Ray­mond Lee’s trans­for­ma­tion of a Pe­nang shop­house jux­ta­poses her­itage and moder­nity with sen­si­tiv­ity, flair, and re­fine­ment.

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Ray­mond Lee’s trans­for­ma­tion of a Pe­nang shop­house jux­ta­poses her­itage and moder­nity with sen­si­tiv­ity, flair, and re­fine­ment.

WHO Ni­bong Te­bal based cou­ple who use this as their home away from home

HOME Re­stored 1903 Straits Eclec­tic shop­house

SIZE 7,018sqf

As the of tide of restora­tion projects in Pe­nang surges un­abated in Pe­nang, the in­ner city con­tin­ues to be re­stored to its former glory. One such project is lo­cated along the fa­mous food haven of Kim­berly Street, which had turned di­lap­i­dated through years of ne­glect. It took the com­bined tal­ents of con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect Tan Yeow Wooi, a spe­cial­ist of South­east Asian Chi­nese houses, and KL-based in­te­rior de­signer Ray­mond Lee to trans­form it into a house which re­spected its his­tory, but was also equipped with ev­ery mod­ern lux­ury.

Pre­vi­ously an Indo-Malay bun­ga­low, the house be­gan its life as part of a row of five brick shop­houses built in the late-Straits eclec­tic style in 1903 – rem­i­nis­cent of the long and nar­row Malacca ty­pol­ogy. The owner, a lo­cal busi­ness­man who deals in sal­vaged tim­ber and vin­tage fur­ni­ture met Lee when the de­signer was work­ing on his first Pe­nang project on Lorong Car­navon. “I was re­ally at­tracted to the fact that I was go­ing to be a part of the team to re­store this very el­e­gant town­house and make it a space for con­tem­po­rary liv­ing. The house has good bones, with tall ceil­ings and sev­eral orig­i­nal fea­tures such as the mag­nif­i­cent stair­case still in­tact,” rem­i­nisces Lee.

The restora­tion of the façade, com­plete with full-height Vene­tian win­dows and highly dec­o­ra­tive plas­ter­work fea­tur­ing gar­lands of Sino-Euro­pean flora, was car­ried out by spe­cial­ist crafts­men from China. Coin­ci­den­tally, these skilled ar­ti­sans were in Pe­nang work­ing on the restora­tion of a ma­jor tem­ple, and the ar­chi­tect was able to en­list them to help. The court­yard was also re­stored to its orig­i­nal con­di­tion, with many of the old gran­ite slabs still in­tact.

When Lee first saw the house, it was a war­ren of small and pokey rooms, many with­out win­dows. But the build­ing’s his­tory and prove­nance cap­tured his imag­i­na­tion and he was in­spired to cre­ate a space which ef­fort­lessly balanced the past and present. Lee rec­om­mended that the first floor be reimag­ined into what it would have been a hun­dred years ago - sev­eral large and lux­u­ri­ously spa­cious and well-ap­pointed bed­rooms. They fi­nally landed on four be­spoke suites, each with at­tached bath­rooms cladded with Ital­ian mar­ble and top-ofthe-range fit­tings.

As for the in­te­ri­ors, Lee con­fesses that he was in­spired to cre­ate a haven which blended Asian vin­tage chic with a con­tem­po­rary fla­vor: “Just the mere thought of be­ing able to trans­form a ne­glected, badly-ren­o­vated-over-the-year­sprop­erty to a beau­ti­ful and func­tional home for my clients was in­spi­ra­tion enough. Also, my ex­ten­sive trav­els all over Asia – Sri Lanka, Laos, and In­done­sia – have ex­posed me to many dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal prop­er­ties, pri­vate homes and ho­tels

alike, that have been lov­ingly re-adapted for mod­ern ev­ery­day use.”

Draw­ing on his pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with restora­tion projects and his pas­sion for her­itage, Lee de­ci­sively as­sessed what could be kept, what needed to be re­stored, and what had to be added. “The par­ti­tion in the main hall was miss­ing from the house when the prop­erty was pur­chased. But with a stroke of good luck, we were able to find a frame that fit­ted the space. Some of the orig­i­nal carv­ings were still in­tact and we had carv­ings made to com­plete the par­ti­tion. The tim­ber lat­tice-work pan­els up­stairs was re­stored and painted white, con­trast­ing with Balau wood floor­boards. For the bath­rooms, we added new mar­ble fin­ishes for a lux­u­ri­ous touch - white Car­rera mar­ble was used to clad the walls while grey Em­per­ado mar­ble was used for the floor of the bath­rooms, con­trasted with a black Ab­so­luto gran­ite van­ity top. New vin­tage style en­caus­tic floor tiles were used in the din­ing and liv­ing room, fac­ing the court­yard which has vin­tage gran­ite blocks. Through­out the project, we were for­tu­nate enough to work with many skilled lo­cal crafts­men from Pe­nang and the nearby states,” en­thuses Lee.

The fur­nish­ings are a mix of vin­tage and mod­ern with many fur­ni­ture pieces, in­clud­ing a pair of

orig­i­nal Tok Pan­jang din­ing ta­bles, sourced from vin­tage and an­tique store in Pe­nang and nearby states. Within these se­lec­tions, Lee also in­cluded store bought pieces of a more con­tem­po­rary bent from Ja­nine, Gu­dang, Ur­ban Edge, and Ash­ley Homes, with rugs from Nasim Car­pets. Ro­man­tic four poster beds and night stands which take pride of place in the bed­rooms were cus­tom de­signed and made lo­cally in Pe­nang. The fin­ish­ing touches in­clude a metic­u­lously-cu­rated col­lec­tion of art­work com­pris­ing mostly Malaysian artists from Pe­nang and the North­ern States, such as Dato Tang Hon Yin and Koay Soo Kau, sourced from the Ga­leri Seni Mu­tiara in Georgetown.

Now that the home is com­pleted, it’s a great credit to Lee that the tran­si­tion be­tween old and new feels so seam­less. In­deed, the de­signer con­fesses that he has a nat­u­ral affin­ity to such projects: “This is my sec­ond such project in Pe­nang. For my pre­vi­ous project in Malacca, we re­stored the fa­cade of the prop­erty but to­tally re­fit­ted the in­te­ri­ors in a mod­ern con­tem­po­rary style. As a de­signer of Per­anakan her­itage, it’s a dream come true to be a part of this project. For­tu­nately, I was able to draw on my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of the Straits Chi­nese cul­ture and my ex­po­sure to the var­i­ous types of ren­o­va­tion and con­ser­va­tion projects around the world, par­tic­u­larly in and around Asia.”

Tim­ber lat­tice­work pan­els up­stairs were re­stored and painted white, lend­ing the bed­rooms a ro­man­tic retro feel.

LEFT The main hall and liv­ing area is sep­a­rated by a tra­di­tional screen which was bought af­ter the prop­erty was pur­chased and re­stored us­ing its orig­i­nal carv­ings as a guide.


OP­PO­SITE CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP The court­yard has been equipped with a mod­ern re­tractable sky­light and a 19th-cen­tury buy­ong (wa­ter urn) to catch rain wa­ter. Mod­ern arm­chairs are jux­ta­posed against tra­di­tional black­wood pieces to great ef­fect. A serene...

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