Shophouses are typically arranged in a row, with shops on the ground floor including a public arcade. This style of living resembles luxury terrace houses in England or USA, which create a straight line of streets with their uniform facades. The combination of two functions in a single building – shops and housing is highly effective. Shop owners often lived in the residential premises above the shops and the houses often had 2 to 3 storeys. Three-storey shophouses are mostly found in city centres and in prosperous towns with dense population.
A narrow and often highly frequented street lined with shophouses built close to each other is a common element. In this case, reality takes priority over luxury. Taxes are one of the reasons why the buildings are pressed against each other. However, this is also due to the technical design of the buildings. Formerly, wooden beams supporting roofs and floors were anchored into the brickwork of the adjoining walls. The current designs use columns and beams of reinforced concrete.
The facades of individual houses differ one from another at the first sight – everyone wants to be seen. Pastel colours (pink, sky blue, light yellow, etc.) were dominant until mid-20th century. Many current or recently restored shophouses are not afraid of striking colours including red, black, silver, gold and violet. However, many shophouses of the past used to have the traditional off-white colour.
The use of various open spaces in rear sections of the house, mostly courtyards or backyards, is also one of the major features in shophouses. These premises lit with natural light have plenty of fresh air and are screened from the clatter of the street. This makes these places unique. Depending on their size, courtyards may be transformed into luxury restaurants, as well as places for drying laundry or other household activities.
Various architectural influences can be observed in shophouses, depending on the time of their construction. You can find a minimalist approach with little or no decoration, strict elegance, as well as the luxury Art Deco.