B. Peranakan Interior Decoration.

During my stay in George Town, I had the pleasure of visiting Pinang Peranakan Mansion. The mansion’s interior decoration incorporated elements from around the world in a rich and eclectic style. There were tables, chairs and couches from China, carved of stone or crafted from wood and inlaid with pearl. Cast iron from Scotland graced the balustrades and balconies. Decorative tiles and stained glass from England embellished the walls. Then there were the vast collections arranged in countless cabinets. These included ornaments from Germany and England, tea and dining sets from China and Europe, and intricately crafted clothing, jewellery and accessories which combined Malay and Chinese fashion and tradition.

The mansion lobby. In this single image, there is the Scottish cast iron balustrade (top left), Chinese furniture (foreground and background), and English tiles (background). (own photo)

This concept of mixing cultures and styles is not unlike the decorating trends of today. In fact, in recent years, many home decorators and designers have moved away from the “matchy-matchy” style of everything being the same. Furniture of like material, soft furnishings of identical patterns and rigid colour coordination are becoming outdated. Instead, being embraced are combinations of seemingly mismatched elements of style, texture, material and colour. As Sherrill Whiton bluntly puts it, ‘Self-consciousness is in evidence when historical or identical forms have been used excessively, or with too great accuracy for “correctness.”…Good decoration is not produced by “packaged schemes” that cannot contain the necessary elements of individuality or taste’ (Whiton 2013). Designers and creatives today are more aware of these issues and skilfully combine different things they love to create cohesive and harmonious visual styles.

interior decor
Modern interior decoration. Note the differences in furniture, surface and texture. (Samuel 2015)

‘We live in a “remix culture.” Today, many cultural and lifestyle arenas – music, fashion, design, art, web applications, user-created media, food – are governed by remixes, fusions, collages, or mash-ups.’ (Manovich 2007) So states Lev Manovich in his article, “Understanding Hybrid Media”. It is as if to fulfill a need resulting from easy access to the abundance of knowledge and resources that surrounds us. Some seek to create something fresh. Others endeavour to compile and preserve as a whole all that they love, no matter how different the elements may be. Thus we have brought about this ‘hybrid revolution’.

Peranakan culture is not new. It dates back to the 1400s to 1600s when intermarriage between Chinese immigrants and Malays took place. The resultant rich heritage of their descendants was a vibrant hybridity of Malay and Chinese, ‘intermixed into a fascinating synthesis with elements of Javanese, Batak, Thai and British cultures’ (Lee 2008). From this perspective, the Peranakans were truly advanced, for they created and embraced hybridity centuries before this trend took the rest of the world by storm.

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Whiton, S. 2013, ‘Standards of Taste and Design’, in Anonymous Elements Of Interior Design And Decoration, Read Books Ltd, Redditch, Worcestershire, .

Samuel, S. S. 2015, Rustic Modern Before & After, Sarah Sherman Samuel, viewed 30 April 2016, <http://sarahshermansamuel.com/rustic-modern-before-after/&gt;.

Manovich, L. 2007, ‘Understanding Hybrid Media‘, <http://manovich.net/index.php/projects/understanding-hybrid-media&gt;.

Lee, S.K. 2008, International Journal of the Malay World and Civilisation (Formerly SARI), , no. 26, pp. 161.


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