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An Italian oasis in downtown Shanghai
By Patsy Yang

LIKE many expatriates working in Shanghai, Eugenia Palagi lives in a high-rise apartment in the center of the city.

Palagi has been the Consul of Italy in Shanghai for economic affairs since 2012.

Creating a retreat in the concrete jungle was an experience for her and her fiance Wang Jinliang.020150619215914.jpgHer criteria for the living space was that it would adequately represent a young Italian diplomat. She was looking for elegant but not pretentious, and a large living room to host various receptions.

The flat on Anfu Road, in the heart of the former French concession, is five minutes from the Italian Consulate General, thus offering convenience as well as comfort.

“What I like most about the flat is the abundant natural light. I also enjoy the views from my balcony — with a small coffee table like in Rome’s Piazza — looking at the shikumen houses ... and there is an old man who plays the flute at night,” she said.

As a diplomat, Palagi has worked to enhance the apartment’s existing aesthetic with a true Italian spirit. While she has compiled a clean, edited aesthetic in line with her Italian roots, her talent for decorating is evident throughout. Crystal, leather and technical materials are well balanced in the flat.

“The major changes brought to the flat were in terms of furniture. I’ve brought all my furniture from Italy,” she said.

Palagi has filled the space with heirlooms, modern designer items and antiques.


“My goal was to combine new furniture with some pieces that are part of my family. In Italy, a middle-class apartment is not made of just new pieces and you want to show your family has a history,” she added.

Some of her family pieces include a crystal cupboard in Chippendale style from the beginning of the 20th century, bought by Palagi’s great grandfather. There’s also some Thonet chairs that are from her mother’s family. Thonet is a furniture company that was established in Vienna in the 19th century and once did some work for Austria’s Prince Metternich.

Like most Italians who enjoy a good life and great design, Palagi has a personal collection of items.

Her favorite item is the red armchair Vanity Fair by Poltrona Frau, designed in the 1930s by Renzo Frau, who is still an icon in the Italian furniture industry. The armchair is known around the world for its rounded shape and the long line of leather-covered nails that finish the back and arms.

“My second absolute favorite is Groundpiece by Flexform, designed by Antonio Citterio,” she said, pointing to the living room sofa which revolutionized the home couch’s proportions. Conveniently deep and unstructured, it provides comfortable low seats that invite you to fully relax.

“The dining crystal table RayPlus By FIAM is another highlight. FIAM is an innovative company founded by Vittorio Livi, who is a smart person that I had the pleasure to meet while I was host of the Marche Region in 2010. FIAM created an innovative way to curve crystal and glass, and to make it very resistant. I also adore my Gallery Mirror by FIAM and my square tea table Neutra by FIAM.”

Other favorites are her lamps: she has one 1970s original Parentesi by Flos, which is by the Italian designers Achille Castiglioni and Pio Manzu. A similar lamp is part of the Triennale Design Museum’s permanent collection in Milan.

“I have one Daruma by Fontana Arte that was designed by Sergio Asti and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I also have one Nobi by Fontana Arte,” she said.

“I consider Milan the center of world furniture innovation and design, as we have seen with the great success of the last Salone del Mobile.

“In my flat, 98 percent of the furniture is from Italy, but I keep an open mind to other countries and cultures. Since I moved to Shanghai two years ago and my future husband is Chinese, I started acquiring some Chinese furniture and objects, as well as books and small statues,” Palagi said.

She recently went to the antique market on Dongtai Road and said it was so much fun to go through the vintage pieces.

“To me, a house reflects its owner. First thing is about the homeowner’s personality and the second is taste. You can develop taste in a stimulating environment. Finally, harmony in a person’s life makes a home space inviting.”

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

A: It’s a place of a million opportunities.


Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?

A: I first take off my high-heel shoes. Then, I cook or I move to the sofa and relax.


Q: How do you unwind?

A: Reading, watching movies, having some friends at home, sharing time with my future husband.


Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Modern, bright and warm.


Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: I have a broad interesting view. The best view is surprisingly from my kitchen. We can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong New Area.


Q: How do you scent your home?

A: The best scent is of a clean house. Like most Italians, I am a freak about that!

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