Why you should care

Colonial buildings are a dime a dozen in Malaysia. So when local businessman Dato’ Sean H’ng and his wife Datin Karen H’ng opted to undertake the restoration project of a century-old mansion on Macalister Road in Penang, it sparked interest amongst many in the industry.

Colonial buildings are a dime a dozen in Malaysia. So when local businessman Dato’ Sean H’ng and his wife Datin Karen H’ng opted to undertake the restoration project of a century-old mansion on Macalister Road in Penang, it sparked interest amongst many in the industry.

Chaos Design Studio, who had previously worked with the couple on their F&B project Blanc Restaurant got tapped on to revive this one-of-a-kind venue. The mansion was built in 1880 and owned by an Indian moneylender but was later bought by property tycoon Choong Lye Hock. Housing a whopping 41 rooms with five stairways, including an ornate spiral staircase that leads to a watchtower on the third floor, this mansion takes up 48,943 sq. ft.

Dato’ Sean H’ng and his wife undertook the restoration project as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative to demonstrate how you can upgrade old colonial buildings into fresh new contemporary spaces. To maintain the facade and the mansion’s history, only 17,286 sq. ft. of the venue underwent the restoration process.

The mansion reopened its doors in 2012, being the first Design Hotels member in Malaysia. As an ode to Penang’s first British Governor, Sir Norman Macalister, the hotel was named in his honour.

The owner later appointed Chaos Design Studio to bring a fresh look with a timelessly elegant design approach to match the present hospitality. They began work in 2020 as they ventured forward, giving eight rooms and three other locations a facelift.

When we spoke to Charles, the Design Director of the Chaos Design Studio, he stated, “We were appointed to update the mansion’s interior only, so we made sure not to make any changes to the exterior or layout. We wanted to maintain the heritage just as much as the owners, so we researched how we could do so without taking away from the building’s original characteristics.”

The property owners also had the vision to create a home away from home experience for travellers while preserving the heritage of Penang. Charles and his team did just that. The team at Chaos Design Studio spent hours researching the history of the building alongside ways they could uplift the space. They also had to work closely with the property owners and their team to manage the expectations.

All the hard work paid off as both teams worked hand-in-hand to produce a remarkable venue that is currently sought after by both local and international travellers.

It took Chaos Design Studio a year to complete this project, with the early stages seeing the team brainstorm various approaches while visiting other buildings with classical European elements.

It took multiple rounds of revisions before both teams moved forward with the refurbishment. A significant part of the works was the enlargement of the archway that opens into the reception from the lobby. They used a universal metal post and beam to support the load-bearing wall above, making the space more welcoming.

The renewed archway greets guests as they walk through the lobby toward the reception desk. Original brick wall and wall cornices sit alongside the newly added stark red archway giving the space an aesthetically pleasing appearance that perfectly blends old details with new elements. Initially, the reception counter sat in the lobby’s centre, but to create a cosy and welcoming vibe, they opted to relocate the reception desk to the corner, giving way to the lobby lounge.

Guests are welcomed by the stunning custom marble flooring, mirrored ceilings, and modern classical elements that come together to exude a sense of nostalgia and home. The entire lobby was fashioned around emulating mansion living rooms while they incorporated gorgeous details like a vintage hotel key rack, reminiscent of European getaways. The entire space feels like a blast from the past.

Norman Hall is Macalister Mansion’s new function room just opposite the reception counter. Once again, as a homage to Sir Norman Macalister, this multipurpose room equipped with soundproof walls, screen display, sound system, and an LED projector was designed to host various events.

The dark wood walls and panels perfectly match the white furniture and decor. Following the function room, the staircase leading to the guest rooms on the first floor received a modern classic upgrade. The once minimalist-style staircase now flaunts pristine marble floors and curved wall panelling in neutral tones.

A vital part of the upgrading works was uplifting and refreshing the eight guest rooms on the first floor. This was an exciting endeavour for both the property owners and Chaos Design Studio, as they were given the opportunity to breathe new life into rooms with so much history. The eight guest rooms on the first floor, which once featured stark white walls, now flaunt a protective layer of marble panel moulding that gives visitors a peek into the one-of-a-kind rooms.

The marble which was quarried in Italy is known as Arabescato Carrara. While planning, both teams agreed on curating different yet cohesive spaces with the hotel’s entire brand. To achieve this, Chaos Design Studio delicately designed the eight guest rooms to feature unique marbles in each room, giving them a distinctive look. No two rooms are alike; each guest room features a different layout and marble feature giving each room a unique story.

The marble designs come with so much character and history that they blend seamlessly into the hotel’s overall aesthetic.

The first room to receive a makeover features the Rossa Francia, a deep red marble with white streaks quarried in Albania. Following this is the second room that received a grey to lilac marble quarried in Italy, called Fior Di Pesco. Arabescato Orobico from Italy is the only multicoloured marble in the hotel and is housed in the third room. If you like green, rooms four and five feature Ice Emerald, a jade green natural stone from China, and Verde Alpi, an intense dark green quartz with light green and white veins from Italy, respectively.

Room six also houses an Italian quarried stone called Calacatta Lincoln Quartz that flaunts a white-grey background with delicate grey veining and blushes of light silver. The remaining two rooms host marbles quarried in Turkey, with the seventh room featuring Spider Red, while based marble with red veins, while the eighth room hosts the Grey Emperador, which is a grey marble. The marble used in each room instantly upgraded the space with a sense of elegance and luxury.

Aside from the mixed-use of marble, the interior designers also note that they’ve used various other elements like brass stainless steel details classic architecture joinery profiles, alongside the carefully chosen decor and furniture to bring out the personality of Macalister Mansion further. It takes a special eye to turn decades-old spaces into new-age nostalgia, and these award-winning designers have proved that they know exactly what they’re doing.

The folks behind Macalister Mansion have also said that working with Chaos Design Studio was a breeze. Their attention to detail, resourcefulness, and professionalism helped make it easier. They have curated a nostalgic getaway that brings memories from the past while allowing them to provide top-notch hospitality.

Since its reopening, the Macalister Mansion has garnered rave reviews, with guests taking to social media to laud the hotel’s fresh new look; some suggesting that one visit just isn’t enough to take in all the history and design. This proves the outstanding teamwork between the property owners and Chaos Design Studio.

This article is a feature extracted from Atap.co’s 2021 magazine.

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Why you should care

Colonial buildings are a dime a dozen in Malaysia. So when local businessman Dato’ Sean H’ng and his wife Datin Karen H’ng opted to undertake the restoration project of a century-old mansion on Macalister Road in Penang, it sparked interest amongst many in the industry.

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