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April 25, 2010

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Consul finds comfort in Grosvenor residence

IN the central part of Shanghai one of the best-located accommodation venues, is Jin Jiang Hotel complex that overlooks 10,000 square meters of gardens and includes one of the major buildings: the lavish Grosvenor House.

The luxurious apartment building, flanked by east and west wings, features high plaster work ceilings, gorgeous lamps and polished parquet floors. It was a remarkable piece of Palmer & Turner architecture built in 1935, with significant Art Deco embellishments.

Inside the building, the home of Eric Verwaal, consul general of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Shanghai, is a perfect spot from which to soak up the city's ever-changing landscape. The reason they rent the whole floor speaks for itself. Ask his wife Erna Verwaal-Eldering what they love so much about it and she points outside.

"It is the house of our dreams and the view outside was just breathtaking. I don't have to wonder where I am when I open up the curtains and look out the window. There is no doubt: the city lies at my feet and I'm clearly in Shanghai!"

The city's ever-growing skyline fills the space and the couple is clearly in love with Shanghai's hectic charm. "The location could not be better: we are in the middle of the city in the former French Concession. Walking out of the front door there is always something interesting to see or a nice street to discover with small boutiques, cafes and restaurants," Verwaal-Eldering said.

Having previously lived in a villa on Jianhe Road, the couple was always tempted by the romance of living in downtown. About two years ago, they went to the private farewell reception of the former consul general of Canada and had their first encounter with the Grosvenor House. "As soon as we entered her apartment we looked at each other and said 'this would be a great place to live','' she said.

"When I had to look for a new residence because the previous lease was going to expire, I asked the estate agent over and over again to call and see if there was any space available here. Finally she had good news: we went to have a look and snapped it up on the spot."

Large rooms, sleek decor, abundant light, well-proportioned without being intimidating: this is the mantra for an official residence that motivated the couple to rent Unit A, B and C on the entire floor. As an interior designer herself, Verwaal-Eldering had a strong vision of how the home should be.

She saw the potential to create intimate, welcoming spaces and areas tailored to their needs and infused with the right ambience to welcome guests in a pleasant and appropriate manner.

"The apartment has so much style and atmosphere of its own accord that almost anything would look good here," Verwaal-Eldering said. Keen to preserve the integrity of the building, she wanted to breathe back a bit of its former glory into the kitchen and bathrooms by using a sympathetic style and fixtures.

"There was very little we didn't like about the house. The major change involved connecting Unit A to Unit B and C to make one large apartment, enlarging the kitchen by incorporating a breakfast room, updating the bathrooms and adding a staff room," she said. "Once the renovation was made the rest was easy, as the house itself was so naturally beautiful. It has a good 'flow' and both the private and the official spaces work really well."

In addition to being simultaneously dynamic, uplifting, warm and welcoming, the residence perfectly showcases Dutch design and innovation so that guests are left with an impression of what the country's designers are capable of. "My philosophy is that because we represent our country, the Netherlands, we should showcase Dutch design - and it is an honor to do so," Verwaal-Eldering said.

The Art Deco interior was thus countered with a highly curated display of innovative shapes, tactile textures and expressive forms. A combination of fabric sofas and sheer curtains soften the crisp lines and sharp angles while rugs and tonally themed ornaments inject texture and color.

The furnishings have been selected to reflect both Dutch and Chinese characteristics. In the private areas she designed and customized Chinese style pieces whereas in the official spaces, interiors are modern and whimsical with an eclectic mix of contemporary Dutch design classics. Here, the living areas and the 16-seat dining room (official areas) have been softened with a vibrant use of color and rich texture.

Verwaal-Eldering's expertise in interior design is evident in the way she displays her favorite items, which once again reflect her personal and professional interests: art and design are mutual passions.

Creative spirit is strongly evident among the displayed items, from Paper Buffet by Moooi, Bubbles by Harco Loor, Light Shade Shade by Jurgen Bey to 3 minus 1 table by Richard Hutten. Everywhere you turn, something stunning and special catches the eye. A notable enduring factor of Dutch design, from the very first impression, is its distinct characteristic of being revolutionary in nature.

One of the homeowner's favorite pieces, Touch Wood Table by Droog design, looks simple and not very eye-catching until you look closer. It is made of basic wood but then a sleeve of silk with wood-grain woven into it is pulled over to make it so special, combining sustainability with wonderful design. The same goes for the Paper Buffet sideboard by Moooi, another magnificent design using a clever manufacturing technique to allow for a paper construction.

To make the space cozier, beautiful glows were added to the home with a stylish selection of lamps created by Jurgen Bey, Harco Loor, Ligne Roset, Brand van Egmond and Moooi.

"Dutch design is funny, quirky, innovative and sustainable," Verwaal-Eldering said. "It is very down to earth, too, which means that it is there to be used and not only to be looked at. I love design that is created by people who are passionate about what they do."

"Everything here is what I like or what I thought was a good example of Dutch design. I just love the Dutch style of doing things, by reconfiguring old elements in new ways and choosing sustainable materials for a better environment," she said.

Overall, the materials and colors for the interior link the house to the architecture and this is truly a place to relax and unwind for the busy couple.

"More specifically, a really unique and lovely piece of Shanghai," Verwaal-Eldering said. "Our guests feel very relaxed and comfortable here and they are always reluctant to leave because they like it so much."


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