Tropical Victorian With a Touch of Magic

The Prestige Hotel brings to Penang’s hospitality environment a sense of playfulness, illusion and mystery

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Ministry of Design (MOD) is noted for its ability to create spectacle in spatial design. Through the inventive use of colour, graphics and formal elements, the Singapore-based design firm injects a sense of wonder, idiosyncrasy and delight into even the most seemingly utilitarian typologies like research laboratories and offices.

The firm’s modus operandi is to provoke, question and redefine conventions. Its latest experiment is The Prestige, a 162-room boutique hotel in Georgetown — a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Penang, Malaysia — that’s part of the Design Hotels™ portfolio of curated accommodations.

On the site of an original 19th century building, which was demolished due to its poor condition, local architect KL Wong referenced the neighbourhood’s colonial heritage to create a stately, whitewashed facade framed by articulated columns, cornices and symmetrically positioned apertures.

On the ground floor, a five-foot-way shelters visitors from rain and sun in the fashion of traditional shop houses. Once inside, MOD’s whimsical appropriation of the Victorian aesthetic takes over. ‘We wanted to “transpose heritage” by combining the traditional and the modern, innovating spaces while remaining rooted in culture and location,’ says Colin Seah, MOD’s founder and design director. The narrative not only draws on contextual architecture but also the 2006 science fiction movie that the hotel is named after, which is set in the Victorian era and explores the illusory art of magic.

These themes define the hotel experience. For example, skewed trimmings abstract traditional wainscotting on walls. In bathrooms, Seah layered a brass frame in front of a mirrored wall to create the illusion of two mirrors instead of one. Clever lighting effects add to the visual trickery while addressing awkward site conditions, like the long, narrow proportions of the guest corridor, which without these effects might have been a more monotonous experience. Instead, Seah’s solution of mechanised light features placed at regular intervals to rotate and cast shadows of intricate latticed patterns animate the guest journey. 

The dynamic monochromatic treatment of corridor walls aids this effect, as do white hexagonal floor tiles patterned with black mosaic to create a disappearing-reappearing effect. Meanwhile, in the reception area, Alice in Wonderland-type contraptions like the chrome check-in desk that appears to balance on oversized spheres and a brass-lined maze on the floor set the tone for the rest of the hotel experience.

This fantastical spatial storytelling is tempered with pastel shades in the furnishings, and abundant greenery that, together with botanical prints and wicker and rattan furniture, alludes to the tropical context. The eclectic material mix is given a dose of luxe with marble surfaces, and extra shine comes in the form of mirror, brass, chrome and brass-tinted metal that accent bathroom elements, door mullions and furniture. Another charming touch is the whimsical Victorian wallpaper-inspired mural in the lifts, etched onto tinted metal wall and depicting iconic elements and features unique to Penang.    

From entry to guestrooms and even in transit, Seah’s design ensures guests are always engaged. While Penang’s hospitality offerings run the gamut of heritage hotels and sleek big-name edifices, The Prestige disrupts the plethora of predictable hotel experiences, offering guests a refreshing way of experiencing the island.   

Text / Jingmei Luo
Images / Edward Hendricks, CI&A Photography

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