THE European couple Dominique and Andre Kabel had no shortage of ideas when it came to their Shanghai home "project," decorating a villa so that it would be a warm, inviting home for them and their two children, Caroline and Maxime.
The couple arrived in Shanghai in May 2009 to search for a home, helped by a relocation agency. Even though Andre works in Hongqiao area they still chose to live in the Pudong New Area to be close to the kids' French school.
"After living for four years in a flat in Hong Kong with a beautiful view but somewhat short on space, we knew we wanted a change of accommodation: larger space, enough storage, a garden, a garage and be on the ground floor," Dominique said.
The basic criteria included four bedrooms and a kitchen they could eat in and not just breakfast, but family meals. However, some houses were too big. Some even had an elevator inside. "We knew this didn't feel right then we saw this house in San Marino Bridge," she said.
The house has two floors, built around an indoor courtyard, with a very large kitchen, rooms with arched windows and doorways, high ceilings in some rooms and generally a nice flow between the rooms. It was a good space for the family to settle in the city.
"What I like most about the space is its nice flow between the rooms on the ground floor. Every room feels separate," Dominique said. They can each have their own space with the children watching TV in the TV room while Dominique is busy in the kitchen and her husband is reading a newspaper. At the same time, they can still talk to each other as there are no doors between the rooms.
"I also love the garden, which, despite being relatively small, opens onto a large pond, which is very peaceful to look at. The shaded courtyard at the front of the house is also our favorite spot to sit for a drink while reading a magazine or the paper," she said.
The couple rent the house so they were not allowed to touch the walls and move certain furniture. If they owned the property, they would also have changed the cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms. However, the look is cohesive with the rest of the house so it still works, according to Dominique.
Dominique took the lead in making the house soothing, warm and inviting. She believes that one should always make a house homey.
"You don't want to feel like you live in a hotel for a couple of years. It feels generic and without personality. The rest of the family will appreciate the effort and they will look forward to coming home every afternoon," she said.
The living room is the first room seen when entering the house. Despite its modest size, the high ceiling and the French windows give it a "wow" effect and make if feel bigger than it is.
"The living room is the more formal place with Belgian antiques and silver accessories but we wanted to enjoy it daily and not have a 'formal' room for show where people don't dare to sit," Dominique said. A nice large sisal carpet, fur pillows, candles and some accessories with a dash of color make the room inviting and relaxed.
"We love having a fireplace in the living area to cozy up in the fall and winter days. But it has an electrical plug on the inside, which clearly means we cannot use real fire in it. To solve the problem, I used a big lantern in which I put many candles in. It works perfectly now!"
The TV room on the ground floor is more casual and is where the family spends time together on the sofa watching a DVD or the news. Again, neutral earth tones are used mixed in with a dash of color in some paintings on the wall.
The master bedroom on the second floor is the couple's sanctuary. Dominique wanted a soothing color tone so she had a new set of furniture made in raw wood.
"I hung about 10 to 12 birdcages of all sizes and shapes from the ceiling to give it a peaceful look. And it is the first thing I see when I open my eyes … But the room is clutter free, which is most important for a peaceful sleep."
She also has an eye for special accessories to give the house character. For her, decorating doesn't have to be expensive, it just has to reflect the family's personality.
Having lived abroad since 1995, the couple has amassed an assortment of furniture from different countries.
"Shanghai abounds in small artifacts at markets. There is something out there for all of us and it is a fun way of exploring the city," she said. "One of our first stops was ELM Workshop, where we had our master bedroom furniture made. I also find inspiration at stores like Kenas in Hongkou District or Casa Pagoda on Taikang Road. They have a lot of raw wood furniture, which I find have a peaceful tone."
By far, their best resource is Chapin House, owned by an American couple. The large warehouse opened about two and a half years ago in Pudong. From large pieces of furniture to small accessories, the store has something for everyone in many styles.
"I like the place so much so I kept on coming back and asked them if I could work there. I have been doing exactly that for a bit over one year now, as a visual merchandiser," Dominique said.
However, a soothing, lived-in house is not only about quality furniture.
Good lighting is a must. Natural lighting of course but also indirect lighting. "I like halogen lights in the ceiling that can be dimmed or lit in different groups. Candles work great, too, whether on a cold winter night or a hot summer night. White light is an absolute no," Dominique said.
Who is she?
Joyce Wang founded her company WANG two years ago, and has since won Best of Year Award by Interior Design magazine and given a face-lift to the rooms at renowned Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.
Having earned a double-major in architecture and materials science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wang's career direction changed after attending the Royal College of Art in London. Her exposure to and collaboration with fashion and jewelry designers as well as filmmakers put her on her own path. She uses cinematic references and interdisciplinary inspiration to create narratives.
Tell us some of your worksand name the one you are most proud of.
I have worked on an array of projects, including the renovation on Roosevelt Hotel, private residences, hotels and office headquarters. The most recently completed project is AMMO Restaurant and Bar in Hong Kong's Asia Society Centre. I am most proud of our custom furniture and lighting design work at this restaurant. We managed to find a balance between comfort, aesthetics and proportion that clearly communicated our narrative.
What projects are you working on now?
We're currently focusing on a few hospitality projects. We're working on a hotel renovation in Hong Kong, club and lounge re-conceptualizations; as well as house and penthouse renovations in Los Angeles and Shanghai.
Describe your design style.
Re-invented luxury - an aesthetic for luxury that we craft from scratch every time we start a project. Theme and topics I'm most interested in include heritage, cinematography, fashion and re-inventing brands and people.
What does your home mean to you?
To me, home is a place to entertain and indulge yourself and those closest to you. There is a sense of familiarity that is comforting and allows one to let their guard down.
What do you collect?
Great recipes, music, as well as handmade objects and sculptures. I also have a decent stamp collection. It's fascinating that within one small square inch of paper, you can learn about the culture, history and value of a place.
Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?
Five years ago, I wrote my masters dissertation on Shanghai's new satellite towns and the government's promises to create a successful livelihood for residents displaced from their urban homes. I would be interested to visit these new towns in Qingpu, Songjiang and Chongming Island and witness their transformations. On a personal note, my grandparents spent most of their lives in Shanghai and I would love to follow them through their personal version of a heritage trail around the city.
What will be the next big design trend?
I've noticed a trend toward an expressionistic aesthetic with an emphasis on wit and humor (particularly in the UK). As for the next big thing - I really don't know, but I hope it's something that encourages people to indulge and daydream.