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Making room for some great decorating ideas

WHILE Chinese are eager to purchase newly built high-rise apartments with city views and large space, there is still an incredible demand for old houses among expatriates in Shanghai.

They seemingly can't resist the romance and old-world charm of living in a traditional lane house or an old apartment.

What makes an old house or flat so attractive is often the architecture, the high ceilings, the original interior elements and some type of outside space such as a small garden or balcony, which capture the essence of Shanghai and its history.

As with any well renovated old property, they are exceedingly cozy and offer an abundance of unique characteristics.

However, renovating an old space usually takes longer than fixing a modern apartment. It is fun but challenging. Most homeowners want to keep the character of the original house as much as possible while also adding modern elements.

In most renovation cases, many of the interior walls were demolished to open up cramped, dark rooms, but left the original floor or staircase, which contains the original builder's signature. Since most old houses are in a bad state, they usually need to remove the old layers of paint and plaster and add a new layer of insulation, cement and paint. Andre Fu, a leading designer in Hong Kong, said it is important to invest in good flooring - objects within the home will likely change, but the framework ought to be solid and built to last.

After a solid framework is created, homeowners started to decorate the space to bring it from drab to fab. Here are my favorite rooms from some of the fabulous old houses I've visited in town.

House Exterior

The cramped garden house was transformed to a modern, luxurious urban retreat for Frenchman Olivier Chouvet tucked away on Yuyuan Road. The original structure of concrete and bricks was replaced by strong concrete beams and pillars. Five layers of stucco painting on the faade is a unique idea and is combined with wood and steel to give a warm feeling. The garden with a pool is a rare luxury in Shanghai. Wide glass doors and windows blur the boundaries between the interior and exterior, which illuminates the interior with natural light and provides a direct link with nature.

Family Room

There's a tangible warmth and energy in Brigitte Elie's three-level house on Xingguo Road, especially in the family room on the second floor. With walls painted in a warm yellow tone, the intimate family space reflects an eclectic Asian style. From ethnic carpets and ornaments from Southeast Asia, to African masks, each piece has a story of its own and inspires you to imagine yourself somewhere far from where you actually are.

Living Room

The lifestyle boutique Platane's owner Laetitia Charachon decorates her living room (below) with a warm, easy-going look that offers a more livable alternative to the minimalist style popular in recent years. The living room on the first floor sets the tone for the three-story garden lane house on Hunan Road. Well proportioned sofa sets, a mixture of textures, soothing light and an airy feel enliven the space. The interpretations of ancient Chinese designs blend gracefully with the environment, such as the silk painting on the wall and the red wooden doors from Shanxi Province. A mix of old and new furniture is one of the best approaches to create a relaxed ambience in the living room.

At the 163-square-meter old apartment (above) owned by Parisian couple Hortense Van de Casteele and her husband Nicolas, the French windows, high ceiling and loft-style wooden beams give the living room a unique look. To make really good use of the natural light, the couple decided on a light, airy palette of whites, creams, beige and taupe. The charm of this living area is its harmonious blend of tasteful appointments and a refined palette that allows the architectural elements to shine through.


Marianita Ruspoli rented a three-floor garden house on Gaoyou Road before moving back to Italy. Her vacations in Bali inspired her to capture the feeling of being in nature and open space when decorating. Hues are neutral and earthy. A set of rattan outdoor sofas and rattan cushions in subtle colors work brilliantly in the garden. The atmosphere is dramatically changed in the evening when using candle lights to illuminate different corners for different effects.

Master Bedroom

The highlight of Leontien Nipshagen's master bedroom is its super high ceiling and unique room structure. The ceiling seems high enough for an eagle's nest. A high poster bed accentuates the room's height. The bed, as a focal point, suits the room and sets the tone, while accent pieces, lighting and soothing colors define the owner's personal style. The light blue wall brings an air of cool calmness and provides a serene, neutral backdrop for accent furniture pieces.


A curved line crosses throughout this small but cozy flat on Sichuan Road S., providing a sense of continuation across the separated areas. It also gives the kitchen and dining area a unique layout. Homeowners Giulio Pagliai and Alessandra Muscatello chose the color white as the color scheme for serenity and cleanliness, combating the chaotic outside world. The changing lights from an Artemide's Nur Metamorfosi lamp reflect on the stainless steel surface of the kitchen appliances and the white color of the peninsula bar create an fun game of lights and colors in an otherwise plain environment.

Dining Room

The lavish Grosvenor House, the previous home of the former consul general of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Shanghai, is simultaneously dynamic, uplifting and warm. Eric Verwaal's dining room perfectly showcases an eclectic mix of contemporary Dutch design classics.

Home Gym

Fabrizio Leuti converted this tiny backyard space into a home gym where the brick walls, red Chinese style gate, modern lighting and sleek equipment provide a pleasant environment that everyone enjoys spending time in. It's a clever way to turn a tiny outdoor space into a functional room that makes one feel energized.


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