There was this particular, strikingly Blue Mansion in Penang that I decided to visit – the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.
That Blue Mansion in Penang
Now an icon of Georgetown other than Penang’s amazing street art, this house is gorgeous and fascinated me enough to write about it. What is it? Should you visit the Blue Mansion?
Btw, I visited this mansion in 2013 and didn’t take down notes, so my memory is a bit muddled. However, the information shared here had been researched before publishing this post.
Cheong Fatt Tze – The man who first owned this blue house
Born very poor in Guangdong, China, over the years, Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1916) became a powerful Nanyang industrialist, a politician and a Consul-General in Singapore.
More than anything else, Cheong Fatt Tze was a successful Chinese businessman with many businesses in different industries. Beyond his work life, he also had at least 8 wives and 14 children! Very busy man he must have been in his days.
Story behind the house
Cheong Fatt Tze wanted to build a house for his family and descendants to live together. Instead of being influenced by Anglo-Indian designs, he preferred the sophisticated aspects of a traditional Chinese house. And thus began the construction of this blue mansion.
Built between 1896 to 1904, teams of master craftsmen from China were hired. The majestic blue house was built with 38 rooms and 5 courtyards. At that time, 3 of his wives occupied the Blue Mansion.
The Blue Mansion (otherwise known as Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion) was large enough to accommodate his extended families. Cheong Fatt Tze expected the mansion to house 9 more generations after him. He had many houses in different countries, but the Blue Mansion remained one of his favorites.
After Cheong Fatt Tze died in 1916, over the years, the mansion fell into shambles from a lack of maintenance.
Restoration of the Blue Mansion
In 1990, the Blue Mansion was purchased by Penang architect Laurence Loh. It then underwent restoration efforts that took years. You can read the details on the mansion’s website here.
Currently a heritage museum and boutique hotel, in year 2000, the Blue Mansion won UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Stepping into the entrance hall where the guided tour was to start, I hadn’t thought much about the floor that I was stepping on, until the guide told us that each fragment of these tiles was laid piece by piece to create this pattern. That got my attention to the stories our guide was to share with us as she brings us around the areas open for visiting.
The traditional Chinese house that’s not so traditional
Although largely a traditional Chinese house, the design of the Blue Mansion brings together various styles that Cheong Fatt Tze was inspired by. You will notice art nouveau stained-glass windows, classic ceilings, Gothic louvered windows, a beautiful spiral staircase that is obviously not Chinese-style, and more. It was a lot of details to discover.
This cast-iron, spiral staircase had been imported from Glasgow!
Spacious and airy with high ceilings, there are a few rooms in this museum that had now been set aside to display paraphernalia that Cheong Fatt Tze used to be own, including his wife’s silk cheongsams, a traditional bed, and so on. In rooms like that, I generally find them a little too spooky for my liking, but that’s just my personal sensing! It’s still interesting to have a look!
Chien Nien Art – 3D porcelain carvings
May I bring your attention to these three photos below please! These are intricate carvings of what was known as Chien Nien art – where porcelain is broken and cut into pieces, and then pasted together to create the 3D structures. I was really fascinated by the effort behind these, and they paint (almost typed ‘pain‘, lol) different scenes of myths and gods. This art can be seen in various places within the Blue Mansion, even on the building facade. SO MUCH WORK!
Fengshui aspects of the Blue Mansion
What left a deep impression on me was the geomancy (fengshui) that had been considered for this house. At the central courtyard, the guide explained to us how that when it rains, a bit of the water will drain out, while the rest will continue to swirl in a circular direction above the surface. Part of this was about how they positioned the flooring to be of different heights – simple enough. The significance of the water circulating was the fengshui aspect – accumulating wealth, because water signifies wealth in geomancy.
I also remember something the guide said about the Blue Mansion being built with a mountain at its back, facing the direction of the sea at the front. The wind will thus flow through in a certain, desired direction. In Fengshui, it is commonly believed that a mountain behind you while you work is good (in offices, this is adapted to having the wall behind you), as it gives you a strong backing and support. Please pardon my amateurish explanations though!
After all that, the guide used a term to summarize what fengshui meant as depicted in the house: Environmental Science. From then onwards, I have never looked at Fengshui the same way again.
You certainly don’t want to miss visiting this place of culture the next time you’re in Penang!
Cheong Fatt Tze Boutique Hotel
Currently, there are 18 hotel rooms available for guests at the Blue Mansion, categorized into 4 themes. I cannot imagine staying there, what an experience it would be!
Tip: Join the guided tours offered by the Blue Mansion itself for in-depth information!
Will you be visiting this Blue Mansion the next time you head to Penang?
Interested to stay at the Blue Mansion boutique hotel? Click to check the room rates on Booking.com!
Information sources: Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion | Overseas Chinese in the British Empire | UNESCO | Architectural Digest
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