ENSURING an old lane house is a welcoming family space is all about bold colors and the creative use of furnishings and artefacts, something Nicolas Grevot has proved adept at.
Frenchman Grevot, his Taiwanese wife Yang Wen and their three daughters moved into the four-floor lane house tucked away on Julu Road three years ago. Built in 1929, their home has a surface area of nearly 200 square meters.
From the beginning, the couple were clear about a few things: they needed a spacious house to accommodate two adults, three children, plus a live-in ayi. The household has since expanded with the arrival of a Samoyed dog.
"We wanted a house in the heart of Shanghai, precisely in an area limited by Maoming Road in the east, Changshu Road in the west, Yan'an Road in the north and Huaihai Road in the south. This is an area we love, filled with history and modernity, with a mix of foreign expats and old Shanghainese families living there," Grevot said.
Beyond the house being able to accommodate the family, the couple had no other criteria - other than love at first sight.
"We had a technique that had proved successful in the past: let the children be first to go inside a prospective house and see their reaction. If they are happy and have a good feeling, then we can begin to look at it. If not, then there is no way we would live there.''
Grevot said this is the second house in which the family have lived in Shanghai, and believes it will be their home for the foreseeable future. They bought it and have settled down fully, he explained.
"I'm French but I'm not just passing through the Chinese world. We lived for 15 years in Taipei before coming to Shanghai four years ago. My wife and I still have at least 11 more years to spend here, at least until our youngest reaches university."
Grevot said the house had a very good atmosphere because the family living there before - friends of the couple, who still stay in the neighborhood - loved the house, so left it filled with a positive feeling. Grevot and Yang just had to maintain the environment and make minor changes.
"Having lived for a long time in Taiwan, where religion and tradition are strong, we have been influenced by Chinese traditional beliefs," said Grevot.
"We have paid attention to feng shui and taken some 'protective' measures, such as putting Taoist charms in the house and consulting fortune tellers, to be sure that our home is not troubled by any 'bad influences'.''
The interior reflects its owners' characters, filled with things that are cultural and arty, yet full of stories and memories.
The house is bright, thanks to big windows and white walls. To balance the white, Grevot used lots of warm colors to make the space cozy. It also gives full rein to the instincts of its antique collector owner, who displays his finds with an impeccable eye.
A varied and extensive collection of antiques, contemporary art and furniture characterizes each floor. The clash of Chinese, French and tribal items works through unexpected pairings, making the house a space dedicated to art and antiques in all forms. It gives the impression that Grevot gave the house a soul and spirit of its own.
"This is a passion. We've been collecting Chinese antiques and tribal art for 20 years," Grevot said.
The couple left most of their collection in Taiwan, among which a large number of Taiwanese aboriginal cultural items are currently on loan to a museum there.
"But we brought many pieces to Shanghai: Chinese and Western antiques; Oceanic and African tribal art; contemporary art.''
Grevot said he never collects for investment but for enjoying and sharing beauty and for teaching his daughters about history, aesthetics and life in general.
"It's about who we are as human beings, where we are coming from and where we are going. It's possible to read the future through the past, that's why I'm so happy to see children visiting a museum," he said.
Among the collection, the couple's favorites include a recently acquired large painting by Beijing artist Zhao Xuebing, a good friend of theirs; a grey schist Gandhara Buddha head from Pakistan dating back to the first or second century; and a late Ming (1368–1644), early Qing (1644-1912) pair of lacquered Buddhas made using a special technique called tuo tai.
Grevot also has a stunning collection of tribal art pieces, and his favorites are Taiwanese aboriginal hunting swords.
Comfortable furniture and cozy textures create a homely feel in this light-filled lane house, where the family can relax and unwind among a treasure trove of artefacts guaranteed to fire the imagination.
Who is he?
Richard Hassell is the co-founding Director of WOHA, an internationally acclaimed architectural practice based in Singapore. He graduated from the University of Western Australia in 1989 and was awarded a Master of Architecture degree from RMIT University, Melbourne, in 2002. He has lectured at universities around the world, and served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Western Australia. Major awards garnered by the firm include the 2011 RIBA Lubetkin Prize and the 2010 International Highrise Award, both for The Met, a high-rise tropical tower in Bangkok, Thailand.
Tell us about some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of.
We've designed Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali and we are working on a new Alila Villas in Bintan, also in Indonesia, which has a museum component. We are also doing a university in Dhaka, in Bangladesh, and some very dense projects in Mumbai. We make sure we are proud of all our projects, but we don't have any favorites.
Are you currently involved with any project?
We are also designing furniture and some interesting tiles.
Describe your design style.
We try to avoid a style, but our designs have some things in common. We are interested in designs that make connections to the past and solve problems of the future.
Is there any designer you look up to? Who inspired you out of the design circle?
We like designers who have a clarity in the way they define a problem and then resolve it elegantly, rather than just making beautiful forms.
What do you collect?
We collect textiles, ceramics, paintings and natural objects. Often the things we collect have some resonance with design ideas we have been working on.
What does your home mean to you?
Home is a refuge, where you are physically, mentally and creatively recharged.
Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?
It would be nice to explore the galleries, small designer shops and new projects.
What will be the next big design trend?
The past 20 years we have seen great leaps in sustainability and in form and shape, but they have been separate streams of research. We want to see them merge.