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Envoy’s artistic flair colors home
By Patsy Yang

A historic residence has been transformed into a grand, art-filled city home through the magic “hands” of the Spanish ambassador to China, Manuel Valencia Alonso.

The space shows the artistic soul of the ambassador who displays his black-and-white scheme artworks throughout his Beijing home. The two-story residence with 206 square meters on the first floor was home to nine previous ambassadors since the re-establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Spain in 1973. It stands in the central spot of the Spanish Embassy looking out on a lush garden.

“When I first saw the space, furniture was old and out of touch with the Spanish image that now has been changed from a very heavy historical weight to a modern, contemporary country. By keeping the same furniture, I was keen to put the modern touch for everything,” said Valencia Alonso.

The color palette takes its inspiration from the gentle greys and whites of the Mediterranean that echo the natural world. With the new paint colors, updated upholstery and furniture rearrangement, the house has been transformed.

“Within three months I did something with a limited budget yet is efficient and pleasant with lots of natural light that allows people to have a comfortable environment to socialize,” he said.

The ambassador happens to be a fine artist, as well. His artworks have been integrated into the overall space yet have also purposely been kept to a minimum to achieve a restful space.

“It has been 25 years since I started painting and creating. I learned fine arts, classical techniques in the Hague and slowly developed my own style,” said Valencia Alonso, who has had nine solo exhibitions in nine different countries - from Havana, Cuba to Beijing.

“I came to Beijing in 2004 for my exhibition and I hadn’t dreamed I’d come back as an ambassador,” he said.

“I’m very keen to Oriental art,” he continued. “I made a trip in the 1990s to Japan and China and was so impressed by Tao and Zen philosophies and found it very useful in my artworks and personal life. My first years of paintings were very classic oil paintings and later I began to find my own way and express who I am over time. The trip to Asia also helped me discover the ink and the Chinese rice paper as a tool to create my artworks. However I mixed my Western techniques.”

His black-and-white scheme artworks displayed in the living room bring order and discipline to the space, the ambassador says.

The spacious living room looks sleek and clean to the eye but warm to the touch. A similar effect is created with textiles, using a clutch of cushions and stool covers to provide a visual link from zone to zone. Ground it all in clean, crisp colors and it’s hard to go wrong.

The space is composed of different seating areas, each with its own character and charm with artworks and design pieces as the highlights. “Decoration should come in a very natural way. Things fit automatically in one place,” he said. “I showcase how I live, where I live and how I feel.”

Though the ambassador’s daily life schedule is intensive, he still tries to paint everyday. “Painting involves two things: the personal will of somebody and then the response of the white canvas. For me, painting is a passion, and when you have passion you find time for it.”

“Everybody needs to find his or her own style. Contemporary art is to find your own way to do art and it’s very difficult,” he said.

Valencia Alonso would love to accelerate exchanges between Spain and China, especially in the areas of tourism and culture.

In Shanghai, a tapas contest will be held during August and September that aims to promote Spanish cuisine, restaurants and products, strengthening the image of Spain in Shanghai.

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