Secrets of Joo Chiat I: Peter Wee of Katong Antique House
The Katong-Joo Chiat area, a district in the east of Singapore, is heralded for its colourful mix of cultures and heritage. Also known as a “Mini-Singapore”, a walk along the streets of this old town would bring forth feelings of nostalgia within folks of the pioneer generation, and inspire reverence in the young as they get immersed in a time before, and also of their own.
As we joined the bustling lunch-hour crowd for a meal of our own, we walked along the bright facades of East Coast Road - just a stone's throw from our Choo Yilin Studio - our Visual Architect stopped by a shophouse with subdued yellow walls, a humble frontage and dark emerald green Peranakan tiles. It looked closed at first glance, but the day was young and our curiosity was strong. With a knock and a smile, we discovered a time-travellers’ gem and with this, we begin our Secrets of Joo Chiat Series.
We walked in on a conversation between long-time friends, Mr Peter Wee and his guest, however, we were so warmly welcomed and quickly asked to take a seat; to make ourselves at home. As we passed the threshold, we were immediately mesmerised with the vast collection of memorabilia the Katong Antique House holds.One of the first aesthetics within his abode was the wall of framed photographs that line the staircase leading to the second floor.
"Fill your walls with the photographs of family. That's your story."
- Peter Wee
Peter Wee: “These pictures are generations of my family; I always tell people these days - don’t frame up just anything on your walls, instead, fill them up with photos of your family. That, is your story. My great grandfather, you might know him because there’s a street named after him here in Singapore; his name was Tan Keong Saik, of Keong Saik Street. Our surnames are different and you wouldn’t have guessed, but I took the time to research and remember my roots.”
"My great grandfather, you might know him because there’s a street named after him here in Singapore; his name was Tan Keong Saik, of Keong Saik Street."
He took our looks of awe in stride and continued telling us about life in the east of Singapore.
Peter Wee: “My family history in Singapore dates back four generations. I inherited this building from my grandfather forty years ago. And I have been collecting [these mementos] ever since. Each piece inside this house has a story and I have spent my life telling stories of Singapore to those who want to know. In fact, all that you see now, even across the road, they didn’t exist even ten years ago.”
His home was so full of wonder that we were so compelled to chat with him. He laughed good-naturedly with us and offered us a peek at one of his prized possessions: A Baba Album.
"Each piece inside
this house has a
story and I have spent
my life telling stories
of Singapore to
those who want
He continued to tell us about his published book as he took us on a tour of his house, and we roamed with ease into different rooms. He’d apologised for the “mess” but we didn’t see what he'd meant. For us, the experience was wonderful - it was as if time slowed down and breathing was easy. It felt like a comfortable walk through time.
Katong Antique House is located at 208E East Coast Road, and is much more than an antique shop -
it's a time capsule of memories.
At Choo Yilin, we value conservation, it is after all, intrinsic to our brand. We too, aim to contribute in keeping stories of heritage alive, and the inspiration for the Secrets of Joo Chiat, as well as many of collections like our Shophouse Collections and our Peranakan Flower and Lace Collections, came from this passion. Our rich culture continues to drive us in the work that we do, and in 2018, we will be bringing more designs that tell the tales of our beloved home and people.