If Colonel Norman Macalister returned to the capitol of the island he governed 200 years ago, he’d be in for a surprise. Formerly a British shipping port, Penang’s George Town is now a vibrant international metropolis that proudly displays its English, Chinese, Indian and native Malaysian influences. A UNESCO World Heritage Site city, George Town strives to strike a balance between past and future, preserving its heritage buildings as it continues to develop into a vital center of industry and tourism. Experience this unique combination for yourself at Macalister Mansion, a quirky and sophisticated lifestyle destination that nods both to Penang’s colonial past and to its colorful present.
Macalister Mansion owners Dato Sean and Datin Karen worked with Colin Seah of Singapore’s renowned Ministry of Design to renovate and revitalize a 100-year-old colonial mansion, preserving the building’s heritage aspects and original elements while adding modern-day amenities and contemporary design touches. Together, they conceived of the hotel as a complete holistic concept, with all rooms, restaurants and lounge areas belonging to a single, unique vision.
Each room has its own bespoke features and artwork, from the privately commissioned love sonnet in the Bridal Suite, to the spiral staircase and turret room in Room 4, to the Grace Tan textile piece in Room 7 that pays tribute to the tartan colors of the Macalister clan. The rest of the hotel is equally thought-out: two restaurants offer options for casual or fine dining, a mosaic lap pool has a “swim-up” bar attached, and visitors to the Bagan Bar can enjoy signature drinks and jazz music.
Macalister Mansion is a pioneer project from Heritage Redefined, an initiative spearheaded by hotel owner Dato Sean with the aim of regenerating historic colonial buildings into useful, practical contemporary spaces. To do this, Dato Sean & his wife Datin Karen worked collaboratively with Colin Seah, design director for Singapore’s celebrated Ministry of Design, recently recognized as a “Rising Star in Architecture” by Monocle Magazine. Together, they conceived the hotel’s design as a single holistic vision, with the eight suites and five
dining and bar areas working synergistically. Dato Sean, Datin Karen and their team oversaw much of the interior design themselves, selecting furnishings and art pieces. Macalister Mansion differentiates itself from the local boutique hotel scene by its intimate scale, contemporary design and attention to details – ranging from art curation to uniforms, branding to interior design and everything else in between.
Central to the experience is the hotel entrance, where a fractal bust of Colonel Norman Macalister welcomes guests. A turquoise scalloped canopy and ornate wooden doors open onto the reception area. There, the mansion’s original brick walls are exposed, reminding visitors of the building’s history while also showcasing contemporary art from local artists. From reception, visitors can access the hotel’s eight suites. Each suite is customized with specially commissioned work from an artist or collection of artists, and each has its own unique architectural features. Room 3, for example, boasts a wrought-iron balcony as well as a fabric collage by Malaysian artist Lee Meiling, while Room 8 features exposed truss beams from the building’s original construction – and art by Malaysia-based UK artist Thomas Powell that commemorates the life and times of hotel namesake Sir Norman Macalister.
The hotel’s dining concept is headed by Executive Chef Lance U’ren. The formal Dining Room offers French cuisine in a converted courtyard with colorful chairs and whimsical pastel animal decorations, while the casual Living Room, featuring the building’s original filigree window grilles, serves classic Penang dishes with a modern twist. The Bagan Bar showcases some of the more striking aspects of the hotel’s original architecture: an ornate archway divides the room, and two columns frame a bay window nook. However, the dynamic copper-clad bar and lighting sculpture bring the room into the 21st century. Finally, The Den is an intimate hideout with a wide selection of cigars as well as blended and single-malt whiskies.