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June 29, 2024

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Owners reveal story of their Embankment Building apartment

A stroll along Suzhou Creek back in 2007 took Anna Chitty and Geoffrey Handley past the Embankment Building, and looking at the architectural masterpiece, Handley proclaimed: “I want to live here one day. It’s amazing.”

“It’s not only a major historic building on the Shanghai landscape, but it comes with a story that’s intoxicating,” Chitty said.

“Even back then, it’s surrounded by squatter houses, chickens and the odd ancient ruin (which is now the Bulgari Hotel Shanghai). We couldn’t help but imagine what an impact it had on the city when it was built in 1935 as Asia’s first residential building with lifts and an indoor swimming pool.”

In 2016, when they decided to move from a beautiful villa in Xuhui District and buy a property, the couple embarked on a nomadic Shanghai adventure in search of the perfect home.

“Before realizing our dream, we took only two suitcases and two cats (with everything else in storage) and lived in as many areas and styles of home as we could to explore the city in more depth,” Chitty said.

After two years of living in more than 10 homes from Yuyuan Road to Changshu Road, Huaihai Road to Anfu Road, they finally settled on the Embankment Building in Hongkou District.

In November 2017, they purchased apartment 310.

From New Zealand, Chitty had a 30-year global career in advertising and was CEO of two of the most successful media agencies in China in the last decade. Since 2023, she has been working as a consultant and development coach, focusing on her passion for people.

Handley, a fifth-generation Hong Kong native, was a successful serial entrepreneur in the tech space starting in the late 1990s during the years through to 2016. He then made the decision to spend two-thirds of his time mentoring the younger generation of start-up founders, raising a small early-stage venture capital fund and investing in the most promising.

The remainder of his time has been spent on his lifelong passion for collecting interesting, unique antiques and artifacts specifically around the Treaty Ports Period.

The couple was keen to restore and protect the history to the best of their ability as the apartment had been virtually untouched since 1936. Of course, they also needed to upgrade it as softly as possible for modern-day living.

It wasn’t until they met their fourth designer who finally understood their intention. New Zealander Jeff Bonner and his colleagues Carol and Kevin, along with the restoration team, worked closely with the couple as a passion project to bring their ambition to life. The renovation process started right before the COVID outbreak in 2020.

“It wasn’t their favorite project, I’m sure,” Chitty said. “A painstaking process to lift all the floorboards, and select, clean and polish those that could be saved to refit our ‘Shanghai Room’ which has every original feature intact ... including the light switch.”

The dining room windows showcase the original wooden Venetian blinds which were rescued from a trip to the dumpster. The internal and external doors, locks and handles are all original and have been restored, with hush glass fitted on the outer windows retaining all the original joinery sourced from England in the 1930s.

Both Chitty and Handley share the same passion for the Art Deco period.

“The building is a masterpiece of function and esthetic — a trademark of Palmer & Turner and the Art Deco period. In keeping with the design intention of the period, features were introduced throughout, with the floor-to-ceiling bookcases and bathrooms all having Art Deco-influenced design,” Chitty said.

With a gallery-style corridor of artworks greeting one at the entrance, each room leads out to the balcony and the view of the river and Pudong skyline.

Originally a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, they utilized the spaces a little differently to create a master bedroom with ensuite and spacious walk-in wardrobe, two separate living spaces, a galley-style kitchen with a breakfast bar and laundry, plus a guest bathroom.

“We are not enthusiasts of the open modern concrete warehouse style given we have collected an extensive range of art which requires decent wall space,” Chitty said.

“Our plan was to create a home made up of intimate interesting spaces and places, which slowly reveal stories from our life. Put most simply, it’s a mosaic of a life well lived. We blend antique with modern, classic with punk, and we are not committed to following any rules.”

She said there’s only a small portion of their antique collection displayed in this apartment, and they have storage spaces in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malaysia and New Zealand.

Handley started to collect antique Chinese Export Silver in the early days and the passion has never faded away. He said he has collected far more than they can ever display and is going to open an antique and vintage gallery in Shanghai as a passion project.

“Our rare collection of original maps of China and Shanghai in particular also serve as a valuable historical resource in an ever-changing city,” Chitty said. “But our favorites would have to be all the artifacts salvaged and rescued from imminent extinction from some of Shanghai’s most prominent buildings to everyday items. A perfect example of this would be how we retained a glimpse of the past in the kitchen using world-class museum conservation techniques.”

Historical details are to be discovered in every possible corner of this apartment but in the meantime, the couple is also drawn to artworks: an eclectic mix of modern, classical and contemporary pieces.

“And most importantly, we never bought on-trend or as an investment,” Chitty said. “We push ourselves to find original and interesting work that’s clever or unique in some way — from Katz to Lichtenstein, Warhol, Doze Green, Matisse, Rodin, Michael Parekowhai, Huang Yan and the struggling street artists,”

It’s a home that reflects the owners’ global adventures and their passion for the history and beauty of Shanghai.

“In the words of (conceptual artist) Tavares Strachan, ‘we belong here,’” Chitty said.


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