House Tour: The Intan, A Beautiful Peranakan Home

We pay a visit to a beautiful Peranakan home and museum in Joo Chiat and learn a thing or two about Peranakan antiques.

Updated on June 12, 2017 17:06 pm

Michelle Ong


Nestled in a sleepy part of Joo Chiat is a true gem—a rose-cut diamond, or the Intan, as it’s known in Malay. This post-war 1950s property is both museum and home to Alvin Yapp of Peranakan Chinese descent who, in an effort to learn more about his own heritage, has been collecting antiques since his youth.

“It first started with me going to antique shops and garage sales in Singapore and eventually to Malacca, Penang, and parts of Indonesia," Alvin tells us. After 30 years of collecting, he has since gained much knowledge on Peranakan antiques which he shares on tours around the Intan.

Since 2003, the Intan collection has been showcased in Croatia, Hawaii, and Hong Kong. Alvin says, “I try to make the connection, because I believe that the day people stop collecting Peranakan antiques is the day when there is very little attention to Peranakan culture.”

Curating the Intan

Alvin shares that the first thing aspiring collectors need to understand is figuring out what Peranakan furniture is as well as understanding what the different features of Peranakan furniture are from various parts of the region. According to Alvin, Peranakans from Singapore and Malacca tend to prefer more brown and gold, while Peranakans from Penang prefer red and gold. Another thing to look out for is the combination of materials: luxurious use of mother of pearl, carvings, and other details can be found in Peranakan furniture from Singapore.

One piece in the Intan, which Alvin is especially proud of, is the altar which greets guests upon entering the Intan. "The ancestral altar is like a jigsaw puzzle. Everything from the altar to the porcelain to the beadwork has been painstakingly put together as a show piece," says Alvin. Despite looking similar in design, the bottom half and the top half of the altar are sourced from different local dealers. On the altar, you’ll find many treasures too — the beadwork comes from a local dealer, while the porcelain bowls were sourced from various parts of Malaysia.

There are many elements in the Intan, but thankfully Alvin has a good eye for putting things together. He says it’s all about walking around and moving things. “I try and put things in the right spaces; for example, the mother of pearl chairs should be in the front (of the house). Then the little, more delicate things are upstairs, and porcelain in the back. I also tried to fit, and mix and match, by finding creative places to put the things in.” True enough, visitors to his home will find that his items are creatively fitted into different parts of the home — colourful spittoons line the stairs while tiffin carriers add a quirky touch to the back of the kitchen. Alvin has also created spaces to accommodate his more precious items. The glass cabinets near his fridge, for example, are built with mirrors that block out any visual distractions while framing the featured pieces beautifully. The tiles used on the walls of the Intan are also calculated such that they fit each area of the wall perfectly.

In a house with so many precious antiques, one would expect that much attention needs to be paid to the housekeeping at the Intan, but fortunately Alvin enjoys the process. It also helps that certain items, like the wooden furniture require no special treatment—just a simple wipe with the towel. He also makes sure to keep antiques away from the sun and to not use any unfamiliar washing liquids on them.

Project Intan

Started in 2008 to help raise funds for those in need, the annual Intan's Project has, over the years, helped create a multi-sensory room for terminally ill children, upgraded the in-patient care for cancer patients, built a therapeutic gymnasium for elderly, and refurbished a day care centre for youths. This year, the money will go to supporting programmes conducted by the Singapore Children's Society, which aims to help rebuild self-worth and character as well as impart important life skills to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. With every dollar raised, OCBC will top up an additional 50 percent. Those interested in donating can do so online at, and key in "Project Intan 2014" in the reference code box. Donations are tax deductible.

Visiting the Intan

Visits to the Intan are strictly by appointment only. Interested visitors can drop Alvin an email at or call him at +65 6440 1148. For $45 per head, and for a minimum of six people, a tour and tea can be arranged. If tea isn't an option, the Intan also entertains special requests for dinners and lunches.

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Photos by CH Thyng


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