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Lover of Art Deco finally finds perfect space

SPENCER Dodington has spent the past 15 years searching, experiencing, and shifting houses in Shanghai. But it's not a nomadic urge that propels his perennial quest to find the perfect home.

"It was my goal to live in every old, purpose-built apartment building in the city," said the Texas-born Dodington who is involved in Shanghai tours, renovations, architecture and arts.

Among his list of around 80 apartment blocks built during the 1930s and 40s, Dodington's preference goes to horizontal Art Deco-style architecture.

"The flat should have retained original features, such as old windows, high ceilings, and wooden floors. And I prefer a balcony, a piece of outdoors, no matter how small."

With a background in architecture and an instinct for recognizing an architectural gem, Dodington discovered this 130-square-meter apartment inside the Washington Apartments that he just had to have for himself. And after living in nine other places, he finally found the one, his apartment No. 10.

Built in 1928, the Art Deco apartment building with a light green facade stands at the corner of Hengshan and Gao'an roads.

Renovating old apartments is Dodington's expertise, and it draws on his extensive knowledge of the city's architectural past. Though having spent his early career in finance, his passion for Shanghai's old architecture took him into the business of home restoration and interior design.

His design brief for his own newly purchased flat was to enhance the old touches and expand the space for practical living and entertaining.

"You have to think about the functional use of every space," he said. "The public area is in the front of the house and the back of the house is the private zone, which is how it should be."

Obviously, the starting point was to decide how he wanted to live.

The flat's layout today is almost the same as the original - the only change is the kitchen, which now encompasses a servant's bedroom, storage room and the original kitchen. These are now one big space, opening onto the small balcony, the homeowner's favorite spot.

The high ceilings and sliding glass doors make the space feel more imposing than its actual size would suggest. Ensuring the interior was flooded with daylight was another priority. Within this framework, Dodington's rare talent for turning old and forgotten elements into new must-haves is evident.

"The style came second once I figured out what the space would be," he said. "I had to continue the style that was already in the house."

Dodington was keen to retain some connection with the original style. As much as possible, he retained old features, including the metal-framed windows and plaster details.

He enhanced functional possibilities by creating something very much blended in to match the existing historical elements.

In the kitchen and bathroom he used terrazzo, a material used in the building's public spaces. Newly installed sliding glass doors were designed in the same style as the original metal-framed windows.

The interior color concept also refers to the historic situation. "Actually, I took my color cue from the Peace Hotel renovation," he said, adding that an architect friend working on the project showed him the original wall color of the hotel's entry way.

"I used this same cream color for my living section because it is a harmonious color working well with all my things and it's also an old-fashioned color that goes with the time of the building. So once again the historical period works."

Dodington picked different wall colors for each functional space: cream for the living area, followed by green in the kitchen, and blue for the bedroom. The colors were carefully chosen to help unify the layout and make him feel calm and happy.

In terms of furniture, the homeowner had a clear idea of how he wanted the flat to look.

It was important to have a home where he could surround himself with all his favorite Art Deco pieces. He curated the interior, gathering favorite objects, aiming for discoveries at every turn.

"Searching for Shanghai Art Deco treasures from the past has been my passion for a decade. The style is classic, simple, interesting, and unique to Shanghai," he said.

Shanghai Art Deco is a distinct style that evolved in the 1920s and 1930s, strongly influenced by the generic Art Deco style and a combination of traditional Chinese furniture designs and woods.

The living room, divided into two sections by a sliding glass door, required the most thought.

Dodington displayed the most spectacular and elegant Art Deco pieces in the sitting room/guest room, such as the old lounge bed from the old Peace Hotel and a pair of sofas from the old Jinjiang Hotel.

The apartment has almost all the aspects of the Art Deco style - except for Dodington's personal collection of contemporary Chinese paintings. They might seem polar opposites, but the Deco furniture with its dark, clean lines - together with the bold strong lines and colors of contemporary art - creates a cohesive picture with special visual impact.

Ask the owner:

Q: What's the best thing about living in Shanghai?

A: The dynamism, the constant change. It's very addictive.

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Calming, interesting, warm.

Q: What's the first thing you do when you get home?

A: Walk into the kitchen and look out the balcony.

Q: How do you unwind?

A: I sit in one of my club chairs with a nice drink.

Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?

A: The kitchen.

Q: What's the best view outside your window?

A: The plane tree canopy over Hengshan Rd.

Q: What's your favorite object at home?

A: My silverware, collected from many different antiques dealers here and overseas.

Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?

A: Many places. Small antique shops are the best, though understandably they don't have the largest selection.


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