Sunday, April 01, 2007

Peranakan Houses

One thing which I feel gives Katong its distinctive atmosphere is its buildings, in particular the charming Peranakan buildings in the area. The Peranakans settled in Katong many years ago, as did the Eurasians. The Eurasians tended to stay in single-storey bungalows but the Peranakans built their unusual, charming east-west fusion homes and these line parts of East Coast, Joo Chiat and surrounding roads.

The houses are painted in pastel colours, with elaborate floral or animal moulding or decorative tiles adorning the facade. The roofs have wooden fringes, painted in matching colours. The houses appear deceptively narrow from the front - but once inside, the building stretches well beyond the front facade. Apparently, property taxes in Malacca were based on the length of the house fronting the street. So buildings were built narrow but long, and this particular architectural design spread also to Penang and Singapore.

Peranakan houses typically have a little veranda in front. The front entrance typically has two doors - the first is a half door, or pintu pagar (this literally means door fence, or a gate, but in this context is a half door), and the second is a proper door. The pintu pagar allows for ventilation, whilst at the same time maintaining privacy.

On entering a Peranakan house, there is a small front entrance room - a parlour, for receiving guests. In my relatives' home in Penang, this had the family photos in it - a large photo of our revered ancestor who had come over from China, a picture of the extended family many many years ago (I'm not in it). But just behind this room is the large family room where all the action would take place. Here is where the dining area is, and the family living area where (today) people watch television, listen to music etc. Here is where also the inner courtyard is located, letting sun and light into the middle of the house. The kitchen lies beyond that. On the second floor, the front room would typically have a little peephole in the floor. Looking down through the peephole, the residents would be able to check out visitors to the house before going downstairs to let them in. The shortcoming of these old houses is that often they live with old plumbing systems, so the bathrooms are in the back of the house and maybe there would be only one, on the ground floor....

Many Peranakan houses have been put to other uses these days. Along Joo Chiat Road, they hold coffee shops, karaoke bars, hotels, and in some cases, art galleries. Following complaints that there was too much, um, street action taking place in the area, pub licences have not been renewed. The ladies of the night are moving out and the creative crowd, slowly coming in. Which is all very well but it is also nice to see that the 60 year old bakery is still going strong at one end of Joo Chiat Road. Together they create the unique blend of old and new, of tradition and innovation, in this charming corner of Singapore.


  1. I have found your blog through Thank you for this post. Now I am better able to appreciate why the Peranakan houses tend to be narrow.

  2. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment, oceanskies!

  3. Thank you, this is a great site. The photos are beautiful.
    I am a graduate gastronomy student who is planning to do my dissertation on Peranakan cuisine. It can be hard to gather information from over here in Australia, but sites like yours help so much.
    I have had a long love affair with SE Asia (I chose to get married in Penang) and feel like I have come home every time I visit. Thank you again for sharing.

  4. Dear Rosie, thanks for your sweet comment!
    Glad you found my blog of interest.

  5. Thanks for posting the pictures! I miss home! Haha.

  6. Hi! may i know what is the address of this area? I would love to visit it!


  7. hi faith,
    photos were taken on koon seng road, off joo chiat road.

  8. Thank you! This information helped me alot in my project work on peranakan houses!:D

  9. very nice.... I love it <3



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