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Peranakan Trail – A walk within NUS Baba House


We visited the famous NUS Baba House located at Neil Road, together with our in-house designers as we embarked on a cultural experience trail searching for inspirations for the oncoming collection.

The NUS Baba House came about through a wealthy donation by the youngest daughter of Tun Tan Cheng Lock, who inherited his will to preserve Nyonya culture in Singapore and Malacca in modern era. The house has went through a restoration during the period of 2006 to 2008 showcasing the domestic culture of the Peranakan community in its rightful context.

The three of us were part of a small group tour of 12 touring the house along with a tour guide.  We
were introduced to the reception hall in the front of the house, where we heard a little on the brief history of the Peranakans in Singapore and how they peaked during the 1920s as wealthy merchants of the sea. Subsequently our attention was diverted to the colour of the house which was painted in an odd shade of aquamarine – Apparently we have had one nonya following the tour, which was rather helpful as she raises some interesting pointers.

According to her, the wealthy Peranakans picked outstanding colours such as the aquamarine as an expression of their wealth to accentuate their status to the public. Then we were introduced to the beautiful furniture in the reception hall, all heavily decorated with motifs and mother pearl. Sadly, no photos are allowed inside, so there isn’t much opportunity for us to feature these furniture.

Next, we moved outside when we were introduced to the Peranakan decorations – which were mainly made out of phoenix and peony. It was said that the phoenix represents stability and harmony, while the peony – also known as the King of Flowers, symbolises wealth. It was said that together, they would mean that “in times of difficulty or goodness, may you always be blessed with stability, harmony and wealth”.

We then head back, into the next room when we were welcomed by an array of old portraits and photographs of the family. Somehow rather than actually paying attention to the tour guide, we were actually captivated by the air well, which had the traditional tile engravings mounted just beneath the air well windows. They were beautifully carved, featuring flower motifs which were vibrant in colours and impressively elegant. Upstairs, we visited the main bedroom where the old lady would have stayed, her bed was against the wall and the other smaller bed – which I assume was for her children was placed adjacent to hers. There were a number of cupboards and a smaller cabinet which was said to specially contain only handkerchiefs.

On the third floor, we were greeted with a modern exhibition, which features batik work from artists expressing interest in combining cultural content with modern art. It was frankly a slight disappointment as we thought that two levels of cultural immersion do not seem to satisfy our insatiable interest for the Peranakan culture.  Nonetheless, we were still thankful of NLB for providing this opportunity for us to tour the given house for free! So we shall just call it quits.

The tour was about an hour and a half, and we sincerely hoped we could have stayed longer to study the infrastructure, as well as the ornaments found in the shop house. We would love to return to NUS Baba house if possible.

Beautiful Motif Tiles emphasising on flowers, a pair of phoenix on the front roof
(Beautiful Motif Tiles emphasising on flowers, a pair of phoenix on the front roof)

flowery motif of peony, which symbolises prosperity

(flowery motif of peony, which symbolises prosperity)


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