You Le Yuen is contained in a colonial pre-war building on Love Lane, in George Town which was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. This quaint side lane, nestled between Chulia Street and Farquhar Street, is historically significant, not only for George Town, but also to the owner as this was where both the paternal and maternal grandfather first settled upon arriving in Penang from Yan Peng, China in the early 1900s. The paternal grandfather was an apprentice carpenter with Lo Pun Hong and the maternal grandfather roomed at the local clan association Soon Tuck Wooi Kwon. Both of these associations are still in existence till today, and located just a few shop-houses away from You Le Yuen.
With a burning desire to return to his roots and continue in the growing efforts to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of George Town, the dilapidated and abandoned shop -house was acquired in 2011 and the arduous undertaking to restore it began in 2012. Many shop-houses along Love Lane and the surrounding streets have been similarly purchased and restored. However, the owner was careful not to procure a building where a dying traditional trade was still in operation, preferring to allow the living heritage to continue to survive and prolong its existence.
For this ambitious restoration process, Studio Verve Architects, a London-based practice, and local contractors with the expertise in the restoration of heritage buildings were engaged. Studio Verve Architects were the most obvious choice in leading this restoration process as their designs are founded on a keen awareness for sustainability and their ability to provide innovative and sustainable solutions that are both delightful and spatially inspiring.
The façade of You Le Yuen has now been beautifully restored to reflect the Southern Chinese Eclectic style reminiscent of the buildings in the late 1800s to early 1900s. As you make your way through the main foyer, elegantly tiled with Peranakan-styled clay tiles, you’re greeted by the ornately carved panels of the 100 year-old refurbished timber screen doorway. Stepping through this doorway, you will find yourself in a little tranquil oasis surrounded by a potpourri of foliage of local and foreign origin which serves as the indoor courtyard garden café. The spacious indoor courtyard is covered by a retractable pergola which protects you from the elements, but allows sunlight to stream through and therefore makes it the ideal area to lounge as you listen to the soothing sounds of the linear pond.
The Pernakan influenced Merbau wood staircase against the exposed brick wall at the centre of the courtyard, which branches to the left and right, leads up to the four guest suites. Each suite is individually decorated and furnished with select pieces from the owner’s private collection of Peranakan, mid-century and art deco furniture. Oil paintings portraying Penang street life adorn the walls further evoking a sense of nostalgia of the olden days. Some of the suites have their own private terraces which look out and into the indoor courtyard. These terraces feature century-old ornate cast iron grilles originally from Glasgow which was salvaged from the mansion of The Grand Old Man of Penang – Yap Chor Ee.
In an effort to preserve as much of Penang’s cultural heritage as possible, the owner being an advocate of adaptive reuse, has doggedly insisted on using recycled materials in the restoration work. Rest assured no building or living heritage was purposefully destroyed for materials. Throughout You Le Yuen you’ll find an array of old fixtures and fittings from the timbre louvered windows, floral glass pulley lamps right down to the old copper light switches which have all been salvaged, carefully restored by hand and given a new lease of life. Experienced craftsmen and artisans were selected in executing this arduous yet essential restoration process. Even the roof tiles are salvaged terra cotta Marseille tiles which first made its way on merchant ships from France to Penang more than a century ago. Inspired by Sali Sasaki, a communication designer who specializes in cities and cultural development, and an advocate for sustainable thinking, You Le Yuen incorporated the use of salvaged “kampung” or village house timbre as part of the feature walls in the guest suites and other parts of the building. These beautifully rustic “kampung” house timbres in muted blues, greens and yellows, attempts to capture the local essence of a city by turning it into an art form.
The owner, who is also committed to the conservation of energy, strongly believes it is one’s social responsibility to foster environmental sustainability thereby enhancing the cultural integrity of the local people. Therefore it was essential to incorporate certain modern provisions to ensure the efficient use of energy and the conservation of water throughout You Le Yuen. Solar panels have been added in order to harvest the energy of the sun to heat the water used in the building. The linear pond in the indoor courtyard is not only a therapeutic water feature but also acts as a reservoir for harvesting rain water which is then treated and pumped through the building for the dedicated use in flushing of toilets and gardening. Passive daylighting systems run throughout You Le Yuen to collect and reflect daylight for illuminating the interior. The center pieces of You Le Yuen are the two internal air wells which allow light and cool air to pass through thereby acting as natural ventilation for the entire building.
You Le Yuen is not merely a place for one to rest your head, but an architectural monument to sustainable thinking and to the hard fight in the preservation of one’s cultural and historical heritage.