Good As Gold

Singapore Tatler Homes - - TREND -

Noth­ing can re­place the sen­ti­men­tal value that a trea­sured fam­ily an­tique em­bod­ies. Such heir­looms oc­cupy pride of place in the homes of those for­tu­nate enough to have them, but the move into high-rise apart­ments and drive to­wards ur­ban life­styles dur­ing the 60s and 70s saw many Sin­ga­porean fam­i­lies dis­card­ing what they then thought of as old, bulky, dust-at­tract­ing cup­boards. “Re­gret” is now a com­mon word on the lips of those who did so. Not only do th­ese pieces form a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion with the past, good-qual­ity Straits Chi­nese cup­boards and cab­i­nets are com­mand­ing hefty sums un­der the auc­tion­eer’s gavel. In the hey­day of the Per­anakans, fur­ni­ture was of­ten com­mis­sioned to show­case a fam­ily’s wealth and high so­cial stand­ing. “Mass man­u­fac­tur­ing didn’t ex­ist, so while there were stan­dard de­sign tem­plates, each piece would dif­fer ac­cord­ing to a fam­ily’s re­quire­ments or the car­pen­ter’s whim,” says Peter Wee, owner of Ka­tong An­tique House and cur­rent Pres­i­dent of Sin­ga­pore’s Per­anakan As­so­ci­a­tion. “Nowa­days, many pieces are re­con­sti­tuted, they use carved pan­els that have been sal­vaged and re­fit­ted into a newer wooden frame.” Novice col­lec­tors of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence dis­may when they dis­cover their “an­tique” cup­board is not quite the real thing. “The Sin­ga­pore Tim­ber Coun­cil is able to grade the qual­ity of wood used, and col­lec­tors get up­set to learn that not only is their piece un­der 40 years old, but the wood is in­fe­rior ny­a­toh in­stead of sea­soned teak.”

Long the pre­serve of a tight-knit group of col­lec­tors and her­itage lovers, the unique mix of house­hold fur­ni­ture and fit­tings used by the Per­anakans has found favour with a younger au­di­ence. Find out why lo­cal aes­thetes are cot­ton­ing on to the en­dur­ing ap­peal of th­ese vin­tage chic pieces


Sev­eral work­shops in China, Malaysia, Viet­nam and In­done­sia spe­cialise in ei­ther up­cy­cling parts of older, bro­ken pieces or man­u­fac­ture re­pro­duc­tions of vin­tage fur­ni­ture. Black­wood or rose­wood pieces in­laid with mother-of-pearl can still be bought in Ma­cau, while cheaper ver­sions may be found in Viet­nam. South­ern China (Fu­jian and Zhe­jiang) re­mains the source for nam­wood fur­ni­ture which sports a red­dish hue and or­na­men­tal carv­ings in gilt­work. Malacca is home to mak­ers of teak­wood side­boards and cab­i­nets – many pieces can be seen in the shops along and around Jonker Street. Colo­nial or Euro­pean­in­flu­enced pieces may also be ac­quired brand new in In­done­sia, in­clud­ing copies of Thonet’s iconic No.14 bent­wood chairs (de­signed in 1859), which con­tinue to look re­fresh­ingly mod­ern in vin­tage pho­to­graphs.


Per­anakan fur­ni­ture is unique on two counts: they were made for the Straits Chi­nese, and while many were Euro­peanised in form, they of­ten com­bined Arabesque pat­terns with Chi­nese or­na­men­tal mo­tifs. They may also be cat­e­gorised by pur­pose – there is cer­e­mo­nial fur­ni­ture such as al­tars, wed­ding chests and beds; func­tional fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing dining sets, side­boards and cup­boards; and re­cep­tion room fur­ni­ture, which usu­ally came in pairs or even num­bers for for­mal sym­met­ri­cal ar­range­ments.


Founder and owner of Per­anakan home mu­seum The In­tan, Alvin Yapp, ob­serves, “I find that col­lec­tors are quite for­giv­ing of mi­nor de­fects in­clud­ing scuffs and scratches on an­tique fur­ni­ture, though they do pay at­ten­tion to the beauty and elab­o­rate­ness of carv­ings; for a side­board, a pris­tine carved crown and finials are es­sen­tial.” As a rule, “mint” con­di­tion an­tiques com­mand pro­hib­i­tively high prices, so those who sim­ply ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of Per­anakan fur­ni­ture may con­sider ac­quir­ing good qual­ity re­pro­duc­tion pieces that are equally durable and adapted to suit mod­ern pur­poses, such as us­ing a food stor­age cup­board to con­ceal a home en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. For ex­pert ad­vice and view­ings of both re­pro­duc­tions and gen­uine an­tiques, both Wee and Yapp rec­om­mend seek­ing out Ng Ah Choon of Guan An­tique at Kam­pong Bahru or vis­it­ing Just An­thony at Up­per Paya Le­bar.


To­day’s glob­alised sen­si­bil­ity means we can con­fi­dently mix an­tiques and mod­ern pieces in al­most any dec­o­rat­ing scheme. A mash of styles adds vis­ual in­ter­est and depth. Larger or highly or­nate ac­cent fur­ni­ture re­quires ad­e­quate “breath­ing” space or may over­whelm a con­tem­po­rary in­te­rior. Be­fore com­mit­ting to a pur­chase, con­sider colour, pro­por­tion and func­tion. An ideal piece should en­hance and har­monise with your in­te­rior – and prove a great con­ver­sa­tion starter to boot.

(Clock­wise from top left) An­tique Nonya col­lectibles are now sought af­ter by col­lec­tors around the world; Beaded slip­pers are iconic of the tra­di­tional Nonya out­fit; An­tique Per­anakan fur­ni­ture can fit har­mo­niously into a mod­ern set­ting; Vin­tage pieces...

Once con­sid­ered too old-fash­ioned for mod­ern homes, the clas­sic look of Per­anakan-styled in­te­ri­ors are gain­ing favour with young home­own­ers now; Peter Wee

(Top to bot­tom) The geo­met­ric forms of vin­tage Per­anakan de­signs make ideal com­ple­ments to mid-cen­tury mod­ern fur­ni­ture; Alvin Yap; Dress up the home with th­ese colour­ful tif­fin con­tain­ers

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