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January 6, 2012

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Old is gold in apartment overlooking Suzhou Creek

AN old apartment composed of three home units has been transformed into a chic and functional urban pad inside the famous Embankment Building that is called home by a growing expat community.

Italian architect and designer Nunzia Carbone from Dedo Design immediately saw the potential of the space in one of the building's apartments. She completely changed the layout and renovated the interior into a cool, airy urban pad, a far cry from the cramped space it used to be.

James Mochnsky rented the apartment and he feels lucky to live in the wonderful place created by Carbone.

Having moved from New York to Shanghai in early 2008 as creative director for Haier's 2008 Olympic advertising campaign, Mochnsky looked for a home where he needs to "feel something" when first walking into the space.

"I love places with a history and soul because they are alive. I'm not a big fan of a brand-new construction because they don't give much back," he said.

Upon his arrival in Shanghai, Mochnsky was temporarily placed in a new serviced apartment and couldn't wait to get out. "I remember one of the things I struggled with the most was it had no oven. Of course I thought the perfect solution would be an old apartment in the former French Concession area. It would meet my requirements for something with a history and be in a beautiful neighborhood," he said. During the home searching process, his realtor also suggested that they take a look at an "amazing apartment" but it wasn't located in the former French concession. Reluctantly Mochnsky agreed and then had his first viewing of this very apartment that had recently been renovated by Carbone.

"It was a harmonious balance of the old and new, yet fully meeting the requirements of contemporary urban living. By eliminating most of the walls, the apartment had been transformed into a spacious loft style space," he said.

"Of course I fell in love with it, but because my Shanghai universe was so small then I couldn't come to terms with the location. So I passed and moved into a lane house.

"How could I go wrong? After living on the ground floor of an old lane house battling mold and faulty heating and cooling systems for a year I decided it was time for a change."

Mochnsky always kept the Embankment apartment on his phone and would often refer to it when fantasizing about places he'd love to live.

Small world - Mochnsky was introduced to Carbone by a common friend and he told her how much he liked her designed apartment. To his surprise Carbone told him the apartment was still available.

"What I like most about this flat is its design and space but also the way it harmoniously combined the old and the new," he said. "Being a creative director I can't help but demand a certain level of design quality in most things I do."

In line with harmonious design ideals, a large open space is created comprising of the living room, a dining area, a study room and an open kitchen, all facing Suzhou Creek.

The bedroom is hidden behind a long translucent bright golden corridor. Carbone said the corridor was long and narrow so she used a reflecting surface to not only make it more attractive but also change the perception of the space.

"The building itself was certainly an inspiration, with its highly modernist aesthetics and its strong verticality," Carbone said. "We wanted to capture the essence of Shanghai Art Deco and translate it into our own contemporary idiom."

The main colors are white, black, grey, red and gold - modern and unique. Reclaimed black painted wood is used together with cement finishes mixed with golden laminated surfaces and bamboo wallpaper in the house.

One of the major features of the open living area is a specially designed folding screen door. If needed, the space can be closed up to create a private reading room, or study, with its own window and cupboards, otherwise the space easily integrates with the rest of the dining area.

Mochnsky is known for constantly rearranging the objects and furniture in his home. "As it had been renovated before, the challenge for me was to find a way to imprint a bit of my own style into the space without clashing with the original design. It was more like doing a creative collaboration," he added.

For the furniture, Mochnsky rarely goes out seeking a particular thing or piece. He tends to be a bit impulsive. "If I see it and love it, I figure it will work."

To keep the open flow of the living/dining room, he kept the furniture to a minimum. "I also didn't want too many things around so there is more focus on the art and objects I've collected since being in China," he said. As for the bedroom, he wanted it to be simple and peaceful.

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

A: The people I've come to know and call "my family."

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Peaceful. Spacious. Refuge.

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

A: Pick up the cat then walk around the apartment realizing how fortunate I am to live here. Nunzia Carbone has such an amazing talent for creating wonderfully unique spaces.

Q: How do you unwind?

A: Sprawling out on the couch watching movies on the projection screen, not very glamorous but it surely works.

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

A: In the kitchen. I love to cook.

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

A: I'm torn … it's either the miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower on the building across the creek - sometimes I fantasize I live on the Left Bank - or the courtyard in the morning where the elderly tenants of the building do their daily exercises. I secretly want to join them.

Q: How do you scent your home?

A: I like to use a brand of Tibetan Incense I discovered while visiting Yunnan Province.

Q: What's your favorite object at home?

A: The last photo taken of my father and me together.

Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?

A: I prefer to find my furniture in antique markets, second hand shops or on the street.

Who is he?

Frank Nuovo (right) is Vertu's principal designer who consistently pursues new product and brand development with a sharp focus on design and styling excellence. He spent over 16 years in design for Nokia prior to this role at Vertu. He is also an active lecturer and has been invited to speak at leading design institutes such as Domus Academie and ULM in Milan. His work has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, New York's "Workspheres" exhibition and at the Neus Museum Nurnberg Sammlung Design.

Tell us about your work, and which piece you are most proud of.

I am mostly proud of the journey itself, starting with practical design research in ergonomics, and the process of uncovering human-centered design opportunities. Add to that developing a contemporary understanding of what ties a brand and its product together in a meaningful way. I am very proud of my 16 years of work at Nokia creating a global team and leading design and design strategy. My creation of the Vertu concept and building a team to bring it successfully to market with, is the thing I am most proud of.

Are you currently involved in any projects?

I am involved in many projects at Vertu. My mind lives five or more years ahead conceptually and I constantly think about where and how we might evolve and where we might expand. I also have several projects outside of Vertu that I have been working on for many years. It's hard to say when they will be ready - as usual I am working with cutting edge technologies that need time.

Where are you most creative?

I am most creative in a happy place, of course. I am most creative when I am in an open space - free from artificial constraints or unnecessary pressures. I am most creative when supported by a smart, complimentary team of people from different disciplines on a reasonable timeline.

What do you collect?

I mostly collect inspirations. I collect thoughts and gather understanding of what really matters to people in the creation of new products and compelling designs. In the meantime, I have collections of books on special subjects, and a few cars and bizarre pens and watches. Yes, of course I have a collection of phones from my years at Nokia and Vertu.

What will be the next big design trend?

If I share the next big design trend, the surprise will be ruined. It's safe to say that the next big design trend, in the world of tech, will be refinement and simplification of technologies, which will become friendlier due to multi-part interactive control.

Which do you prefer, industrial design or luxury design?

All are equally interesting to me relative to the specific challenge. In particular, with the concept of Vertu, I created a hybrid opportunity where I personally was able to blend the best of industrial design practices and the best of what traditionally had been reserved for the world of luxury design. One of my personal goals in the creation was to develop a culture that would embrace obsessive quality to meet the highest expectations in terms of industrial design, engineering and manufacturing.


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