Walking into Peter Hoe Beyond is like physically stepping into my mental happy place
In the middle of the Chinatown’s grittiness, there’s a poorly-kept secret oasis: Peter Hoe Evolution. I’ve taken almost every one of our visitors to this colorful yet tranquil boutique of home goods, and it’s hard every time I go there not to indulge in a little something for myself. Since the Gravy Baby was born, I stop there even more frequently whenever I’m out running errands in that part of town; there’s a little cafe in the corner of the shop where the Gravy Baby and I can stop, take a break, and have a snack or two.
I’ve frequented Peter Hoe Evolution enough nowadays that I’ve gotten to know the eponymous owner of the shop. A few weeks ago, while a visiting friend from New York happily shopped away, I started chatting with Peter about his beautiful wares. Being in Malaysia for two years now, I feel like I’ve started to get a decent handle on the city, and time and time again, I find myself returning to Peter’s boutique in search of unique ways to spruce up my table settings at home. There simply aren’t any other stores in Kuala Lumpur selling what Peter has in spades, such as block-printed table linens from Jaiphur, all made by hand; hammered brass platters; and celadon platters from Thailand. I marveled to him about why it seems like no one else in this cosmopolitan city is competing with him and also sourcing handicrafts throughout the region to sell to the design-hungry expats and well-heeled locals here.
Clockwise from top left: Peter Hoe in his cafe; a table centerpiece consisting of a wine bottle topped with a tealight; a cracked ceramic sugar bowl, a low stained-glass hurricane, and a vase of fresh orchids; beautiful floral-patterned Thai celadon; two examples of Peter Hoe Evolution’s hand-printed linens from Jaiphur, India
My question to Peter led us to a longer, more in-depth conversation, and, as most chats of any indeterminate length with Malaysians tend to be, involved an impromptu meal. While chatting, he offered me chicken congee (rice porridge) topped with crispy cruellers prepared by his sister, who works with him at the boutique. We sipped coffee and warmed our hands around our hot bowls of congee, and Peter hypothesized that part of the reason he doesn’t have competitors is because of the amount of time and money he invests up front into procuring goods from Indonesia, India and Thailand. “I love and respect the products I find,” he said to me, spreading his arms wide as if to hug the store around him. “I’m a bit of a buy-aholic, too” he admitted with a grin.
Peter got his start in fashion design in Singapore, and after a few years working for other designers, decided he wanted to do something for himself. In 1989 he started the Peter Hoe boutique, selling Malaysia batik from Kota Bharu, in northeast Malaysia. His idea at the time was to revolutionize Malaysian handicraft and bring a modern sensibility to local products. A few years later, while on a trip to Bali with friends, he grew restless just lounging around and decided to venture out on a shopping expedition. “I came back holding two huge plastic bags full of things I found,” he laughs. As a test, he displayed his loot in his shop, and when his customers snapped everything up, he started to make regular trips to the island to source more. Trips to Thailand and India soon followed, and in 2000 he opened Peter Hoe Evolution with a cafe in the corner of the shop. The recipes for the food at the cafe were all developed by him: “I wanted the food to be the food I want to eat,” he explained.
Chicken congee (rice porridge) with the most delicious fried dough cruellers and bits of minced scallions (not available on the menu at Peter Hoe Evolution, unfortunately)
The cafe is just part of the feng shui that contributes to the oasis of calm that is Peter Hoe Evolution; the other part are the bright bursts of color that live throughout the store that somehow also manage to create an overall sense of calm. The wide range of goods, from a pewter bowl decorated with hummingbirds around the rim to fluorescent pink and blue bread baskets, makes me, for lack of a better way to say it, really “grabby” every time I’m in there. I want the Peter Hoe experience in my own home, which right now, honestly, still looks a little bit like Asia threw up in it. To help me, Peter offered a few words of advice:
1) Have a vision. Every home needs “wow” factor; try to conceptualize what you want to achieve with your home.
2) Recycle what you have. Instead of buying things at random, invest in a good set of plain white dinnerware and good flatware. “It’s like the little black dress of your table setting,” he said. Then, you can add colorful pieces here and there to spruce up your table. Peter showed me a collection of items sitting on the table (pictured above): a low hurricane, a ceramic sugar bowl, an empty bottle with a fresh orchid peeking out, and a recycled wine bottle topped with a tealight. He was right; such ordinary things put together seemed so pretty sitting on the table when gathered together.
3) A little imagination goes a long way. Peter emphasized thinking about texture, colors and patterns in different ways, something I hardly ever do. He frequently uses palm leaves, which are used as the base ingredient in a variety of Malay dishes, as a layer between the plate and the placemat. “Just that little addition can go a long way,” he advised.
Brightly-colored batik and silk lanterns set the backdrop in another part of Peter Hoe’s boutique
As Peter laid out his tenets for keeping a well-edited, design-conscious home, a few things occurred to me. First of all, we have a giant monstrosity of an activity center belonging to the Gravy Baby parked in our living room. It matches absolutely nothing, nor will it ever. I had vowed before the Gravy Baby arrived that I would never let our home become one of those homes littered with gaudy, plastic baby gear, and here we are, 7 months later, swimming in it. Sigh. But, more importantly, I found Peter’s advice to be applicable not just to home design, but to many aspects of everyday life. I cook the same way; I eat the same way. I’ll have to work on decorating and entertaining this way, too; but for now, I have Peter Hoe and his beautiful shop.