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May 9, 2010

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El casa mine Spaniard adds style to landmark home

TUCHO Iglesias' 200-square-meter apartment in the Embankment Building is a testament to his ability to work over a range of different scales and hold onto a very unique style. He enjoys mixing art and objects, high and low, West and East, old and new.

Born to a traditional Spanish family of wealthy real estate owners and art collectors in Madrid, Iglesias had a privileged artistic upbringing. His passion for interior design dates back to his childhood when he traveled all the world with the family, staying in the most beautiful luxury retreats in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

Since 2003, he has lived and worked in 10 Asian countries, marketing and branding for Royal Madrid during the first three years. "I didn't have a home from 2003 to 2006 and I slept more than a thousand nights in five-star hotels,'' he said. "I couldn't find a place I really enjoyed 100 percent. Five-star hotels provided comfort and security but are not very meaningful while some home stays I chose mirrored their own personality -- cheerful and warm -- but lack comfort sometimes.''

Then he started to think: Why not create one place where I can have both? "Now I know very well all the standards of five-star hotels and what they lack, so I planned to open serviced residences that boast the ultimate comfort, personality traits and rich flavor of local culture so guests can have unparalleled enjoyment which is lacking in star-rated properties.''

At the age of 30, Iglesias has completed his first urban living concept "Chai Shanghai Living'' formed by 16 uniquely designed residences within the Embankment Building, a historical landmark just off Suzhou Creek designed by Palmer & Turner in 1932, reputed at the time to be the largest apartment building in the Far East.

Iglesias' own dwelling is also tucked in the building. Before eventually finding his own retreat, he had researched and checked 200 buildings in Shanghai. "Since the age of 12, I always liked real estate from the perspective of old, heritage properties that had creative possibilities. I don't see myself doing any huge high-rise.''

What makes him most happy is creating and innovating. Skyscrapers, city lights sparkling on the water at nights -- with a view like this, the aim for Iglesias was not to compete but to balance, to create a stylish, inviting apartment that made the most of the panorama but played out its own welcoming ambience.

"It had to be changed structurally,'' he said. "I wanted to put my own interpretation on it, without the boundaries of what was already there."

The spacious apartment originally was divided into three for three families before Iglesias took it. Most of the original walls were knocked down to make virtually an empty shell. The living, working, dining and kitchen areas are now one big space demarcated based on function rather than physical divisions.

Concrete beams running through the length of the living room not only are integrated into the structure, but also act as a visual frame that pulls together the rest of the elements. The specially waxed old wooden floor complements the apartment's vibe and provides a raw backdrop for the furnishings.

But Iglesias was not trying to recreate the 1930s. In fact, much of the apartment is modern, with a combination of materials, sleek furnishing and exposed electrical conduits. "I wanted to give the house something sophisticated, quite classical but with a contemporary edge,'' he said.

Iglesias particularly loves the original bathroom door which still maintains the 1930s door handle. In the 1950s, there was a star shape cut out on the door. "This door represents three periods in history -- the 1930s, 1950s and 2005 when I took over the place and put a mirror in the star," he said.

"The inspiration of this house is the star. When I was small, I had many pleasant evening sails in the middle of the ocean, enjoying the breathtaking night sky full of stars. Yet in Shanghai I wouldn't be able to sail, so I decorated my house with 'stars' instead.''

Iglesias knows well when choosing a decorating theme that the personality of the resident should shine. That is what gives a home character.

"Stars'' can be found from the entryway to bathroom to the kitchen and all the way to the master bedroom, where he installed LED lighting on the ceiling for a visual escape to outer space wonders.

Throughout the house, he focused on blending old world aesthetics with clean, modern silhouettes. Hence, the decor is a mix of contemporary furniture he sourced or designed and old pieces like the antique Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) table.

The open-plan space is divided into the kitchen, lounge area, the living space and a "fire'' room. The sleek, stainless steel suspended kitchen area helps maintain the apartment's modern, uncluttered look. To him, it was vital to keep the kitchen practical and avoid disturbing the seamless flow of light and space.

Opposite the kitchen counter is the lounge area where Iglesias spends lots of time relaxing. Sitting on the sofa, the view into the living area is enhanced by the pair of porcelain sculptures by artist Yuan Xiaolei and a set of paintings by Cuban artist Noel Galera.

Iglesias called the stylish, multi-functional area "fire room'' as it was decked out with copper materials, copper color fabrics and a fireplace. "It is a space to grow as it could be a cinema, library or dining area, as well as a space to showcase my newest collections,'' he said. "My priority is to combine different functions to have one big living area.''

It was important to get the function of the space right, and storage was the key element. He added built-in cabinetry and mirrors to give the illusion of space and reflects the views.

Just the shimmering, reflective quality of mirrors makes them a lovely accent piece.

In this lofty open space, the sole partition is a white-painted wall, which divides the bedroom from the rest of the apartment. The neutral tone creates a cocooning feel in the homeowner's private haven.

This home makes it apparent that by giving the space your own touch and mixing the old with the new, and glamorous with raw, the decoration style can be cozy, practical and totally personal as well.


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