Blog : Colonial

Unique Heritage Buildings Evokes Memories of KL’s Beautiful Past

Unique Heritage Buildings Evokes Memories of KL’s Beautiful Past

Charming colonial buildings nestled amidst Kuala Lumpur’s sleek, glittering towers are beautiful reminders of the former mining town’s colorful past. It all began from where the two rivers, Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak, met. A confluence of ideas gave rise to ten awe-inspiring masterpieces.


Each heritage building has its unique story to tell. Spare some time to catch them up close and be transported back to the good old days of colonial Kuala Lumpur. Let’s pay them a visit one at a time.


– Sultan Abdul Samad Building –



Built to house the British administration in 1897, the Sultan Abdul Samad features Moorish arches and Mughal-inspired onion-shaped copper domes. It’s a far cry from architect A.C. Norman’s original idea: to leave behind a classic British masterpiece.

Following state engineer Charles Edwin Spooner’s suggestion to construct something more in tune with the local culture and religion, the domes and arches became a beautiful contrast to the quintessentially British 41-meter clock tower.


– City Theater –


Indian and Arabic architectural influences are just as evident on this former City Hall, with its cream-colored arches and the majestic dome gracing the front porch.

Designed by architect A.B. Hubback, the building was finally completed in 1904. As the local Malays started reclaiming their administrative rights, the building began losing its initial purpose and was eventually converted into one of the finest theaters.


– High Court Building –



Located just next door to the City Theater is the former High Court. You’ll instantly notice the architecture of the two buildings are similar yet unmistakably distinctive in their own way.

Function clearly defines form; the High Court was where justice was served and this serious, sombre purpose was reflected through its more masculine features and the foreboding double-pillared corridors. It’s a completely different feel from the City Theater’s more welcoming, feminine features, like the frilly silhouettes in its arches.


– Government Printing Office –


Take note of the sweeping long windows. Step indoors and you’ll notice a lack of obstructing pillars. This intentional design is crucial for its former purpose in 1899, serving as the government printing office.

As this was at a time before electricity was available, the printers needed all the natural light they could get to assemble each page of the newspapers. Besides news from back home in Britain, the printers went on to produce popular publications at the time like the Selangor Journal.


– Chartered Bank Building –


Also designed by A.C. Norman, this building was first used to host the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, due to its close proximity to the police headquarters (where Bukit Aman currently is). Incorporating a similarly Mughal style, its horseshoe arches and scalloped windows are perfectly complemented by the four roof-top domes, made from Sarawakian timber.

KL’s tendency to flood resulted in one of the most peculiar stories in the city’s history, where in 1926 the drenched millions of dollars in the vault had to be spread on the opposite field to dry in the sun.


– Royal Selangor Club –



There are two buildings in the city that followed a wholly British design, in honor of A.C. Norman’s initial intention with the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, The Royal Selangor Club is one of them. The clubhouse employs a classic Tudor style, defined by its signature black and white façade.

Due to flooding problems, the clubhouse was initially built on stilts. Today, it remains one of the most prestigious clubs in the country, serving as a socializing spot for the crème de la crème of Malaysia.

The Colonial Style in Cambodia

The Colonial Style in Cambodia

The colonial style is apparent, but most of the buildings were designed with appropriate adaptations to fit in with the hot and humid climate.

/// Cambodia ///

Story: Virak Roeun



The “Place de la Poste” Square with the Cambodia Post building in background
Neoclassical features on the front façade of Cambodia Post Building

The French colonial style of architecture is apparent, but most of the buildings were designed with appropriate adaptations to fit in with the hot and humid climate. They included design features, décor ideas, and ornaments well suited for the local environment, examples of which are obvious on the façade of the Postal Service Building. Built in 1895, Cambodia Post showcases wooden louver windows and doors, high ceilings and solid brick walls designed to keep the heat out. Opposite it stands the former Hotel Manolis, where Monsieur André Malraux, a celebrated novelist and first minister of culture of France, stayed in the 1920s. Since 1979 it has become a private residence. The Cambodia Post building looks extraordinarily good on a grand scale, but the abandoned Central Police Commissariat nearby is probably more elaborate in design. Its exterior appears to be neglected, but inside, the corridors and the rooms are never directly exposed to the elements and the heat.

The former Hotel Manolis exhibits an architectural style prevalent during the French colonial era.
Terraced houses reminiscent of old-world Europe lie opposite the Manolis.
An original wooden staircase inside the Manolis
A room number plate stands the test of time at the former hotel Manolis.
The former water tank of the hotel Manolis
Original tile flooring at the Manolis tells a story of its long and arduous journey through time.
Vendors set up shop in front of the abandoned Central Police Commissariat in Phnom Penh.
Mirror images of design details are evident throughout this building from colonial era.
The entrance to the former Bank of Indochina
Ipoh / A Journey Back In Time

Ipoh / A Journey Back In Time

Foods, retail shops, and buildings that evoke wistful affection for the past are three things that have drawn us to Ipoh.It’s nice to be back to find those gorgeous old hotels and cafe’s doing very well indeed.

/// Malaysia ///

Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// English Version: Bob Pitakwong /// Photography: Sitthisak Namkham

A lone Ipoh tree, its namesake, thrives in the front yard of the town’s train station. In times past, sap from the Ipoh was the main ingredient in making poison-tipped arrows that kill.
Old meets new. Creative wall painting ideas add life to the distressed interior of an old-town cafe popular among visitors.
A mixed variety of buns comes crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

The old town sits on the west bank of the Kinta River. Here colonial architecture abounds, the most important landmark of which is Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab. The white Neo-Classic piece of architecture on Club Road is dubbed Ipoh’s Taj Mahal. In front of it stands a lone Ipoh tree, the town’s namesake. In times past, sap from the tree was used as the main ingedient in making poison-tipped arrows that kill. Cross the street, and we come before the majestic Town Hall and nearby Postal Service Building. Beautifully kept Neo-Classic details in shades of white indicate they were products of the colonial period.


The train station is a beautiful piece of architecture.Pardon the appearances. The Majestic Hotel located inside is closed for renovation.
A well-kept postal service building is a graceful sight across from the train station.


The Church of St John The Divine.
The St Michael’s Institution

The city’s main drag leads further north to the historic Church of St John The Divine. At one time it was regarded the largest house of worship in Malaysia when it was completed in 1912. The structure was crafted of building materials known for the best qualities inyears gone by.The exterior walls showcased bare brickwork made of coconut-shell fibers mixed with sugar and egg white to create strong biding agents. There is school, known as the St Michael’s Institution, standing right next to it, as well as a mosque, called Padang.

A journey down memory lane. Well preserved row houses line the peaceful thoroughfare of old-town Ipoh.



Small old-styled shops dot both sides ofPanglima Lane, or Concubine Lane,famed for its cobblestone look.
Walls covered in satirical graffiti abound in public places across town.
One of Malaysia’s oldest restaurants, the FMS, stands graciously on the corner.
Vine-covered shop facades speak to an unhurried lifestyle in this nostalgic part of town.


Left: Tenaca Nasional, Malaysia’s main energy provider, also has an office here in this magnificently kept building. Right: Distressed walls along a shopping arcadeevoke nostalgic feelings on a journey down memory lane.
Retailers showcase interesting arrays of handicraft goods on the covered passageway of Sekeping Hong Heng, an Ipoh neighborhood.

Heading south we come to a commercial district on Jalan Sultan Yussufand Jalan Dato Maharajalela Roads. The areaknown for old-world charms is home to beautiful restaurants, including those dubbed the oldest of Malaysia.There are a few Japanese-owned photo studios that have been here since the 1930s. Rumors had it that they were here to gather intelligence during those thrilling days of yesteryear. Convincingly enough, the Imperial Japanese Army came ashore in 1941.


The Old Town White Coffee, a cafe’ chain ubiquitous across Malaysia, has its origin right here in old Ipoh.
Downtown restaurants are packed when the day is done. There is nothing like mouthwatering collections of recipes, for which Ipoh is famous. Take-outs are available, too.
It makes my day to drop into a local delicatessen offering Chinese-style flaky buns rich in creamy fillings, Xiang Bin.

It’s impossible not to mention the good foodsthat have attracted visitors to Malaysia, and Ipoh for that matter. White Coffee,the famous cofe’ chain, was born here. The same applied to pomelo, dubbed the king of citrus fruits, and Chinese-style flaky buns with creamy filling. Find them at any local delecatessen.  whilst here, look for the greatest taste of the country – Hunan chicken with rice served with bean sprouts the authentic Malaysian way. It’s heaven on earth. And it’s not just those visitors. Malasians from across the nation are drawn here in droves. Ipoh is situated just 200 kilometers by car from the capital Kuala Lumpur.



A memorial in honor of war victims stands in front of the train station.




Chinoiserie Chic / Timeless Wood Décor Charm

Chinoiserie Chic / Timeless Wood Décor Charm

Chinoiserie style brings out the charm of wood crafted panel and East Asian traditional décor.

/// Thailand /// 

Story: Attavanti /// Photo: Rithirong Chanthongsuk /// Architect: Kanit Tantiwong /// Interior Designer: Suwannee Chanthai


We have seen many Chinese-style homes built on ground level. This one sits on higher ground. Naturally, it is more difficult to build a home on a slope. But the homeowner decided to give it a go to this land in Phuket.

One of the hallway walls is covered in Chinese calligraphic tiles imported from China. The pieces demonstrate the evolution of one word – “Fu” meaning wealth.

The property spans across a land of almost an acre. The 5-unit complex is based on an O-shaped plan with the main villa at the center surrounded by single-story annexes scattered across the landscape. Inspired by arcade designs, a garden pathway runs along the edges of the roof providing access to all units.

According to Voranuch Saencharoen who owns the place, a grassy hill at the center court reflect traditional Chinese wisdom. “The house was originally belonged to a Western gentleman and his wife. At that time, the land was half an acre. When we bought the place, a Feng Shui master recommended us to expand the space to an adjacent land.”

The main villa on the hilltop looks out over the contoured landscape with the bedroom annex for children to the left. The lush courtyard with tall trees descends slightly to other parts of the residential complex.


Kanit Tantiwong, a friend of the family, was responsible for the design. He initially came up with a beautiful Modern Balinese design, but the owner insisted on going the Sino-Portuguese style. Most of Sino-Portugese buildings are shophouses, not detached house. As a result, the designer and the homeowner had to do a lot of research.

As the construction got underway, Voranuch was seeking for materials from both inbound and abroad. “To me, building this house is also an experience to learn new things. For example, I learned that white plaster was used in the old days to cover wall cracks but it’s sensitive to humidity. So, I had to search for a solution and finally found one.”


Voranuch took care of the décor, while her other half, Thanawat Surachetkhomson was responsible for the structural enhancement and construction. Antique Chinese-style door panels were assembled from various origins, including Phuket, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. The roof was inspired by ancient Korean homes, which in turn was influenced by Chinese architecture. The roof tiles were custom made in Thailand, with some tweaks in design. A vintage-looking charcoal stove was inspired by one of Voranuch’s trip to Phuket Museum. Only this one is using gas instead of charcoal.

A floor-to-ceiling glass opening allows natural light into the workspace. The office door is an old Chinese-style panel.
Equipped with modern furniture, the living room differs from other interior spaces. Running-bond brick walls add a vintage feel.

Above all, seems like the charm of chinoiserie-style lies in the house’s old-fashioned doors and window. Ceiling-height windows were equipped with plantation shutters at the top and ventilation grids were added where necessary, creating a good balance between the old and the new.


A sundeck and a veranda stretching from the main villa surrounded by an infinity pool in the backyard.


The wood-crafted door and windows with elaborate details of Sino-Portuguese characters.


A Retro Loft House with Colonial Accents

A Retro Loft House with Colonial Accents

Situated in Selangor state, Malaysia, the three-storey retro loft house redesigned by Ramesh Seshan is the one with endless possibility.

/// Malaysia /// 

Architect: Seshan Design, by Ramesh Seshan /// Story : Supachart Boontag /// Photos : Rithirong Chanthongsuk

High ceilings and tall sliding glass brighten and enlarge the appearance of the living room.

Lee Kok Choong, the owner wished to turn the original space into a loft residence. To serve the requirement, Seshan rethought the entire materials and design strategies. Unornamented concrete finishes and exposed brick walls become the center of attention. Rough textures were accentuated while retro Chinese style detailing were added.

The central court features a serene carp fish pond. The mellifluous sound of water fits in well with its loft atmosphere.
The concrete spiral staircase in the hallway stands ready to extend a warm welcome to the second-floor living spaces.
For a lightweight look, concrete flooring on the bridge is replaced by thick tempered glass panels.

The building is now rich in outstanding features. The Hong Kong colonial-inspired opening area adorns the second floor. Geometric-shape ceramic tile was custom-made for flooring, which matched well with wrought iron detailing on safety handrails.

The façade is covered by rustic-style panels resembling a those from a so-called Jawa’s spacecraft in Star Wars. Its spiral staircase is interestingly crafted from naked concrete and black metal meshes, reflecting an industrial loft style.

The main kitchen is located next to the living area for convenience. The floor is covered in smooth, green marble, while exposed bricks add a hint of interest to nearby walls.

Each floor has its own character. Flooring on the ground level is covered with green marble imported from india, while Rosa Levanto or red marble adds a bold personality to a living room on the second floor. And the third floor is unexpectedly switched to various concrete surfaces. The interior is also come with a fun twist. Instead of using a bar stools, vintage barber chairs are placed in front of a bar counter. An antique cabinet and aged décor items are also in use here.


Concrete spiral stairs lead to living spaces on the second and third floors.

The U-shaped floor plan features a central court that opens to natural light. The light and airy atmosphere are further enhanced by large glass doors. Even though the design was influences by many styles and the house was invested in different material, the architect had finally managed to keep the overall retro loft look in unity. It’s safe to say the house is both comfortable and at the same time, unique.

Huge rust-colored panels serve as blinds for the spacious en suite bedroom.
Different color marble floors mark the boundaries between the bedroom and the adjoining bath.


The opening area on the second floor is inspired by the traditional way of life in old Hong Kong. The Blank and white stripe bamboo blinds are influenced by a popular design during Malaysian colonial period.


The Modern Malaysia House design brings out cool personality of the Retro-Loft style inspired by the Colonial way of life in old Hong Kong.


Contemporary House in Myanmar

Contemporary House in Myanmar

Ensconced in the hustle of downtown Yangon, an artsy house in Myanmar provides a showcase for a confluence of ideas from different styles, places, and times.

/// Myanmar ///

Architect: Spine Architects Co, Ltd /// Photo: Rithirong Chanthongsuk

A white mansion features the mix of a Contemporary style wing and Colonial style architecture as a story of ongoing change in modern-day Yangon.

This unique artsy house puts an innovative spin on traditions of years gone by. The mansions near a busy market on Nawaday road, with a warm welcome by Min Han, the owner.

The three-story home has many interesting features that apparently blend well to form a uniform mixture. For example a Modern style wing, which stands in perfect harmony with the Colonial style mansion. The new addition is the original structure being left largely intact. Other than that, the floors are improved and refinished, while room dividers are remade to create a light and airy atmosphere on the inside. In front of the house stands a two-story family business building, where traditional Myanmese snacking meals are sold, including “Yuzana Pickled Tea.” Nearby, a fence that separates an ample parking lot from the main compound also protects the family from the noise and hubbub of the big city.

Dark brown wood dominates decorative details inside the first-floor hallway. Unique features such as large bay windows are preserved with the Contemporary style wing.

“In fact, I am not much of an artist. But I like collecting works of art, especially those of U Maung Maung Hla Myint, who is nationally known for his bright color paintings. With vivid color paintings, to make the space more lively,” said Min Han.

The stairway with high ceiling is bedecked with paintings and sculptures evoking memories of a private art gallery.

At the center of the house, the architects put in a single steel staircase with glass railing. Inside spaces are illuminated by natural light, and the highlight is the simple addition of a skylight on the third floor, which impacts the interior space. Overall, the appearance is light and airy despite decorative details being made of wood in dark colors.

The sitting room on the second floor is naturally illuminated by a skylight above the stairway.

In the meantime, electricity is arranged in the same fashion as an art gallery. There are spotlights on the installations, which make the interior spaces look very neat. As a private gallery, the hallway has become a rendezvous for friends and relatives as well.

A small dining area is adorned with beautiful works of art from the owner’s private collections.
The bedroom’s white interior contrasts with dark brown colors of wood beams, posts, and ceiling joists.
Interior spaces are well-lit thanks to extra windows on the top edge of the wall and enlarged doors.
A spacious studio in the back confirms that a music lover lives here.

The homeowner not only paid attention to detail but also actively participated in making design decisions every step of the way. For example the location of each artwork, which had to be decided from day one to create perfect harmony. All told, it is a beautiful artsy house. It is an art gallery. And it testifies to the homeowner’s taste for something different.

The shower room is plain and simple. Attention to detail is reflected in the use of different materials for dry and wet floors.
The upright structural support is crafted of wood posts. To make it easy on the eye, all sharp edges are removed. /// The staircase is built of gloss finish materials such as stainless steel and glass. For lightweight looks, the single staircase design needs no risers.



Terraced House Renovation

Terraced House Renovation

Terraced houses are ubiquitous throughout Singapore, many of which are well preserved to showcase the country’s rich architectural heritage and history of British Colonial rule. Many of them change to better serve business and residential needs of the modern world. This handsome terraced house is no exception.

/// Singapore /// 

Interior Design: Alan Barr and Phaswan Promphat /// Story : Warapsorn Akkhaneeyut /// Photos : Sitthisak Namkham

Part of the top floor becomes a small sky garden.

This terraced house belongs to Alan Barr and Phaswan Promphat, both of whom interior designers. Alan has had an experience living in big cities, such as New York, before the job sent him across the globe to settle in Singapore nine years ago. He didn’t arrive empty-handed, but with furniture and other prized possessions. Over time Alan transformed the old townhouse into a trendy residential unit, incorporating a touch of New York in the prevailing climatic conditions of Singapore.

The spaces between Colonial-style arch windows are filled with bookshelves that stand tall from floor to ceiling.
Part of the living room is remodeled into a workplace. The table is custom made from discarded materials.

The home has a narrow front façade, but the narrow width is compensated by depth, a design feature typical of Sino-Portuguese architecture. The front part has since been remade to accommodate lattice awnings from floor to ceilings. They serve as privacy curtains while shielding the interior from direct sunlight without limiting air circulation. From the outside in, it looks like any two-story home. Step in and you will find it is actually a three-story design. The ground floor now serves as carport and storage facilities. A set of stairs takes us to the second floor that is the living room and kitchen with a spacious dining area. The home office is here, too. From the living room, there is another set of stairs leading to the bedroom on the third floor.

An armchair and a round coffee table adorn the relaxed living room in chocolate and cream tones.
Antique-inspired décor items line the hallway leading to a relaxed living space in the rear of the building.
A room with corner sofa and the large coffee table has enough space to entertain a circle of friends. The backsplash is covered in ceramic tiles made to look like bricks.
The living room floor is covered in a patchwork of carpets crafted of donkey hide that is soft to the touch. /// A niche under the staircase has enough room for a mini-bar.

He said: “This home used to be a design studio. The interior was just about right. It looked like a home, but it was not. At the time it was an office and it had no kitchen. So when we got it, we had to put in one. I like the layout of this home very much. I divide it into two simple zones – general, and privacy. The top floor is served by two separate sets of stairs. The attic has since become an office. Space is divided to store decorative works on one side and use as a workstation on the other.”

Set in gray and black tones, the kitchen comes fully equipped with stainless steel fixtures. Dark colored backsplash adds a nostalgic vibe to the atmosphere.
The stairway leads to the snug bedroom on one side of the upper floor.
The staff’s office is located on the opposite side of the upper floor to ensure the residential area is not disturbed.

“The second-floor dining room serves multiple purposes, from eating and entertaining customers, to meetings and project presentations. Personally, I don’t like an office hemmed in by glass walls supported by steel or other metal frames. Offices in much of Singapore are like that. I want a different kind of workplace, in which to impress the customers with different experiences. Most of them like it here, whether it is furniture or decorative items that we have on hand.”

The conference table and chairs are placed closer to the wall lined with storage shelves.

As a whole, the interior spaces are neatly designed and well-appointed. Décor items from various places are placed in perfect harmony with one another. As he puts it, good furnishings don’t always have to be expensive if you know how. Alan has given this old terraced house a chic modern makeover with a hint of interest and personality.