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February 10, 2012

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Modern makeover for charming lane house

NIRINA and Olivier Josse's rented three-floor garden house down a peaceful lane on Yongfu Road has a serene scheme that feels both luxe and laid-back.

The sleek house, in which the couple lives with their two sons Hery and Andry, is a reflection of their character, in that they like things that are modern and artsy, yet full of memories.

With an area of 150 square meters, the house is light and bright, thanks to clean white walls and the liberal use of glass doors that let in plenty of natural light from the garden. The effect might seem effortless, but it took a lot of thoughtful planning to turn the old property into a modish home.

The French couple felt very lucky to rent this house with a limited budget. They like the house's clear division of space, the shady garden and neighborhood environment with a mix of French and local people.

When they first saw the house two and a half years ago, it was in a good condition but the renovations were cheaply done and the wooden floors kept sinking down. "Last year we talked to the landlord about our plans to renovate the house again and he agreed on everything,'' Nirina said.

The couple approached French architect Elsa Le Rocheleuil to explore the idea of renovating the house to a contemporary space. Rocheleuil said the couple had very clear ideas of what they wanted and her job was to make sure their list of practical needs translated into a beautiful modern space.

On the first floor, the old dark wooden floors were replaced by the white paint cement, which makes the interior much lighter and sleeker. The study was enlarged and the French windows were upgraded with new frames.

The central living space on the ground floor is open and airy, with a comfortable white leather sofa dividing the functional spaces between a sitting area at one side and the dining area at the other. The cooking zone and kitchen counter is next to the dining area.

The open-plan first level shows off the couple's panache for mixing ultra-modern with vintage. Unlike many expatriates in the city who opt for an Oriental style, Nirina and Olivier prefer all things modern in a white and black theme.

"We didn't want a traditional, dark lane house, thus the walls and the floor were painted white. The white cement floor makes a huge difference. And most of our furniture pieces are minimalist, white and translucent," Nirina said.

All things white and modern doesn't mean plain and boring. The decorative pieces - from the African statues, an eclectic mix of colorful cushions, and photograph works they acquired over the years - are individual and thought-provoking.

"All the furniture pieces are simple so we chose some nice pictures to showcase our personalities such as the works by Shanghai photographer Charlie Xia and American video artist Bill Viola," Olivier said.

They are careful not to add too many items to avoid clutter.

"We don't spend that much money on decorations," Nirina said. "We bought everything we truly like. Each piece of furnishing and decor is very dear to us. They all remind us of our life together."

The expanse of French windows span the visual space and create views that taper into leafy trees in the attached garden. The shady garden means it's possible to enjoy being outside throughout the day in nice weather.

Although the garden house provides a peaceful escape from the hectic city, it's also a nice place to entertain friends and family, either in the garden or around the sitting area.

Most of the time the family hangs out on the first floor where the kids play on the heated floor, Nirina lounges on the sofa and Olivier at the kitchen counter.

"I love sitting in the kitchen," Olivier said, "and looking in the mirror placed in the corner of the dining room. It has reflections from each corner of the living room. And the mirror adds a sense of depth to the space, making it appear roomier."

Walking up the staircase, there is a collage of framed photographs and drawings by different artists on the wall. The couple calls it "a contemporary French way of decoration."

The second level belongs to the kids' bedrooms and a Pilates studio. The entire top floor is the couple's sanctuary.

"Olivier is happy with a black-and-white themed decor, but I need to bring a feminine touch to our master bedroom," Nirina said. "I painted the bedroom walls in pale pink and we found a good balance between masculine and feminine elements. We are very complimentary regarding styles and colors but we have exactly the same taste for art."

Who is he?

French designer Thomas Dariel established Dariel & Arfeuillere - A Lime 388 Company in 2006, the same year he came to China. He was awarded best young designer of the year at the eighth (2010) Modern Decoration International Media Prize. Some people says "he is crazy" after meeting him for the first time. He reads in the bathtub, moves into a new house every year, and has an antique mahjong table together with a huge plaster model in his living room. He loves to break normal habits and likes to make life full of fun.

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

We have had several great achievements in 2011 which I am proud of. Among the four restaurants we have designed in Sinan Mansion for chef David Laris (Yucca, 12 Chairs, The Fat Olive and The Funky Chicken), my heart is definitely going to Yucca. I succeeded to create something that I think to be very different, very avant-garde and that has a strong impact on people ... very far away from the folkloric ideas one can have of a Mexican lounge. As a matter of fact, everybody loves that space. It generated a lot of publicity all over the world and I won the Best Lounge Design under Jintang Prize China Interior Design Award 2011. But I am also very proud of the wine lounge Kartel in the former French concession and the Dunmai office project in South Bund.

Are you currently working on any projects?

We are involved in several projects, from hospitality, retail to private villas, restaurants and clubs. One of them is a luxury boutique hotel located in Zhouzhuang, a water town close to Shanghai. This project is particularly attractive and compelling as, renovating three heritage buildings, we find ourselves in the very core of Chinese culture. We gained the trust of clients and investors, who are now giving us free reign over our design. 2012 will be for us the expansion year with several projects all over China. In Beijing, I will redesign the well-known MIX Club with a totally different approach and concept.

Describe your design style.

Mixing Chinese and French culture. I like to take some Chinese and French elements from history, and then mix them into a beautiful yet unexpected artwork. I also like using colors, which you can see from my designs. Juxtaposing different styles, collecting objects, creating strong contrasts ... however, the most important to me is to always be fresh and different. I enjoy devoting myself to a provocative project where the design can be edgy and catch people's eye.

What does your home mean to you?

Happiness. My son is my everything and he is also my inspiration.

What do you collect?

I collect lots of objects I find during my trips as well as in my day-to-day life.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

The Puli Hotel. This place is so relaxing that I have spent almost one week there with my family, even if I live nearby. I think that the key to judge a good design rests on our senses. Sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. The visual impact when you enter a space and discover its design, the combination of scents and fragrances all over the place, the flavor of the food, the texture of the materials when you walk or sit, and the music -- or silence --- appropriate to the atmosphere. You feel comfortable when your five senses are in tune. When I am designing, it is one of the main principles I take into consideration.

What will be the next big design trend?

The 1950s is back! Elements of the 1950s will be super hot, in fashion as well as in interior design. Grace and elegance will still stay the keys to the trend.

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

A: The best thing ever is to be able to live in a house with a garden in downtown Shanghai.

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Bright, contemporary, friendly.

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

A: Kick off the shoes!

Q: How do you unwind?

A: Nothing beats listening to music, eventually singing and dancing with the kids.

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

A: Most of the time we hang on the first floor, the kids sprawled on the heated floor, me on the sofa, my husband at the dinner table or at the kitchen counter.

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

A: The best view is definitely our garden, especially now with the new window frames. It looks like a living picture. So beautiful!

Q: How do you scent your home?

A: It depends on the mood, frankincense (mostly musk and amber), room fragrance (earthly perfumes), or essential oils (lighter smells like lemongrass, eucalyptus, green tea).

Q: What's your favorite object at home?

A: If I had to choose, my favorite object would be our dining table, custom-designed by my husband. But honestly each piece of decor/furnishing is very dear to us. They all remind us of our life together.

Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?

A: We don't shop at a specific address, it's all mix and match.


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