HAVING lived in an old, renovated apartment on Tai’an Road for more than five years, BJ Macatulad and Jeremy Young decided to move into a modern apartment in 2011 to begin a new phase of life in Shanghai.
“We love the character of these old buildings but they are just like vintage cars — gorgeous to look at, but they often break down and do not provide modern, practical conveniences,” Macatulad said.
After several years of putting up with freezing winters, bursting pipes, weak water pressure ... the couple finally decided it was time to move on. “We traded the vintage car for a reliable (albeit plain) new compact car, so to speak.”
However, the couple was reluctant to give up the charms of an older apartment, so they really wanted a new place that still had some personality. “Most of the apartments in the new high-rises are really stiflingly bland with few interesting elements, and I think I could not have stayed in those places very long,” Macatulad said. “What attracted me to this apartment in Central Residence, apart from the fact it was just renovated and in excellent condition, is the balcony’s charming views over the trees of the former French concession area, and beyond it, the iconic buildings of Xujiahui.”
The greenery reminds Macatulad, who is from the Philippines, of their old place with its wide windows shaded by plane trees. Her husband, Young, from New Zealand, also likes that there is an extra half-room enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which serves as his private office.
The apartment was in great condition so no structural changes were needed. Since they’ve amassed a lot of furniture over the years, they needed for the space to be totally unfurnished so that they could put their own stamp on it. The couple did spend a lot of effort in decorating so it would still feel warm and evoke some of the charm of their prior homes in older buildings.
As always, they like to mix styles, periods and influences. They have modern pieces alongside antiques, Asian-influenced accents alongside Western-style furniture, sleek surfaces with some natural textures and materials mixed in.
“As for the overall feel, we were going for something relaxed and unfussy, but still refined — a place where we could have grown-up dinner parties but where everyone felt comfortable putting their feet up on the furniture,” Macatulad said. “I really think everyday decor needs to be livable and comfortable first and foremost. I could never have a ‘show house’ where people felt uncomfortable touching anything!”
The rooms are fairly consistent in style, with accent pieces in each area echoing the ones in other rooms. One thing they aimed for is for each room — be it the bedroom, the media room/guest room or the living room — needed to be calming and warm.
“The master bedroom in particular must feel like a complete retreat from the frenetic day-to-day, so you won’t find a TV or any other electronics in our bedroom, not even a wall or desk clock,” she said.
“We wanted the guest room to work double duty as a media room, especially given the fact that we prefer not to have TVs in the master bedroom or in the living room where we entertain. So we had covers and cushions custom made to turn the queen bed in the guest room into a very comfortable couch from which we can watch movies. But we should have been more careful what we wished for … the ‘couch-bed’ is just too comfortable so we both end up making a beeline for the couch-bed as soon as we each get off work,” she added.
However, some furniture pieces work in one place but not the other, so the couple had to adapt when they moved. “We did buy more artwork, as switching artwork around is an easy way to change the feeling of a room from time to time,” Macatulad said.
“But my all-time favorite has always been the dramatic, hand-plaited abaca woven rugs from Soumak (a store in the Philippines owned by their friends). They are in every single room of our apartment, bathroom included.”
Visually, the rugs are dramatic, sculptural and make such a powerful design statement. From a tactile viewpoint, they feel great on bare feet and are inviting enough that people want to sit on the floor.
The rugs are so thick that they weigh a great deal, and are heavier than any piece of furniture in the apartment. The rugs, which make any room instantly feel warm, complement just about any design style. They have been seen gracing the floors of many homes featured in design magazines worldwide.
Ask the owner
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: The diversity of people — we have the most interesting, eclectic group of friends in Shanghai, from business people to bohemians. No other city in the world boasts such a broad-based population mix.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Gracious, carefree living.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: Kick my shoes off.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: On nice days, with a glass of wine on the balcony chairs.
Q: Where do you spend the most time at home?
A: Plopped down on the “couch-bed” (but don’t tell anyone!)
Q: What’s the best view outside your window?
A: The treetops and stately homes of the former French concession.
Q: How do you scent your home?
A: Candles, candles everywhere.
Q: What’s your favorite object at home?
A: At the moment, our most recently purchased painting, from Vietnamese artist Van Tho (nicknamed the “Vietnamese Van Gogh” because of his impressionist style). The colors are so vibrant and the painting always makes me happy when I look at it.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?
A: Alas, most of the antique furniture warehouses I used to love pottering around on weekends are gone, replaced by new malls and car dealerships.