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November 29, 2009

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Envigorating treatment of true spirit of Art Deco

ARGUABLY the most alluring thing about living in Shanghai is the rich mix of architectural styles, with premier examples of Art Deco elegant apartment blocks and villas defined by sharp geometry, sleek and clean lines and a mixture of simplicity and ornateness.

Art Deco style devotees from around the world are looking for the opportunity to live in a piece of historic Shanghai, to experience the glamor of its bygone golden age in the 1930s.

Like many other expats, the American-native Ken and Amy Sommers were amazed by the city's extensive Art Deco landscape and tempted by the romance of living in an old Shanghai style house.

After an uncomfortable living experience at a rented new apartment for a year, they decided to seek and purchase a comfortable living space with aesthetic architectural details - a place where the couple and their two sons could live, relax and create a refuge from the daily grind.

After a very tough search in the former French concession, they eventually found an apartment built in a peaceful lane just off Wulumuqi Road N. which had the settled feeling of a building that had stood the test of time.

"Compared to the other old houses we looked at, this 172-square-meter well-designed Art Deco apartment was in a better shape and delivered the old-world aesthetics we longed for,'' Ken said. "And the whole building structure is solid, with many original features still intact.''

The couple is drawn to Art Deco's clean design, strong angles and balance. They were attracted to the history of the building - the fact that they can sense the passing of time in the structure, space and details.

They were keen to retain some connection with the original building so they planned to retain the original Art Deco feel, such as the metal-framed windows, old wooden floors, high ceilings and plaster details.

After a six-month renovation, the result was a look with a strong Art Deco theme, definitely not fussy. It feels like a trip back through the decades to the 1930s.

"Moving from the United States to Shanghai, we were ready for something very different. We wanted to create an updated Shanghai apartment adapted to today's modern living without ruining the original feeling,'' Ken said.

There was a lot of work to do, and endless headaches involved in renovating the space, but the couple was prepared to see beyond all the problems just to get their hands on all this.

With their keen eye for detail and professional advice from Chris Carey, a young American architect the couple met in Shanghai, the apartment was given new architectural vigor by "returning the rooms to their richly detailed Art Deco roots, then updating them with targeted contemporary interventions.''

They together developed the renovation plan, changed the house layout and ripped out the worn fixtures. An open, free-flowing space was created, giving a sense of coherence with mostly cream walls and rich old wood floor throughout. This is clearly one architect who understood his client perfectly.

During the renovation period, they planned to pack the house with a whole new collection of Art Deco vintage furniture mixed with some reproductions. The carefully chosen chairs, cabinets, tables, lamps and film posters perfectly suit the classical lines of the space.

Various Art Deco pieces, characterized by geometric shapes and the use of luxurious materials, span their living and dining rooms, study and bedroom. Rich and light colors feature all through this style and muted tones for accessories match the orderly feel of the areas.

Everywhere you turn, something special catches the eye. Among the Art Deco treasures they've collected in Shanghai are a huge vintage clock, an impressive curvaceous, mirrored dressing table, a streamlined dining table, and a series of posters from the 1930s.

In keeping with the general theme of the Art Deco style, the couple spent hours and hours in local markets searching for the right materials for the slight touches in the home, such as black and white tiles for the en-suite bathroom, modern lighting fixtures with an Art Deco look and green couch fabrics from Italy that immediately identifies the golden era. Nothing looks out of place to recreate that sense of the 1930s.

The interior was created keeping the open design in mind, with a spacious living room perfect for entertaining and an open kitchen and dining/family area that is private and peaceful where the couple and their boys can enjoy precious family time.

And for the American couple who has a basement for storage back in the US, designing smart storage solutions in this Shanghai apartment was extremely important.

The young architect helped them create some innovative storage solutions and designed built-in furniture serving more than one function such as the Murphy bed in the study.

No one would guess there is a Murphy bed behind the beautiful bookshelves. But when a guest visits, the study can be converted into a comfy guest room.

Overall, the materials and colors for the interior link the house to the architecture and this is truly a home that reflects its owner. The sweeping lines and symmetry of Art Deco make their living space inviting and calm.

Who is he?

Jethro Chan, born and raised in Hong Kong, has been living and working in Shanghai since March 2005.

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

I am creative director of 1221 Design and Communications Shanghai. Apart from doing advertising design, we have our own brand called Paper Works through which we design and market two key product series for both local and overseas consumers:

"Space for Thoughts" is our creative notebook series.

"Living Wise" is our corrugated board furniture series.

Of all the designs I have done so far, I like "Paper Cube" the best.

Are you currently involved with any project?

Yes, a few. One of them I would like to specially mention is "Design for 2010 Shanghai." This is a program for local product designers to contribute their creativity for the city of Shanghai in the 21st century. I am going to design a notebook for this up-and-coming, quickly developed international business hub. Work is still in progress. Stay tuned.

Describe your design style.

I like simple and natural design. I like to do things that can help people or planet earth become more beautiful.

Where are you most creative?

Hard to say for I have a lot of interests. I am a designer. I am a writer. I do pottery and I take photos all the time. If I have to name one thing, I hope that could be my thinking.

What does your home mean to you?

A home should be a shelter to let us feel comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, since we have Internet access nowadays, it has also become my second workplace. Oh, it also is my private library. I read at home very often.

What do you collect?

Books, magazines (Brutus), stones, pens (Lamy), clay toys (Chinese folk art), coins, watches (Seiko), match boxes, toy cars.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

Office and home.

What will be the next big design trend?

Green, eco, environment friendly design. It's the most important thing we need to achieve to make sure our future is ever better.


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