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February 3, 2024

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A sanctuary from stress in the form of a traditional lane house

WHEN Johnny Panagiotidis and Johannes Tan got the chance to live in a refurbished lane house in Shanghai, they leaped at it.

The three-story house in a historical lane off Nanjing Road W. reflects the duo’s earthy yet sophisticated style. While modernizing its interior, the cozy home retains its charm.

Tan, a Chinese Filipino who has lived in the city for 14 years, works as a headhunter for a professional services firm that recruits senior consumer retail executives.

Panagiotidis, a Greek Australian, has worked for a marketing insights consultancy agency for eight years.

“I suppose, like lots of expats in Shanghai, we wanted to experience living in a more traditional laneway home but didn’t want to forgo all the comforts of living in a modern space,” Panagiotidis said.

They desired a location near Jing’an District for their long work hours and proximity to workplaces, cafes and eateries. On the first day of looking, they found this perfect home on the border of Huangpu and Jing’an districts. Most of their usual destinations are walkable or bikeable.

“Once we walked in, we immediately knew we wanted to live in the space and didn’t look at any others that day,” Panagiotidis said.

Besides the sleek, basic style, the duo enjoyed the house’s high ceilings and sky windows, which gave it a sense of space and openness.

“The huge skylight two levels above illuminates the living space when you enter. Large skylights in the master bedroom and bathroom provide views of the sky and clouds during showers and bedtime,” he said.

Another great design element is the enormous wall mirror opposite the first-floor stairway, which opens up the area.

“The stairway seems two-way, so we thought it led in two directions — it’s deceitful. I think the living room would be very limited without it in the narrow house,” Panagiotidis said.

Despite not making any functional improvements, the couple furnished the home from scratch. Tan became an interior designer because of his creativity. He paints and photographs in addition to working in business.

Tan studied several home design styles and favors Scandinavian design for its clean, uncomplicated esthetic and natural tones and textures. Scandinavian style is also timeless, so they can reuse and reproduce if they move to other apartments.

“The rough exterior gives way to a warm, unexpected interior. The interior is so different from the outside that guests are usually shocked when they enter. The ground-floor room is brightened by mirrors and skylights,” Panagiotidis said.

The ground floor consists of an open kitchen adjacent to the front door, a dining area in the center and a living space.

“Initially, a little round table was pushed against the wall, but we felt it disrupted the flow when people moved in or out. So having it in the center made more sense,” Panagiotidis said.

Tan also uses the table for his workspace. There is always room where he sits, which makes him feel quite comfortable. He also had a large mirror from his former flat, which fit well against the wall.

It is good feng shui (geomantic arrangement) to put a mirror near the dining area because it is thought to help keep riches. The mirror brightens the room while also making this part appear larger.

The furniture is generally natural in color and has organic textures. Most pieces come from Taobao.

“We were amazed at how cost-effectively you could furnish a three-level house purchasing via Taobao compared with if you did this in a city like London, New York and Sydney,” said Panagiotidis.

Tan’s friend who left China gave them a 100-year-old antique piece, but most of the furniture is new. This chest has traveled across Europe and North America, and now resides in China.

“Not only is it decorative, but very functional too, as we can store a lot of stuff inside, which is very fitting with the Scandi style,” Panagiotidis said.

Tan made the artwork and travel photos. He began displaying his photographs and abstract art pieces at home.

Known as JohannesLee on YouTube, Tan is also a content creator who shares his experiences in China and his travels through his channel.

During the COVID lockdown, the painting was his little escape, and he challenged himself to paint his biggest canvas to date, which is now hanging in the master bedroom.

“We both prefer minimalism with less clutter. We both like to spend money on experiences rather than material possessions, which contributes to the space’s simplicity and spaciousness. The more stuff you have, the more effort it takes to remove dust,” Panagiotidis explained.

“Our home is our sanctuary. Shanghai moves at such a frenetic pace, and working in the corporate sector can be stressful at times, so you need somewhere to escape and withdraw from it all. Even on days when we’ve been under a lot of strain and stress at work, the instant we step in the door, we feel much more relaxed and calm. Our residence is also a place where we like to gather people, whether for brunch, dinners or parties.”


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