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Color and comfort create a cozy home

IN this world of promoted minimalism and black-and-white trends, there is a unique island of understated exuberance, a warm rainbow of tasteful colors and eccentricity. This place is tucked in the triangle formed by Hunan, Xingguo and Wukang roads.

This is the home of Jean Zimmermann, a 15-year China resident who has spent the last five years in Shanghai, and his adorable eight-year-old daughter Constance. The house is filled with antiques - a mix of old European good taste carefully combined with subtle Chinese and Southeast Asian decorative objects. Yet, it feels fresh and modern, crowded and almost messy with books everywhere. But the home retains a delicate order and thoughtfulness with a unique taste for textures and strong colors.

Place to 'recharge'

It's hard to describe the first impression the home gives as it feels very comfortable, but at the same time, it's hard to pinpoint why or how. Perhaps it's a bit of a paradox, which seems very much in the nature of France-native Zimmermann.

"Shanghai is fast, aggressive, competitive and a place where one just cannot sit back and watch move as it immediately gives the feeling of missing something," said the homeowner, who is the founder of Shanghai-based body, hair and skincare brand Ba Yan Ka La. "Home is a place to balance and recharge from long working hours, a wild night life and active social life, a place to somehow remember who we really are, our values and what defines our uniqueness.''

Upon entering the apartment, you're greeted by a dark wood art deco divide, paired with orange patterned glass inserts, typical of 1930s Shanghai style. This piece creates separation between the entrance and the living room, preventing people from knocking at the door and glancing at the entire room.

Once you step into this big, square room, it becomes slowly obvious that the owner has spent many years in China. There are many elegant and rare antiques on display, proof of Zimmermann's love and attraction to China, including an ancient donkey skin prayer book with gold and silver painted characters, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) monk statues, as well as Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) clay figures. The living room also features art from Asia with antique Balinese teak wood statues, as well as Thai and Philippine hand woven fabrics hanging on the wall.

"In my early days in China, besides climbing the Great Wall, and visiting Beijing's many tourist attractions, there was not that much to do. So I used to spend my weekends browsing the then mud filed Panjiayuan market,'' he said. "Most sellers would come from Tianjin for the weekend and empty their attic of items that had little value to them, antique Chinese artifacts and furniture.''

But not all objects in his home are antiques. The sofa is modern, as are the Tan Dun paintings, European designer lights and his daughter's bedroom.

Above all, culture comes to mind when in Zimmermann's home. An entire wall has been turned into a massive wall unit with an assortment of books, CDs and a multitude of small antiques.

His love for detail and small items is striking. The special feeling transpiring from his home comes from the attention put into these details and how the eye discovers it as it wanders from shelf to shelf and room to room. When sitting on the sofa, the walls suddenly take life and the colors make a strong statement.

Earthy red for the open kitchen, followed by orange and apple green in the living room, navy blue and white for the bathroom, pink for his daughter's room and burgundy and Lila for the master bedroom. Masterfully picked, the colors were chosen to accentuate the light in each room, brightening dark areas and toning down bright spots.

From the heart

"I find white walls cold and depressing, I wanted life and color everywhere," Zimmermann said. "The difficulty of this exercise is to pick colors that work in harmony, without becoming tacky and provocative, yet not falling into boring classic shades. Somehow it is about putting on the wall the colors we have in our heart."

The presence of a child is obvious as her paintings and drawings cover the walls, from the living room all the way to papa's bedroom.

The living room features three water color paintings and Constance's first oil canvas. Her room has three fantastic representations of the city made when she was only three years old.

"I just love her paintings and feel she has real talent for arts," he said. "I want to cultivate it and show great respect for all the worthy pieces.

"Also growing up in Europe, the eye gets accustomed to beauty through architecture, museums and preservation of the old structures," he continued. "To me it is fundamental for children to grow up around beauty and taste in order for them to develop those skills and sensitivity in their adult life. It provides for some peace of the soul."

Speaking of the soul, Zimmermann's kitchen - once four rooms that have been converted into one big open space - is another special space with its earthy red paint on raw concrete. A Song Dynasty (960-1279) table presides under an authentic 1950s Great Leap Forward poster. Halogen light chords serve as a hanging display for antique silver scales. Majiayao clay pots adorn kitchen shelves above the inviting teak wood working counter.

"I love to cook, so the kitchen is definitely a central part of our life here," he said. "We love to hang out here and so do our friends. With the floor heated in the winter, we paint, chat or even do homework on the tiled floor."

Both bathrooms use the same teak wood counters with white sinks and white and blue tiles, creating a western France coastal feel, emphasized by the ancient maps of Beijing and Asia on the walls. A blue mosaic tiled bath tub, the size of a small pool, is a home design idea.

Everywhere in the home, there is a story to tell, a detail to be noted. From Niu An's or Tan Dun's contemporary paintings to opulent central Asian or hand-woven Mongolian horse carpets laid tastefully on the floor, and contemporary design pieces, to northern Chinese antique furniture and art deco influenced 1930s Shanghai pieces, the visitor is permanently reminded of Zimmermann's eclectic taste. Beyond East and West, the home is a place full of contrasts, stirring many feelings and emotions, just like the people who live there.

Who is he?

Jamy Yang is a product designer. He has won more than 10 international design awards such as the Red Dot Concept Gold Award, European Kitchen Cupboard Design Silver Award, Design for Asia Silver Award and Top Ten Excellent Young Chinese Designers.

Yang graduated from the industrial department of Zhejiang University and the China Academy of Art and was sponsored for a master's degree in Germany. He was a former product designer at Siemens' headquarters in Germany.

He founded Jamy Yang Design Consultancy Inc in 2005 and designer brand Y-TOWN in 2007. His list of clients include Siemens, Bosch, Absolut Vodka, NBA, Kingston, Emtec, F1, China National Offshore Oil Corp and Shanghai World Expo.

Tell us some of your works and name the one you are most proud of.

Some of the recent work in our portfolio includes the Gdium netbook computers for French company Dexxon, a premium watch for Swatch and the executive gift for World Expo 2010.

Up till now, I'm most proud of the Absolut Pears Dual Package, which reflects the design philosophy of sustainability and was granted a 2008 Design for Asia Silver Award. This promotional special packaging integrated enhanced brand identity, reduced waste, was convenient to use and was a commercial success.

Are you currently involved in any project?

It's hard to name all the projects in our design studio because there are too many. Besides designing some fashionable digital products such as MP3 players and USB sticks, I'm working on the second generation of Gdium laptops for the European market and a kitchen cupboard design for China's largest kitchen manufacturer.

Describe your design style.

Basically I prefer simplicity. However, we also consider how to interpret the oriental spirit with a modern twist so as to tailor it for some projects in China.

Where are you most creative?

Inspiration happens when I'm not particularly paying attention, for instance in my dreams. Sometimes I feel creative when I'm in the bathroom, bedroom or while driving.

What does your home mean to you?

Home is an unrestricted place to rest, relax and dream. Compared to any other location, it's also a very intimate space.

What do you collect?

I collect a lot, from strange ancient wares from suburban China to designer objects from boutiques and flea markets all over the world, to a huge collection of mini-car models.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

I have been looking for a large living space with a big sofa (but it is not my home). It should be filled with all kinds of books and magazines, with food and drinks always available. I've been searching a few locations and getting closer to what I imagine.

What will be the next big design trend?

The big trend is to be non-material, diverse and catering to niche markets because consumers in the future will be divided into small groups. They will become much more mature and particular than they are now.


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