Macao is experiencing a design renaissance. Being a cultural hotspot where East and West have been rubbing shoulders for over 400 years, the former Portuguese colony has a unique aesthetical style. In recent years, many new unique structures and spaces have emerged alongside the historic ones.
Macao’s design language is the corollary of Chinese orientalism and Portuguese classical refinement.
It’s a Sino-Western aesthetic exchange that materialises in the form of cobblestone streets, baroque churches, pastel-coloured buildings and neoclassical patterns.
This historic mash-up has resulted in a distinct style that is quaint and picturesque, to say the least (in fact, it’s one of the most celebrated aspects of the city).
Macao’s glitzy casinos may have have been the focus of attention in recent times, however, the local design scene is on the rise. Macao’s government has allocated more resources to nurture the design industry and other creative disciplines. So it’s not surprising that some of the best places to visit in Macau for its design elements can be found throughout the city.
“With more opportunities and support from the Macao government, the design industry has been given a new lease of life,” says Dirco Fong, the CEO of Macau Design Centre.
This revival has led to many new unique, fresh spaces, which are bringing a new face to the city. Here are some of the best new and old design attractions to be found in Macao.
Macau Design Centre
Located in a refurbished abandoned historic factory building in northern Macao, the Macau Design Centre (No.5 Travessa Da Fabrica) has 17 studios and stores, a coffee shop, bookstore, rotating exhibitions and a rooftop garden.
The space has many creative design touches and a chic industrial interior, with elements such as old Chinese signage and plenty of raw concrete and exposed fittings.
The creative hub is also home to the Macau Designers Association, which organises the Macau Design Week and Macau Design Biennial.
Located in the artsy St Lazarus District, Re-Elements (10-12 R. de São Roque) has a raw workspace feel about it. There are home accessories and knickknacks, but much of the space is given over to a small leather workshop that hosts leather wallet-making and card-holding sessions.
Mercearia Portuguesa (152 rua de Braganca) in Taipa is the kind of place Macau needs more of. It is a quaint and down to one-stop earth shop selling items like wine, chocolate, jewellery and ceramics.
The outlet is part retail store, part café and part patisserie and French restaurant. It’s located in a charming area of Taipa shaded by trees. The interior space has a wall partially covered in hundreds of blank notebooks, giving it unique papery texture.
A candy and toy shop stocked with crazy Japanese imports, Buddy (14, Yan Hong, Patio De Chon Sau) has a fun, photogenic design. A giant rainbow-colored zebra statue stands guard at the entrance and there are glass balloons created by a local artist on the ceiling.
The St. Regis Macao
Every St. Regis property is a unique expression of its location, incorporating elegance and a design that evokes a sense of place within each distinctive locale. The St. Regis Macao does this with flair.
The hotel is a blend of classic motifs and Macanese inspiration. At the entrance of the property, two bespoke bas-relief works of art frame the grand façade.
These were crafted from clay and are the culmination of a six-month design process overseen by Portuguese artist, Gil Araujo. One panel features an island fronted by three Chinese junks and the other shows a historic port and the docklands of Macau.
Araujo also created a unique mural in the bar of the hotel, which embodies Macao. The blue-and-white Portuguese style tiles seen on the streets of Macau were his inspiration for the piece, and he combined them with imagery of bats, an ancient Chinese symbol of prosperity.
The mural comprises more than 8,000 separate sections of painted glass across four layers and is supported by six LED screens. On the menu in the bar they also serve a Bloody Mary with a Macanese twist.
The Mary of the East comes served with an assortment of canapés like Portuguese chourico and Chinese egg tarts presented on trays with wave motifs appropriated from the city’s famed cobblestone lanes.
Wynn Macau has unique design elements throughout, with an extensive art collection and a distinctive Moon Jelly Aquarium in the lobby.
Wynn’s restaurants are as impressive for their design as they are for their menus.
The Wynn Encore Spa uses an Asian-inspired décor, with a soft and elegant lighting scheme, decorative fixtures and unique rope braiding on the walls made from material used to create the Thai baht.
The Spa at Wynn Macau has a more contemporary design, with stone, wood and other natural materials mixed in with its neutral-toned minimalist scheme.
Four Seasons Hotel Macao
Inspired by colonial architecture, Hirsch Bedner Associates used a subtle residential theme in this gorgeous hotel where the interior design blends seamlessly with the building’s architecture.
The back wall of the reception desk is decked out with replica blue and white 18th-century tiles with historical motifs.
The lobby was modelled after a typical lounge room in a Portuguese colonial home and is decked out with Portuguese lanterns, ceiling fans, bamboo flooring and a fireplace.
Rooms are decorated with textiles and etchings of the city streets, similar to those found in the ancient markets of Macao while a Ming Dynasty-style console and carpets add finishing touches.
Other highlights are a carpet inspired by an original Portuguese 15th-Century arraiolos (needle-point tapestry rungs) in the rotunda. The original is on display in a Lisbon museum. 18th-century Chinese lacquer screens are a reminder of China’s influence on trade and design.
Pousada de Sao Tiago
The classical, calming and intimate design of Pousada de Sao Tiago is a stark contrast to Macao’s casino hotels. This historic hotel has been lovingly restored to maintain a strong sense of its past.
Originally a Portuguese fort, the reconditioned property has an abundance of stone-layered stronghold walls that were once originally used to keep watch for pirates.
Grand Lisboa Palace
Opening soon, the design of Grand Lisboa Palace is already starting to generate buzz.
The development will have three hotel towers, two of which will be designed by fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace.
“The interiors are inspired by China and European Art Deco. The idea was to work with architects and make sure things were elaborate and ornate so that we can bring these two worlds together in a very bespoke fashion,” said Pier Paolo Righi, CEO and President of Karl Lagerfeld.
Both designers also feature Chinese elements in their designs, with Lagerfeld weaving in phoenix and peony emblems, and Versace focusing on dragon and chrysanthemum details. Celebrating East and West, the hotel will be the first Palazzo Versace in Asia and is inspired by landmark European architecture, incorporating both traditional Chinese motifs and elements of Chinoiserie.
Read this post for news about Macao’s newest resorts.
As you step through the door of A Petisqueira (15 Rua S. Joao, Taipa) you feel like you’re transported back in time (or at least to the Portuguese countryside).
In the rustic dining room, they serve up classic Portuguese cuisine on chequered tablecloths. The interior emanates a warm and unpretentious atmosphere.
This award-winning restaurant in a back alley of Taipa Village Macao is in a three-storey building with wooden floors, Portuguese glazed tiles, leather seats and a cosy terrace. Antonio (7 Rua dos Clerigos) has a European look with paintings that add a contemporary note.
With a simple, homely Lisbon vibe, Espaço Lisboa almost feels out of place in buzzy Macao.
The decor and homestyle dishes make Espaço Lisboa (Rua das Gaivotas No8, Coloane) feel like somewhere in Portugal.
When the weather is good, a table on the veranda is the spot to choose.
Macao is a city of festivals. Plan your trip to Macao to coincide with one of these festivals. Our favourites are this parade, the Wushu Masters Challenge, a martial arts event, and Chinese New Year celebrations.