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October 31, 2021

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Couple embracing the culture wherever they are

Maryam Gaffary and Philip Kisray have called Shanghai home since 2018, and marvel every day at the beauty of the city.

Gaffary, an archeologist originally from Iran, and her British/Korean husband Kisray met at the University of Edinburgh, and were best friends for 13 years before they got married. They have lived in Asia and Europe, and between the two of them have probably moved 30 times.

Kisray’s job in publishing brought the couple to Shanghai, and with the influences of many cultures and places, the pair took with them a range of objects that mirror their interests and stories into their Shanghai home.

“We’ve lived in three houses so far and have loved every one of them” said Gaffary. “They were all 1930s Shanghainese architecture but all different.”

The first one on Yuyuan Road was of British inspiration in a leafy green lane of villas and townhouses. It had a lovely glazed porch opening onto a front yard shaded by a graceful, tall palm tree. The second home was on vibrant Fuxing Road M. — an open-plan bohemian lane house that ran four stories high up a carved stairwell.

Now, they live in an Art Deco block from 1935 on Huaihai Road M. built by the legendary Leonard, Kruze and Veysseyre firm, one of the most renowned architecture firms at the time. “This is an iconic building, so when our agent said come and visit, we ran. As with all historical landmarks that are modernized, there are compromises. Westerners tend to be purists, precious about authenticity. Our glorious agent kept mentioning the unique charm of the place. Now, having lived here for almost two months, we know why,” Gaffary said.

The couple is drawn to Art Deco’s clean design, strong angles and balance. They were attracted by the building’s history — the sense of the passing of time in the structure, space and details.

“We love the harmony of genial architecture, artful spaces and the elegant flow from one to another,” she said, “the stunning metal windows opening onto the terrace from every room, the east and west tiled oval staircases, the curvaceous outdoor corridors and the views — from the Pearl Tower in Pudong New Area to the golden domes of Jing’an Temple.”

When asked about the interior style she’s trying to create here, Gaffary said: “If you are lucky to live in a place that has as much personality as here, you follow the vibe.”

When all their belongings arrived at the apartment, there was a moment of panic.

“Then the space starts talking to you. If you listen to it, slowly you just move the furniture to the right place, as if a fengshui master is whispering in your ear,” Gaffary said.

Despite the fact that they only moved in two months ago, the home is an oasis of good taste that immediately inspires a feeling of comfort and coziness.

The open living and dining room is graceful enough for entertaining, yet a place where everyone feels immediately at ease.

The largest space in the apartment, it features a long dining table to accommodate their friends, and a sitting area inviting enough for them to want to lounge in it for hours. The master bedroom, however, is a sanctuary.

“All doors are open in the apartment, and it’s always interesting to see how our guests use it,” Gaffary said.

Everywhere you turn, something special catches the eye.

“When we moved to Shanghai, we had a choice: bring all creature comforts or just what mattered. We opted for a few decorative items that represent us,” she said.

Iranian carpets are placed in every room to jazz up the space.

“Carpets are part of my Persian heritage. I have always preferred nomadic carpets, especially figurative ones. We have bright kilims in our home and a few Shirin and Khosro rugs. They illustrate an old Persian fable and tell the delightful story of the eternal quest for love” Gaffary said, adding that her Shirin and Khosro carpet collection started with one lucky find on Ebay about 10 years ago and since then she has picked up more.

A series of old frames are displayed along the windows.

“These heirlooms are of family members who were court dignitaries. There are a couple of newspaper articles dating back to 1857 about my great great great grandfather Farrokh Khan who was the Persian Ambassador to France under Napoleon III,” she said.

Gaffary gathered the things that they love to make a stimulating environment of furniture, textiles, rugs, and objects, offering new discoveries at every turn.

“There are some essentials like comfort and lighting; the rest is the expression of individuality. Some people set out to create an atmosphere: minimalist blond wood and grey linens or ostentatious show homes to impress. We are quite informal people; there is no game plan,” she said.

There are several Chinese furniture pieces Gaffary chose for their simple beauty and functionality, such as old cupboards found in Hebei Province and a pair of folding horse shoe back chairs.

“They are used old pieces found here and there. If you look closely, they are slightly battered, lived in, bruised. Maybe they look dignified because they have been given a new purpose: they grace our interior with their presence.”

Gaffary loves to wander in markets and warehouses; rummaging, lifting, looking and stroking.

“A second hand shop is a candy store to me. I’m not necessarily looking for anything specific. Often an item stops me in my tracks, and all the fun is in the bartering. This little love triangle over a ‘thing.’ The double standards of the unassuming seller, the savvy buyer and the object, which is very much the subject here. I have picked up little gems that I cherish all over the world in countries where I don’t even speak a word of the language, but I have always walked away knowing the seller and I have a huge amount of respect for each other.”

Both Gaffary and Kisray had parents who left their home countries due to external circumstances that made it impossible for them to live there.

“We started moving when we were 2 and 4 years old. We were both raised as ‘second generation’ wherever we grew up. Although our histories and origins are different, we discovered that as kids, we independently shared a profound common purpose: embracing the culture where we are,” she said.

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

A: The dynamism of it: it is a happening, beautiful, welcoming cosmopolitan place.


Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Open, warm, fun.


Q: How do you unwind?

A: Travel, walk, read, paint, dance.


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

A: On the balcony as much as possible.


Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: The view of Shanghai landmarks and the roofs of beautiful lane houses at the back of our apartment.


Q: What’s your favorite object at home?

A: A ceramic turquoise fruit bowl that has been in every single house we have lived in since we got married.


Q: Where do you buy furniture?

A: Second hand shops and markets.


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