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August 1, 2010

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Stunning transformation of an old garden house

OLIVIER Chouvet faced an unusual challenge when it came to building his dream house in Shanghai where he has lived with his wife Isabelle and children since 2004. Not only did the space need to accommodate the family's needs and lifestyle, but it also had to merge practicality, sophistication and aesthetic appeal.

Like many French residents, businessman Chouvet was amazed by the city's European feel with its many colonial-style historic buildings that made him feel at home. To find and purchase a comfortable living space was his first real estate investment, and a very difficult search. He visited more than 100 old properties before deciding on a rundown but 100-percent satisfactory garden house tucked inside a lane on Yuyuan Road.

To design the architecture and interior was relatively straightforward as Chouvet had a very clear understanding of what he wanted as well as a trusted architect, Adam Fang from Naco architectures. The duo had successfully cooperated on commercial projects before, so Chouvet let Fang freely express his creativity in the dream house project.

The dilapidated three-story home with an attic was a jumble of small, disconnected rooms, but Chouvet was undeterred - he saw the potential.

The cramped house would become a modern, luxurious urban retreat.

"The high volume of the house allowed for creativity during renovation," the Frenchman said. With a 500-square-meter interior and 500-square-meter garden, the scale of the space is deliberately grand and would be a significant gesture of architecture. It allowed Fang much space to play with.

"The first step was to identify the biggest potential and what we can achieve to the maximum," Fang said. "The great features of the new house include the volume, abundant light, spacious rooms, and a beautiful garden with the potential for a swimming pool. I emphasize bringing in as much light as possible, by creating open spaces, semi-open spaces or terraces."

At the same time, Fang wanted to reconfigure the layout to cater for the family's lifestyle, which is not too complicated.

After thorough, detailed consideration, the "remodeling" project started by demolishing virtually everything and building the solid foundation for a new concrete structure. The original structure of simple concrete and bricks had to be replaced by strong concrete beams and pillars.

Light, height and space

For the exterior, Fang was faced the choice between preserving the original heavily damaged brick facade and replacing it with a modern one.

"We were thinking it was nice to give a touch of modernity based on the old architecture," said Fang. "Five layers of stucco painting on the facade was a unique idea combined with some wood and steel to give a warm feeling."

The renovation and reconstruction transformed the dark, cramped two-story house into an open, light-filled contemporary home with three stories for a style-savvy family.

"We were not simply renovating a house; we were building our life here," said Chouvet. "The family needs and our way of our living were used to generate guidelines for the interior design of each functional space."

Fang would ensure the design met both Chouvet's tastes and needs.

After two years of renovation and reconstruction, the resulting space makes an instant impact through its unexpected sense of light, height, and space. Wide glass doors blur the boundaries between interior and exterior, illuminate the interior with natural light and provide a direct link with nature.

The subtle use of color and the application of the philosophy "less is more," combined with the modern classic furniture, create a great sense of space and flow between the living room, library and kitchen on the ground floor and bedrooms upstairs. Everything just flows.

The garden with a pool is a crucial part of the design. "It is a rare luxury in the city like Shanghai. The pool is a focus of fun for the family, letting us chill in its crystal waters and to have a swim during the hot summer days. It's where we feel really happy and relaxed. We spend most of our time there."

In planning their future home, the family thought about themselves, what spaces they like and where they spend the most time. Thus, the main areas are a living area, dining room and the library on the 200-square-meter open-plan ground floor.

"As French, we love to cook, eat and entertain. The kitchen area, combined with the living space, is not only the place to eat, it's a place to live," said Chouvet.

Sleek muted shades with sensual red accents ensure a stimulating dining experience and offer an appealing contrast to the neutral, clean sitting room. And sliding wood walls are used to temporarily divide the open space to create a complete room within a room and add decorative division to an open plan.

The collection of contemporary design furniture makes a powerful first impression.

The living area is furnished with museum-quality modern classics designed by some of the world's best design talents, such as a "Stack 13 Drawers" by Established & Sons, "Fresh Fat Chair" and "Cone Light Tripod Stand" by Tom Dixon, "Serge Mouille Lighting" and "Wicker Chair" by Marc Newson.

The walls are hung with works by Michael Wolf and Chen Chunlin. Floor-to-ceiling open shelving in the dining area displays Chouvet's collection of tableware with design, aesthetics appeal.

Custom furniture

In addition to the design furniture Chouvet sourced around the world, Fang also improved the overall indoor experience by showcasing his specialized skills, and his customized design furniture. The pieces can be combined, joined, or moved apart and placed separately. They are practical and aesthetically pleasing, adding a new dimension to a room.

The master bedroom on the top floor is a surprise. Simple indeed, yet every detail - the soft touch of the natural oak floor, traditional French bedding and sleek furniture - are a delight for the senses. To maximize the ingress of natural light, Fang replaced all the walls with walls of clear glass, making the most of the leafy surroundings.

Overall, this beautiful residence has everything - a pool, modern facade with wide opening windows, four-sided views from different rooms, nice open spaces and landscaping, and floor-to-ceiling windows that bring dramatic views from outside to inside.

All elements are consistent in their elegant restraint and fine craftsmanship, which Fang said takes the house to another level. The home is extremely satisfying, too, for the owners, and Chouvet observed, "In a city so violent, energetic, all we want is a peaceful retreat - a real luxury of modern living.''


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