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November 26, 2022

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Living amid serenity in Central Shanghai

For Tong Hao, it was the view that won him over. The verdant outdoor area enables each window to create an atmosphere of serenity in his newly rented abode in the city center.

“It simply feels like living in a forest with both transparency and privacy. Living here, I’m accustomed to getting up early on weekends and fully exploring the light and shadow transformation of the space brought by the abundant sunlight in the early mornings,” he said.

“Shanghai is a city of hustle and bustle, but the trees cover that busy feeling.”

The current apartment he calls home is housed on the third floor of a historic building tucked away inside Lane 148 on Wulumuqi Road M. This lane used to be called Qimei Xincun with a history of more than 80 years. Zhao Hongben, who is respected as the “godfather” of the Chinese comic strip circle, and Yuan Yiling, a famous Shanghai opera artist, lived here before.

“My passion for old lane houses stemmed from my experience living in Europe. When you walk into those old houses that have hundreds of years of history at every turn, I would feel an energy. There were stories about life that had carried through the past hundreds of years, from generation to generation,” Tong said. “That fascinated me so much. This kind of space connects me now with them in the past.”

Tong has moved around different cities such as Shanghai, Hangzhou and London for Alibaba Group. He witnessed and participated in the rapid development of China’s e-commerce and Alibaba’s global expansion. Now he started his own business, a digital new retail consulting company, to provide digital strategy consulting and incubation solutions for new overseas brands entering China.

Regardless of his busy schedule, a cozy home base is of utmost importance.

“My requirements for an ideal home are: quietness in the midst of the hustle and bustle, open space, harmonious neighborhood relationships, and most importantly, enough outdoor space to grow my plants,” he said.

“Walking outside the lane, Anfu Road is on the left where you’re able to blend into the fashionable circles and occasionally appear in a scene of the most popular Shanghai street shots on Xiaohongshu.”

When Tong goes south along Wulumuqi Road M., he quickly passes a Hunan-style restaurant with 17 years of history and gets a fresh pork bun for 2 yuan (28 US cents).

“This kind of combination of modern and traditional elements reflects the cultural tolerance and appreciation of living amidst variety. Living here allows me to be myself even more casually. It doesn’t matter if I wear pajamas or dress up,” he said.

The apartment was a bare shell when he first saw it. But it had wooden floors and exposed wooden ceilings that had been used for decades, and they were well maintained. Tong was particularly fond of the flow of the space that was opened up to connect the living and dining rooms.

The open-plan living and dining rooms reflect his entertaining style and an eye for detail. He replaced a peacock blue printed wallpaper covering a wall of the living room with off-white dark-patterned wallpaper, leaving only white and wood colors as a base to allow the furnishing pieces to be the stars of the show.

Tong is fascinated by many style and design elements, especially the artistic styles of the first half of the last century, such as Chandigarh, Eileen Gray Bibendum and Panton chairs. His favorite oil-painting artists include Frida Kahlo and Rene Magritte.

“It is a challenge to make a great mix and match style. I spent a lot of time selecting single items as a first step, and then combined these items with drawing software to make non-professional renderings to further screen out suitable furniture and style combinations,” he said.

The layout is also visually striking. When you walk in, you immediately see a nice balcony extended from the living quarter, with the exposed wooden beams giving it a unique character.

“Basically the style of living, dining and bedroom is based on the wood structure and gritty white walls of the entire space,” Tong said.

A dining table featuring a transparent acrylic base together with Chandigarh-style back chairs decorate the dining space. A wooden side table sits by the window. Together, it creates a somewhat Southeast Asian resort style, but brightens the space with red Panton chairs.

Tong has chosen brown leather single chairs and caramel-colored rattan radar chairs, together with small rattan-weaved mesh side tables, for the living room to connect the style of the dining room.

“By adding a white lamb velvet sofa and a caramel velvet Bibendum-style chair, with a mint green SMEG mini refrigerator, the space is transformed into a soft and comfortable atmosphere with Italian retro simplicity combined with Southeast Asian resort style,” Tong said.

To enrich the entire space, Tong selected his own photography studies to create some unique aesthetic views.

“Such uniqueness cannot be found anywhere else, but belongs to me and reflects how I see the world,” he said.

The space also features a set of photographs specially selected from thousands for the space. He named it “Fire-lowers.”

“I hope to make this century-old house full of vitality. It includes tulips taken during a noon trip in Switzerland and fireworks shot by fixed focus and time-lapse setting at a festival in Kyoto. There’s also a frame that I shot of my friend who was sitting with me in a car, when the warm light of the sun hit her face and red hair,” he said.

The green plants are another vivid display of vigorous vitality. The balcony connected to the living area is full of flowers, while the square terrace upstairs is covered with green leafy plants.

The bedroom space is compact, so Tong didn’t over-decorate. He chose a bed with a rattan headboard, which is consistent with the furniture, and placed it by the window.

“During the day, I open the windows, and the sunlight comes through the dense leaves outside and shines on the white bed sheets. With a light breeze and birdsong, it feels like I’m on vacation, relaxed and free.”


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