Cover The inside of this Penang shophouse in Malaysia is a paragon of modern living space. Photography by Lin Ho

These heritage homes show the many ways that shophouses can be redesigned to accommodate to their owners’ tastes and lifestyle while celebrating their historic roots

With their ornate detailing and multicultural influences, shophouse abodes have certainly won the hearts of many homeowners and designers alike. Their historical charm becomes celebrated and elevated in the following shophouses we have featured, which combine their heritage setting with modern designs and contemporary accents to give these structures a new lease of life while updating the spaces for everyday living.

Take inspiration from these stunning homes, which each offer a different take on turning a historic haven into a personalised home.

Don’t miss: Dream Homes: The Tatler Guide to Buying a Shophouse in Singapore

1. A Singapore Shophouse with Retro Influences

Even without undertaking major renovation work, former gallerist Susanne Weber and her husband have managed to turn this shophouse unit in central Singapore into a cosy haven. The bright and light-filled abode is filled with a vibrant array of artworks and furnishings, each hand-picked by Weber to combine her love of mid-century modern designs with Asian influences while celebrating her passion for art.

In case you missed it: Home Tour: A Stylish Shophouse in Singapore Filled With Retro Influences

The lofty attic areas are among Weber’s favourite spaces in the home, representing a slice of calm for the couple as well as their guests. It also provided Weber the opportunity to purchase some designer furnishings and iconic collections that she has long had her eye on; these include the Ligne Roset Togo sofa and settees by Michel Ducaroy from Grafunkt, as well as the Lindsey Adelman pendant lights repurposed as wall sconces for the attic.

“I have a weakness for high ceilings, which might have started during my days in Berlin where my workplace was in a beautiful David Chipperfield-designed building with a double-volume ceiling,” says Weber. “I really like the airy feeling of such spacious rooms that gives me a sense of freedom and calm. This is one of my favourite characteristics of the house.”

2. A Black-and-White Shophouse in Singapore

Glamour and heritage can come beautifully together, as this 2,250sqft shophouse abode in Singapore would show; it combines its art deco elements with a striking black-and-white palette and various playful touches. With interiors thoughtfully crafted by Design Intervention, this shophouse in Singapore features a playful spin on its modern influences by taking a cue from the eclectic work of Italian artist Piero Fornasetti.

Read more: Home Tour: A Black-and-White Singapore Shophouse with Art Deco Influences

Fornasetti’s playful spirit continues throughout the home, with some of his iconic prints featured on wallcoverings and accent cushions. These include the Teatro wallpaper from Cole & Son’s Fornasetti Senza Tempo collection which graces the dining area; perfectly apt as a conversation starter in this social space.

Attention is lavished even on functional features like the lift, to ensure visual continuity throughout the interior. The glass elevator features a black rectangular frame, in the same style as the staircase next to it.

3. A Peranakan Shophouse in Singapore With a Tropical Twist

Cube Associate Design has given 3,905sqft haven a contemporary update, transforming a three-storey Peranakan-style shophouse into a contemporary abode. “Before entering the house, you will be greeted by colourful Peranakan tiles at the veranda, keeping in harmony with the shophouse’s original facade,” says Sarah Tham, founder of Cube Associate Design. “As you enter, the marble floor of the ground-level living room will grab your attention—it features a dramatic series of bold strokes that guides visitors from the living room to the courtyard.”

She adds: “The challenge was to incorporate a modern interior into a charming Peranakan shophouse. The clients wanted an uncluttered, contemporary home; they also wanted better use of the courtyard on the ground level.”

In the courtyard, the vertical garden complements the textures of the granite and lava stone feature wall, which extends into the living corridor to emphasise a seamless flow of the space. Full-height bi-fold and sliding glass doors on the ground floor reinforce the connection between the interior and exterior spaces.

Upstairs, the bedrooms and study feature a calming earthy palette that creates a cosy and cocooning environment. Bathrooms feature modern fittings and an elegant mix of dark wood with modern pendant lights and fittings.

Read more: Home Tour: A Peranakan Shophouse in Singapore With a Colourful, Contemporary Interior

4. A Shophouse in Malaysia with a Modern Interior

A modern loft—that may hardly be the first phrase to come to mind when it comes to shophouse design but this charming home in Malaysia has done indeed just that. The work of Unit One Design, this award-winning shophouse in George Town, Penang, is one of the projects featured in Terrace Transformations in the Tropics, published by Atelier International.

When Jamie Case, the Canadian general manager of The Datai Hotel in Langkawi (1993-2007), and his Singaporean wife Lisa saw this property in 2004, it had a shophouse function with the ground floor operating as a goldsmiths emporium; they decided to make an offer for the house and establish it as their family home. They sought the advice of Kerry Hill, the renowned Australian architect who designed The Datai Hotel and decided on his recommendation to appoint John Ding, a partner in Unit One Design, to undertake the conservation and adaptive reuse of No. 3 Love Lane, back to its original use as a residence.

This design received a PAM (Malaysian Institute of Architects) Award in the Heritage and Adaptive Reuse category circa 2008. The contract drawings for the house were exemplary with an incredible amount of attention given to details. Jamie and Lisa Case raised their son in the house before selling it in 2019, when the house was acquired by its current owners. 

Read more: Home Tour: A Heritage Penang Shophouse Transformed Into A Modern Loft

The main change by the design firm was to create an entrance lobby with a timber screen made from recycled timber and the ground floor plan was opened up to create a continuous reception, living, dining and kitchen space. The lightwell was subsequently sealed at roof level and light enters via a two-storey high window in the east façade designed with glass louvres to permit hot air to escape at the top.

Below the lightwell is a shallow fish pond and a timber bridge that spans from the living to the dining area. The master bedroom was shifted to the rear of the house with an ensuite bathroom and wardrobe. A second bedroom obtains daylight from the lightwell and a window on the east facade. At the front of the house is a third bedroom overlooking the street. At the rear of the house is a narrow courtyard with staghorn ferns on the rear party wall. The insertion of the large vertical window was, nevertheless a masterly move for sunlight to flood the house in the morning.

5. A Eclectic Heritage Shophouse in Penang

It often is a dream come true for many interior designers to work on a historical home. Indeed, Malaysian interior designer Raymond Lee was instantly intrigued when tasked by his client to create a modern, functional home out of a century-old shophouse in Kimberley Street in George Town, Penang.         

“I wanted to respect the architecture of the space, but then again I didn’t want to create a museum-like environment,” says Lee, whose travels throughout Asia have given him first-hand experience in how historic properties can be lovingly adapted for the 21st century. “I wanted a home where my clients are able to enjoy traditionally crafted spaces with all the modern day comforts.” 

Read more: Home Tour: History Meets Modernity In This Heritage Home In Penang

The home's transformation was truly a team effort, ranging from a group of skilled craftsmen from China to an expert on Southeast Asian Chinese houses. Restoration works were underway, with careful attention given to ensure that the house's original character and style was preserved before the more modern touches could be implemented.

Within the property's narrow and long proportions lay two spacious courtyards filling the surrounding interiors with natural light. Respecting the building's original Straits Eclectic architectural style, the facade of the home was restored with fine stucco decorative detailing, the work of a team of craftsmen from China. 

From the entrance itself, the presence of antique furniture creates a remarkable contrast of dark silhouettes against all-white walls. Subtle contemporary elements in the form of bright arm chairs, lamps and side tables also blend in harmoniously with this retro vintage scheme. The tiles in the entrance foyer were original to the property; masterfully restored and polished for its new owners. In the dining room, vintage Chenggal chairs line a massive 26-seater table, another restored piece that retained its original Carrara marble top and original teak base.   

“Many pieces of the furniture here are antiques from the client’s personal collection or acquired during the process of this project,” says Lee. “For example, the pair of chests of drawers in the entrance foyer were originally used to store herbs at a Chinese medical hall in Ipoh.”   

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