A Tour of Malaysian Homes and Architecture

One of my favorite parts of traveling is visiting homes of locals. With services like AirBnb, it is becoming easier to get a taste for what living in a different country is like. Below is a snapshot of a few homes I have had the privilege of visiting during my short stint in Malaysia, outside of my apartment, which you can get a tour of here. As with any country, rural dwellings differ significantly from urban dwellings and standard, western-style high rises seem to be taking over Kuala Lumpur. Wealth also has a significant impact on what one can afford.

Regardless of wealth, one thing you should always do before entering a Malaysian home is to take your shoes off.

Rural Malay Village Home

A traditional Malay house in the country is made of timber and raised on stilts. Some houses display intricate carvings or crafts, and the windows open out to the surrounding garden. Shading and good ventilation are primary goals of the homes, and nearly all have stairs, partitioned rooms, and peaked roofs as on this house.

Given the majority of Malays are Muslim, rooms are set up to be flexible gathering and praying spaces. In Malaysian Muslim culture, it is common for women to gather in one area to chat, look after children or play games while men gather in other areas of the home or outside to play sports.

Here are a few of my fellow Remote participants playing Sepak Raga, which differs from the similar sport of volleyball in its use of a rattan ball and only allowing players to use their feet, knee, chest and head to touch the ball.

The most sacred Q’ouran scripts are hung on the walls while the floors are covered by woven straw mats. Here are a few of the textiles and floor coverings from the rural village home my group toured. On the far left, you see the songket fabric, which is similar to brocade and is used in ceremonial clothing and is made by weaving gold and silver threads together with fabric threads to create delicate designs. Second from the left are woven fans, used to beat off heat, made of rattan. The third image is of a hand woven rug made of dried grass. The far right fabric is a batik design, used for curtains in this case.

After the home tour, I had the opportunity to try Batik painting. Batik block printing is quite common but free-hand is the traditional method. First, the design is drawn with melted wax onto fabric. Then, you fill the design with paint. Once dry, you heat the fabric to lock in the colors and remove the wax.

You can see how the color fills in the lines in this mini-video.

The Blue Mansion in Penang

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I toured the Blue Mansion in Georgetown, Penang. The 38-room mansion was built in the 1880s by Cheong Fatt The, a wealthy Chinese industrialist who traded rubber (a key Malaysian export), tea, and coffee. The mansion was built in a Chinese style and contains five courtyards. The color of the building was created by mixing indigo imported from India with lime – a popular color during the British colonial period when trade with India was vibrant. The blue hue helped keep the house cool and helped dispel moisture in the tropical climate.

The mansion is filled with beautifully carved inlaid wood furniture like these pieces, which I saw at the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

The mansion featured detailed wrought ironwork, beautiful blue and white china, gilded bed frames, and Chinese boxes and pots.

Chinese, Dutch and British Colonial Influenced Architecture in Malaysia

Dutch colonial buildings, which feature a blend of European and Chinese aesthetic influences, are also scattered throughout Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, Penang. Many of these homes are now being purchased and refurbished into hipster cafes and shops.

The Chinese culture is still vibrant throughout much of Malaysia, as evidenced by these shops and streets in Penang.

One of the most unique communities I had the opportunity to visit was a Clan Jetty in Penang. Clan Jetties are essentially Chinese villages built on wooden piers and stilts with each individual jetty named after a clan. The Clan Jetties arose in the 1800’s and each represented a family and typically a specific trade. My friends and I visited the largest of the six remaining jetties, Chew Clan Jetty. The final image in the picture is of a large Chinese gathering house in Georgetown.

5 Ways to Add Malaysian Flair to Your Home

  1. Add natural fibers to your home, like this rattan chair
  2. Incorporate a piece of Inlaid Wood furniture like this one
  3. Add a a batik covered bench or sofa like this one to your living room
  4. Add blue and white china like this to your serving set
  5. Throw a metallic woven covered pouf or pillow case on your floor for added seating

Do you have a favorite decorative item you picked up during your travels that now adorns your home?

5 Comment

  1. I love seeing the beautiful textiles and woodwork. My favorite pieces in my home are my grandmothers blue glass from Sweden and hand carved wood pieces.

  2. Love the colorful fabrics! So different from our culture.

  3. Interesting culture and beautiful pictures, so much of who we are is predetermined by our familial
    and cultural history.

    1. agildedglobe says:

      Thank you, Phyllis!

  4. Gorgeous photos and storytelling – such a vibrant and colorful culture! Living around that much color would put me in a good mood all the time I think! Much different than the 2-story mud hut tour we took in Baller Bazar! 🙂 although I guess we played a local game (cricket) then, too! Keep sharing. Xoxo

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