House No. 48 & 50 was used as the main homestead, while house No. 52 was the servants quarters. The interior decor of the house gives many clues to Dutch, Portuguese, Malay, and Colonial influences that make a Straits-born home unique. Lavish Blackwood furniture from China, inlaid with mother of pearl and marble, greet visitors in the formal reception hall. Set above them are 5-meter high silk embroidery of Chinese symbolism. A unique set of stairs made of solid cenggal wood leads to the second floor. With its intricately woven gold-leaf carvings adorning the back portion, this staircase is reputed to be the first of its kind seen in South East Asia. Customized sinks with Chan Cheng Siew’s initials are seen in the different rooms of the house. These are just some of the distinctive features that guests experience when visiting the house.
THIA BESAR (RECEPTION HALL)
The reception hall was where only men were allowed in. Tall panels of Chinese silk-embroidery fill the hall as an intentional display of the Straits-born family’s roots to homeland China. Stories of generals & scholars tell tales of Chinese values that the household endeavoured to uphold. This hall has all the formalities suited for the patriarchal society of the Peranakan-Chinese, where dignitaries would sit and discuss affairs, while the women of the household were only allowed as far as the thia gelap (dark hall) to peer through the holes of the screen.
The heartbeat of any Peranakan home is the kitchen. This is where the ladies of the Chan family spent much of their time, and where only close extended family members would have come in. It would also have been the meeting place for female members to catch up on gossip in their local creole language known as Baba Malay. Here, chung po, the chef may have been preparing food for dinner, while the matriarch would be instructing her daughter-in-law on cooking techniques that were unique to the family.
THIA ABU (ANCESTRAL HALL)
For the Peranakan-Chinese community, filial piety is respecting elders and preserving family ties. It is a way for current and future generations to remember where they come from, and to keep bonds between family members close. The Baba & Nyonya House Museum still observes its role as a rumah abu (ancestral home) where sembahyang (prayer) is conducted seven times a year on ancestors birth dates, death dates and before Chinese New Year. Family members will prepare food dishes as offerings. Although not all family members observe ancestral worship anymore, the act of remembering the family’s heritage is still honoured.