Welcome to Petain Road – A History of Peranakan Tiles

The row of 18 even-numbered shophouses at Petain Road reminds me of a delicate Nonya ceramic. Sitting primly upon Roman-Greco columns, the shophouses are a romantic swirl of pistachio green and pink blush shades. Ornate Peranakan tiles with tropical flower motifs embellish the facade alongside plaster mouldings of exotic birds.

Ever since I moved into the neighbourhood of Jalan Besar three years ago, I have been obsessed with the architectural whimsy of Petain Road. Shophouses are a common fixture of Singapore’s structural landscape. There are around 6,500 shophouses throughout Singapore, almost all of which are heritage protected. However, I always thought the ones along Petain Road were particularly special.

A year ago, my fairytale came true when I moved into one of these beautiful buildings. Since then, I have spent an increasing amount of time learning about the history of this area. In my video mini-series, Welcome to Petain Road, I will share some of these discoveries with you.

During part one of Welcome to Petain Road I explore the origins of Peranakan tiles in Singapore. Almost all of the tiles found in Singapore are imported from Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan. The particular tiles that adorn Petain Road are Belgian Art Nouveau tiles from Gilliot & Cie (1896-1920), and relief moulded tiles from Fujimiyaki Tiles Works Japan (1915-1935).

The Petain Road shophouses are nearly 100 years old. They were built between 1926 and 1931 and have remained in very good condition. Although if you look closely, a few of the original tiles have fallen off and been replaced by stickers.

In a testament to my obsession, I recently illustrated a Japanese anime-style replica of the Petain Road shophouses. It makes a short appearance in my video. A print of the illustration is hanging inside my house today!

A lot of my research has been inspired by the Peranakan Tiles store located at 36 Temple Road in China Town. If you live in Singapore and are equally fascinated with tiles, I recommend you pay a visit. They house an impressive collection of original tiles as well as replicas and are very welcoming to curious visitors.

During the next video in the series, Welcome to Petain Road I will give viewers a glimpse into what it looks like inside one of these magnificent homes. If you are a Petain Road enthusiast, also check out this amazing blog by Singapore history buff RemSG.

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