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September 12, 2021

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Colorful personality morphs apartment into ‘home gallery’

SHIRLEY Zhao imbued her apartment with her personality and sense of style, reflecting her individual outlook, wishes and desires.

It is a place for Zhao to show her colorful personality, as well as a peaceful and serene space for her family of three. City living can be hectic, and she wants a comfortable and relaxing environment for her family to enjoy together.

The Shanghai native moved to the apartment in Gubei area, Changning District three years ago. Her experience in house searching has convinced her it’s all about timing — finding the right place at the right time.

“It sounds like finding your other half, right? Indeed, it’s not much less important,” she joked.

Moving to this location was primarily because her daughter’s high school is only a block away. And a generous outdoor space surrounded by lush trees and plants is an added bonus — especially in downtown Shanghai.

“The high ceiling, a robust garden and abundant natural light thanks to big windows and doors made me fall in love with this apartment,” Zhao said.

White walls work as a perfect backdrop for her favorite artworks, furniture and unique accessories.

“Quite a few white walls inspired me to turn the space into a ‘home gallery’,” she said. Zhao, who lived in Berlin with her husband Marc Tempus and traveled around the world, settled back in Shanghai in 2005. She created documentary films and events in Berlin, and founded the 4C Charity (Children help Children Charity Council) in Shanghai.

Her personal style for interiors changes depending on the country she’s living in, different life stages and the type of house or apartment. But one thing that never changes is she likes to mix and match “a la Shirley’s temple.”

Shirley’s temple means a place composed of Chinese and European antiques, traditional and modern designs, antique pieces and contemporary artworks, world famous artists and children’s art. She opened an international artists residency project downtown, and invited 12 artists from various fields around the world to Shanghai. As part of the project, she hosted several exhibitions, art dinners and workshops.

“After I closed the residency project, I picked unique pieces for my ‘home gallery.’ And together with my collections I’ve added to over the years, almost every corner of this apartment generates an artsy and playful mood. The mixture of cultures and arts creates a ‘love to stay in’ atmosphere at home,” she said.

The generous layout of the living and dining rooms offer the perfect opportunity to display her collections. Behind the blend of inherited antiques and contemporary art are personal stories. Each object holds a story, and is chosen as a result of her life path.

The opium bed in the center of the living space was a wedding gift from her family, while she found an Art Deco wine barrel in Budapest.

Two uniquely redesigned Art Deco chairs enhance the “East meets West” ambience, and a ceiling painting in the living room was created by German concept artist Patrick Huber, well known for his “art can fade and disappear” philosophy.

“Patrick is an old friend from Berlin, and when he visited my apartment he wanted to leave his ‘fading work’ here. When he looked at the shaped high ceiling, I immediately said ‘I can move away the big lamp’,” Zhao said.

The result is a stunning piece created with light color chalk.

“As the light color chalk will fade over time, and we only plan to live here for a few years, the art piece will eventually disappear. And why not? There is a Chinese proverb: ‘There is no permanent banquet in the world,’ and that can be applied to artworks as well,” she said.

A special carpet with a Shanghai Bund silhouette and a crochet sculpture “house helper” by textile artist Patricia Waller grace the corridor.

“Patricia is definitely the pioneer crochet sculptor in the world. It was my honor to have her as one of my artists in residence back in 2016,” she said, adding that she is co-organizing her new exhibition at Leo Gallery on Wukang Road this month.

The white room serves as a study where Zhao spends a great deal of time, is a peaceful sanctuary of white hues, flattering lighting and amazing artworks in white. It contrasts with the rest of the space that is playful and colorful.

“We love to chill in this room to read, to think, to be in a daze,” she said.

But even in this all-white space, Zhao prefers to layer different textures and funky patterns. The highlights are a pair of white textile installations in plexiglass boxes made by multi-talented Italian artist/designer Monica Bertini.

“The pair of unique self-made boxes contain so many elements from the artist’s leftover wool thread from her design collection, to her understanding of the five Chinese elements and the sonic magnetic energy injected by a recognized spiritual healer during the art creation process,” Zhao said. “No wonder these two works are so magical in this white room, giving it power and calmness.”

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

A: For me, a Shanghainese, returning to Shanghai means not only returning to the hometown I’m familiar with, but also seeing new things and developments that are constantly emerging every day. The harmony between the old and the new is Shanghai and unique Shanghai culture.

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: playful, artful, mix-match

Q: How do you unwind?

A: Have a drink in my garden.

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

A: In the garden when the weather allows. Otherwise, my white room or living room.

Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: Lots of green

Q: Where do you buy furniture?

A: I’ve bought furniture everywhere. The antiques were purchased in local and European antique shops, while the modern ones come from Italy and Germany.


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