A Majestic Legacy, Penang


Photography by A. Chester Ong

This residence was purchased by Chung Keng Quee in 1893 and has now been fully restored. It has been refitted and transformed into the Pinang Peranakan Mansion to house a portion of the extensive collection of artifacts owned by connoisseur Peter Soon. Chung Keng Quee, one of the great tin magnates of the Straits Settlements, was not a Peranakan himself, yet bequeathed a late Victorian mansion of substantial magnificence that serves well to showcase the traditions and lifestyles of Baba and Nyonya families in times past.

This view looking across the skywell reveals the extravagant use of cast-iron columns, brackets, and balustrades as well as the varying patterns within the adjacent semi-enclosed spaces around the atrium-like space.

The imposing triple-bay ironworks of the protruding second-floor balcony over this side entrance nonetheless helped elevate its status to that of a handsome “main” entry. Above the entryway was placed a horizontal board with the characters rongyang, meaning “Glorious Sun/Yang,” an especially auspicious invocation that is repeated elsewhere in calligraphy within the residence. Just inside the door is a sitting area with a table that opens to an extraordinary courtyard-like skywell with a granite impluvium, a slightly sunken area that drains rainwater falling into the building. A rich ensemble of cast-iron columns, brackets and balusters helps elevate this space from being simply a traditional Chinese building element to one that proclaims “modernity”. Patterned English tiles cover both the surrounding floor surfaces and the adjacent rooms.


The grand staircase to the second floor has a polished wooden handrail and balusters of painted cast iron in a fleur-de-lis pattern. The plan of the second floor duplicates that of the first with two large rooms and four small rooms arranged around the balconied space of the courtyard below. Except for the wooden floors, solid doors with fanlights, and exterior shuttered windows with wrought- and caste-iron trim, the rooms visited today display Peranakan artifacts, clothing, and furniture from Peter Soon’s extensive collection.

This article was published in the February 2016 issue of Inspire Living Magazine. Download it here!