The Edison George Town, Penang

Rebecca Lo • Photography courtesy the Edison George Town • June 21, 2017

Photos: The Edison George Town, Penang

The inscription of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 was no coincidence. It was the result of years of hard work at the grassroots level by locals who wanted to preserve the distinctive southeast Asian colonial architecture of Penang’s capital city. The Malaysian town’s latest revival comes courtesy of developer Eugene Tan, the son of veteran hotelier and ET Hospitality Ventures founder Eddie Tan.

Opening in late 2016 after a two-year renovation by Kuala Lumpur-based Blu Water Studio, the Edison George Town is a 35-key property in the heart of the city’s historic center. Designed by architect David Nathaniel and built in 1906 as a private residence for Malaysian tycoon Wee Gark Yeo, it served as Japan’s administrative hub during its occupation of Penang during World War II. After the war, the building was converted into a hotel.

“The brief was to retain 90 percent of the existing architecture, which led to the creation of spaces that were unique to current interior layouts, such as the central courtyard,” explains Siew Hong Lai, cofounder and chief executive designer at Blu Water. “The challenge was to combine both old and new elements within this heritage building without masking its original characteristics.”

Each space is punctuated with idiosyncratic notes like panels of porcelain blue and rich jade decorating the walls of the lobby alongside traditional velvet chairs and silk rugs. “The interiors are a quirky take on Penang. The trick was to hold back,” says Lai. “A lot of times we design with the intention to continuously elaborate designs. Here, we wanted to celebrate and restore what we can no longer build.”

One of the Edison’s most unusual features is the guestrooms. Bathrooms are located directly opposite the entry door instead of adjacent to it—a result of the structure’s original layout. Generously proportioned guestrooms and large bathroom windows allow natural light to penetrate deep within each space. “Suites and guestrooms take on a colonial feel with monochromatic settings. Light colored walls and furnishings contrast with black frames, and authentic Peranakan tiles create luxurious, calming spaces,” Lai notes. “The family room is quite the opposite, with splashes of color, an ornate headboard, and decorative tiles.”

The Lounge, a breakfast spot and public salon, echoes the old-meets-new concept with contemporary turquoise colored cabinets, a communal bar table, and restored paneling along the walls. Outside, the hotel is equipped with a swimming pool adjacent to a separate cabana building designed to promote relaxation. The original ironwork imported from England found on grills, frets, and columns are meticulously refinished as well to further emphasize a sense of place.