich past, it was kismet. Aided by multiple conversations with the Ong brothers, Randy was able to envision the building as it had appeared during its heydays.
Randy recounts: ‘I met the Ong brothers last year, sometime in November. I came out of a bad meeting that afternoon and I was just driving around to cool off. I ended up somewhere at the Niven carpark and there I saw the two men discussing at a shophouse. The shophouse was an Art Deco building and I noticed that the upper floor was unoccupied. I just walked over, and spent thirty minutes talking to the brothers, almost like a door to door salesman, as the conversation was conducted at a grille door with the two men standing away from me. They were suspicious and unwilling at first, but they later warmed up and showed me around the place. My intention was to find a place for my exhibition. Somehow, the brothers felt I needed more space as they knew I am an architect who also likes to organize exhibitions. Next, they just took a bundle of keys and led me through the Fragrance Hotel backdoor, and through a backlane to this current place. After three months of courtship, the place was mine.’
Night & Day is a space that encourages engagement with its history, thanks to the limpid simplicity accentuated by remnants of the past: an iron “child proof’ gate from the 50s, a Hokkien clan association mirror commemorating Ong Beng Yew’s contributions to society in the 60s as well as some of the structures that were added over the years.
‘Basically, our approach was to preserve as much as possible. Everything we removed has been reused. For example the panel that we took out from the gallery is now being used as a partition for the toilet. For the location, starting with the gallery, we thought that a gallery would need minimum intervention in terms of space. So we kept the space as is and highlighted the exposed ceiling. The office is located strategically, allowing people to take their time to walk up the stairs and enjoy the building before reaching the gallery. For the Bar, we wanted to highlight the grille panel and the green glass. We created a smoking room which is a cozy area framing the green glass,’ Randy explains.
The building is a progression of spaces, inviting people to see it in a sequence, moving from the bar on the second floor, to Randy’s office space on the third floor and the art gallery on the top floor. Visitors entering from the front door, find themselves looking up a steep staircase in faded green and white mosaic steps, which inspire to pause, appreciatively. A single colour accent, the green glass windows traversing the façade, project a warm intimate atmosphere and a welcoming quiet to the décor. Randy has edited the furniture in the bar down to a few pieces in calibrated colours just shades apart, to establish a visually subdued and sleek look. And what makes the art gallery seductive, is Randy’s permanent art installation, the open beams and the two geometrically disciplined chairs sitting against a wall in an abandoned backroom.
Night & Day Bar + Gallery + Friends is open daily between 6pm and 12am. The Gallery is open Monday to Saturday between 12pm and 7pm (after opening hours by appointment only).