Interviewing Pauline Ng
“The first thing I wanted to do when I retired was to renovate my home. In the process I could walk through all the things I had stored away for years and see if any of these things could be given to those who would find them useful. I would only keep the minimum as life for me now is so much simpler.”
This was the dream of Pauline Ng, Chief Editor of we60.com, but this dream did not materialize until five years later due to various important tasks coming up. It was finally in early summer of 2017 that she was able to take on board a complete renovation of her home in which she had stayed for some 20 years.
“I am so glad that I only had time to renovate my home this year. Although I did have some experience in home renovation and I studied interior design when I was young, this was the first time I designed a living unit suitable for all ages. I am now really putting what I have learned into practice.”
Integrating the needs of users – yours and carers’
When we visited Pauline at her newly renovated home, she had not yet moved back into it. Pauline stressed that elderly persons do not need a very big living space, but the design should be compatible with their living habits, personal preferences and ultimately, when they need someone to look after us, the design should bring convenience to themselves and the carers. So although we are only in our 60s, if we have decided to renovate our current home, we might as well plan ahead and make it a once-and-for-all renovation.”
This 600 sq ft unit is not big, but it is not small at all. Originally it had a standard design of three bedrooms, a sitting/dining room and two bathrooms. In this renovation, Pauline has converted it into one big and one small bedrooms separated by a wooden partition, with one wheelchair-accessible bathroom inside master bedroom and a smaller guest bathroom, and an open kitchen connected with the dining and sitting rooms.
Sitting at the European-style dining room, one can have a good view of the fully equipped open kitchen on one side, and a small sitting room on the other. Though small, the sitting room provides ample space for a sofa bed, a synthesizer and an 8 ft TV cabinet. That perhaps is what a clever design is all about.
Pauline said, elderly persons of the older generation are used to live with their children, and they usually occupy a smaller room. However, persons of the green-age group (those around 60 years old) today are masters of their own and they may not be too comfortable staying with their children’s families. Instead, they may prefer to stay in their own residence and, if it is financially permissible, they may hire someone to look after them. Ideally, they may stay close to their children, e.g. in the same area, but even if it is not possible, it is still perfectly alright as they themselves have a lot of friends and they are far from being alone. Hence, the largest room (e.g. the suite) of their living unit should be reserved for their own use.
Pauline also stressed that taking care of elderly persons requires a lot of patience and a loving heart. We need to have empathy for those who look after us, providing them every convenience and comfort so that they can take good care of us.
“The buildings in Hong Kong are tall and narrow. Quite often, the walls used for internal partitioning are structural walls, which are not removable. If we need to expand any rooms or corridors, or convert the kitchen into an open one, we must first seek professional advice. Generally speaking, if the renovation does not affect the building structure, it can be handled by qualified contractors.”
No wonder we found that this home of Pauline’s rather spacious as soon as we stepped into it. It is because she has widened the corridor, at the end of which is a pair of French glass doors leading to the master-bedroom and its en-suite bathroom. On the two sides of the corridor is another bedroom and a bathroom.
“I specifically asked the designer to widen the corridor, so as to facilitate the movement of wheelchair in the future.” Pauline noticed our astonished look and gestured for us to follow her to the world behind the closed French doors. Once opened, she stretched her arms across the corridor to show how wide it had become. I was on my wheelchair and found it absolutely wide enough for my passage.
Materials easy to match
The most eye-catching part of the design is the continental European style of furnishing in the sitting-dining room. Why this style?
“In fact, the feel of continental European style comes mainly from this Italian dining table and matching chairs which I have used for over 20 years, and also from the oil paintings on the walls,” Pauline explained. “Surely, the choice of tiles and design of door frames are also very important because they are not easy to change after renovation. I therefore made an effort to find those tiles and door frames with such colour tones and textures that would make it easy to match any change of style in all future re-decorations.” She added, “I personally picked every material used in this place.” The lights from the kitchen ceiling at that moment shone on Pauline’s shining eyes, which exuded the pride she had in this renovation and her expectation of future life.
“If I can’t move about easily in the future and can’t go anywhere, it would be quite nice to have groups of old friends coming here to cook different cuisines and reminiscing our good old days.” So this is what she has in mind. With the open kitchen, she can invite friends to her home and for someone who loves cooking like Pauline, this is an ideal place for home cooking and chatting.
A smart design for storage space
Pauline is a true representative of the green-age group. As I browsed over the decorations in the sitting room, I noticed the complete set of Chinese brushes and inks and a synthesizer. I can well imagine her very diversified interests. Apparently “retirement” is not a word to describe her current way of life. She has become even more active. As a result, she needs a lot of storage space for keeping the parliamentary manuals she uses on a daily basis, and also the reference materials for her university study, all kinds of cookery books, travel guides, etc. However, when I whirled around on my wheelchair, I did not feel obstructed despite all the storage around me. Why is that so?
Pauline said, “I asked the designer to make the cabinets as close to the walls as possible. In fact, the depth of 8-9 inches is sufficient for general storage cabinets. In this way, they do not take up space, and things on the shelves are easily observable and retrievable. For things that are more frequently used, they should be stored in the lower and accessible compartments. Whereas for things which are heavy, they should be kept at or below our waistline, preferably in drawers as it will make it easy to retrieve. For things which are not frequently used, they can be stored at higher compartments, in labelled boxes, provided that they are not heavy.” I then realized that behind all the walls is a thin layer of storage cabinets!
Home is familiarity
“What kind of home is a safe home?” That’s the question I had in my mind.
“For someone who has reached certain age, being able to hold on to something from one point to another help create that sense of security.” Pauline stood as she spoke. She then walked to the main door and from there she walked to the master-bedroom showing us the various supporting points en-route. She added, “Even if one’s eye sight fails, one would not feel so worried when he or she can walk freely and safely at home.”
Why did she even think of this?
“I did have very poor eyesight during one particular period in the past. Therefore, I totally understand that people with poor eye-sight are most afraid of emptiness. We cannot provide handrails throughout the whole place, but there can be some fixed objects that they can hold onto.” Undoubtedly, the fixed furniture can play this role. This is why elderly people prefer to live in places which they are familiar with.
Location of switches and power sockets
Pauline is also very concerned about the location of switches and power sockets and this has become her biggest challenge in this renovation. She said that interior designers and technicians generally are not aware that for the wheelchair-bound, switches should not be higher than 4 feet from the ground and power sockets should be at least 15 inches above the floor. Since a major renovation only takes place after 20 or more years, it is advisable to change the water piping and electric wiring in the entire place, especially if this major renovation could be the last one before one gets very old. No one knows when one will get sick or need to use a wheelchair. By then, it would be rather late to start renovating his or her home because he or she will no longer be able to design, choose the materials and supervise the works according to his or her liking.
After finishing the tea and cakes, we began to get curious about fitting-out. Pauline noticed this and said, “Come, let me show you this place in detail.”
So, we followed her and listened to her carefully regarding every detail of the design. Please click on each of the following pages for touring this cozy home of Pauline’s:
En-suite Master Bedroom
Guest Room/ Guest Bathroom
It was almost dusk when we concluded this interview. The tea had turned cool and the lady of this place began to clean up the dishes. I sat on the other side of the table absorbed in this sense of a warm home. Pauline’s passion – for the community, for friends, and for her family is totally unreserved. This is reflected in the way she spares no effort for the green age and the elderly by setting up we60.com. After working hard for half her life, going through so many ups and downs, the rewards she got – the bountiful friendship, devotion from family members, and the high quality of life – become her assets for the next journey. I begin to appreciate what retirement means to her from the way she renovates her home, and also why she feels so relaxed with the future in front of her.
“I wish to age at my own home.” This is the statement I remembered well from this interview. I guess she was speaking the minds of the ageing public. While one is still able, seize all opportunities to pave the way for one’s future life.
Interviewer：Kwok Ching Fung