A taste of Peranakan decor

A trip up to Penang island last weekend rekindled my interest in Peranakan design. I’ve always been a little intrigued by the Peranakan, or Straits Chinese, lifestyle. The Peranakan seem to have squeezed the best out of the Malay-Chinese-European culture and blended them into a unique identity – with their own customs, dressing, jewellery, furniture and amazing design sense.

A little about the Peranakans…
They are found mainly in the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, the Peranakan community started in the early 15th century in the trading ports of Malacca and Penang. Men from China who came to trade soon began marrying the local women and began incorporating some of their culture into their own. In time, they came to be know as the Peranakan, a Malay word which means, “to give birth to”. A Peranakan man is often referred to as ‘Baba’ and a lady as ‘Nyonya’. So if you see a restaurant with the word “Nyonya Food” – it means they serve Peranakan cuisine. But that’s another story. We’re here to peek into gorgeous Peranakan designs and why I am starting to love them more and more.

1. Geometric designs
In Peranakan houses, the default flooring is tiles – as it is cool under the feet, very suitable for the hot humid tropical weather. But you’ll not see any boring homogenous tiles. Peranakan tiles are aplomb with colour and motifs.


In the above 3 photos, the tiles are recreated Peranakan tiles by a Malaysian company called Terracotta. Very nice. I would love to have a tiled splashback for the bathroom.

[Arthur Zaaro]

Arthur Zaaro gives it a modern twist. If you have the tiles, give it a try on a Lack side table.

2. Colour
It’s no secret I am a huge fan of bright hues and happy colours. Peranakan houses look exceptional in contrasting colours, even garish ones. I can’t imagine ever painting my home in these colours, but they seem to work beautifully with the ornate structure of the Peranakan houses. Note the tile work on the facade. Lovely! Methinks the houses below are located in Singapore.

3. Detail
There’s one thing your can’t fault the Straits Chinese on, and that’s attention to detail. Intricate designs, a riot of clashing hues – perfect! A teapot set like this would be enough to cheer my space.

Intricate workmanship was the hallmark of an accomplished nyonya in days gone by. A pair of beaded slippers were needed to complete her Sarong Kebaya outfit. Vintage beaded shoes were handmade out of Peranakan cut beads and are now a rare find. These days, beaded shoes have gone chic. The ones below are from Aunty Nancy, who still makes them by hand.

[Aunty Nancy]

To complete her ensemble, the Nyonya adorns herself with fine jewellery. I am not much of a wearer of bling, but I just love the exquisite design, especially the necklace.

If you’re in Penang and want to know more about the Peranakan culture, make a beeline for the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. It’s a mansion of a rich Baba of a century ago and is recreated to offer a glimpse of their opulent lifestyle.

You’ll probably need a pair of sunnies. The amount of gold trim is dazzling.

Love the mirrors and how they are placed – reflecting each other for infinity. It’s supposed to be a luck and prosperity thing, but whatever, it looks so pretty.

With tiles like these who needs carpets?

Lovely gallery at the end of the stairway, creates a focal point.

[All Pinang Peranakan Mansion photos from Explorelah]

And of course, don’t miss out on the mouth watering Penang street food when you’re there. You can’t help but eat till you pop!

Penang Road cendol
Yau Char Koay (Fried dough) Amazing with local black coffee!
Assortment of pickles at Chowrasta. Beware the flies!
Rojak (Fruit salad)

I hope this post has given you a glimpse of the Straits Chinese art and decor. If you want to see more photos, you can hop over to my Pinterest board. I collected a bunch while researching this post.

To sign off, I’d ask, “Have you been to Penang and what do you think about Peranakan design?” Let me know in the comments below. XOXO.

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  1. Wow, these photos are beautiful! Thanks for posting them. I have never been to Penang – but now I definitely want to go there one day! The houses and tile designs remind me of the Arts and Crafts Movement in 19th century England. Gorgeous!

  2. Wow! Such beautiful photos. Since we've arrived in Calgary I've appreciated the tips and suggestions that I've found on your blog. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for your great blog! The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is definitely worth visiting! The heritage tiles found in Penang have been inspiration for my own art work and Peranakan art workshops. I hope to be able to eat more chilli one day so I can enjoy Nyonya food more though:) For the moment, I'm happy to stick to the wonderful array of sweets! Please see my website: http://www.jenniferlimart.com

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