Celebrating Home: 5 Design Tips Inspired by Singaporean Heritage Architecture

What makes a place a home? Evolving over the years through intimate knowledge of Singapore’s landscape and climate, Singaporean heritage architecture offers us plenty of tips for living in the tropics with style and practicality. This National Day, we draw inspiration from our rich cultural identity to explore how we can bring elements of our design traditions into the modern home.

Peranakan Pastels

A row of pastel shophouses in Joo Chiat. Image c/o Winel Sutanto.

One of the elegant heritage shophouses along Petain Road. Image c/o Joanna Suyin.

The brightly coloured and ornate shophouses in Singapore’s older neighbourhoods are perhaps the most unique of the city’s architectural styles. First introduced in the 1840s, the shophouse has evolved in style and structure over the centuries — but what has remained constant are the colourful walls and lavish tiles adorning their interiors and exteriors. Take the iconic row of pastel shophouse fronts along Koon Seng Road in Joo Chiat and Katong, for instance, or the beautiful tiles that decorate both the facade and walkways of the shophouses of Petain Road in Little India. What better way to inject their vibrancy into your home by getting playful with a pastel colour palette, or opting for more intricate tiles?

From top to bottom, images c/o: Home & Decor, Home Journal, Free Space Intent.

Black-and-White Bungalows

These historic Tudor homes with their distinctive black-and-white palette rest on large plots of land across Singapore. Image c/o Wall Street Journal.

If you’re feeling like a more monochromatic colour palette, look no further than Singapore’s black-and-white bungalows. These typically belonged to wealthy colonial government officials or British Army personnel during colonial times. An adaptation of European-style architecture, these Tudor-inspired buildings featured white walls and black details, such as black beams or window shutters. If you’re going for a black-and white palette, bring this distinctive style of colouring into your home by using black as an accent colour, or incorporating dark ceiling beams against a white background.

From top to bottom, images c/o: Lookbox Living, M3 Studio.

Ventilation Blocks

Ventilation blocks along an alleyway in Little India. Image c/o Grace Ho.

A back alley street with ventilation blocks and colour graffiti art in Arab Street. Image c/o Thyla Jane.

In Singapore’s tropical climate, ventilation is a staple of our vernacular architecture. Alongside features like houses on stilts and tall ceilings, ventilation blocks, also known as breezeblocks, are one way of encouraging air flow in and out of buildings. They ranged from Peranakan-style blocks with traditional patterns embedding into the wall, to entire “breathable facades” — such as the former Institute of Health, an early example of Tropical Modern buildings in Singapore.

Ventilation blocks are the perfect choice if you’re looking for a way to embrace Singapore’s natural environment through sustainable design. Incorporate them into your home as a small statement section, or as a breathable wall that lets in air without compromising on privacy.

From top to bottom, images c/o: Linear Space Concepts, Hyphen Architects.

Kampong Houses

A 1971 watercolour painting of a kampong in Singapore by Lim Cheng Hoe. Image c/o National Heritage Board.

We can’t talk about Singaporean heritage without mentioning the kampong, which continues to embody the idea of community and family up to this day. Kampong houses came in different styles, but traditional kampong houses were flexible spaces that adapted to the family’s needs. Rooms were impermanent spaces that could be rearranged for different purposes, built around a central space or hall.

A modern equivalent today might be an open plan arrangement, particularly in common or living spaces. Find more tips for creating a flexible home with our friends, Beatrice and Marcus.

Image c/o Fabian Ong.

Chinese Baroque Motifs

Intricate asian designs with European style plaster work on the Sim Kwon Ho shophouses. Image c/o National Heritage Board.

Decorative elements on Petain Road shophouses featuring the crane, a traditional Chinese motif. Image c/o Natasha Gospodinova.

Like the shophouses in Joo Chiat and Little India, the Sim Kwon Ho shophouses feature intricate plaster designs on their exterior. These shophouses are hailed as hallmarks of Chinese Baroque architecture in Singapore, which blend European architectural elements with traditional Chinese motifs. This trend can be seen in buildings across the city, such as the details on Nos. 41 and 42 Robertson Quay, which appear inspired by baroque moulding but feature Asian motifs like the jambu and Chinese peach. Don’t be afraid to mix different influences — you’ll create something unique to your home in the process! Check out our friends at Figment and Scene Shang to see how they style this theme.

From top to bottom: image c/o Figment, Scene Shang.