A historic home with an eclectic collection
Some homes just feel good as soon as you open the door, and there's a tangible warmth and energy in Melissa Lam and Steve Bourne's four-level rented house tucked in a lane on downtown Shanghai's Zhenning Road.
The couple – Lam as general manager of EF Education First China, and Bourne, a Boston attorney who taught as an associate professor of East China University of Political Science and Law – has lived in Shanghai since 2005. They moved into the current house last year after they sold their previous lane house in Xuhui District. They're interested in art and renovating old houses, thus it gave them another opportunity to create a new "home."
"We liked the idea of staying in an old, historic lane house. This current home was found by a friend who has since moved abroad. We were able to take over the lease and updated it to suit our lifestyle," Lam said.
"We were also excited to move to a different neighborhood as we had lived on tree-lined Xingguo Road for 18 years. This is a nice change of pace!
"The location is convenient for everything with a good mix of old and new. We live near a very nice wet market where we can get really fresh produce," she added.
The house itself has a historic charm with tall ceilings and abundant sunlight. It was well-loved and used by the previous family for over 12 years, so it just needed a refreshment. The couple wanted to retain the houses character but update it for today. They updated the kitchen and bathrooms, added new air-conditioning and floor heating, reconfigured the master bedroom, changed all the lighting and painted the entire house.
For their new home, they bought some beautiful light fixtures, glass doors and furniture from the M on the Bund auction and installed these items in the house.
"M on the Bund was an iconic Shanghai restaurant and it was so nice to be able to incorporate some of its essences into our new home," Lam said.
They also worked with Guillem Bernado who runs Antic Vintage Shanghai to upcycle three old cabinets that were left in the house.
Aside from the new additions, part of the atmosphere originates from the couple's eclectic combination of styles. The mix of rustic, ethnic, modern, personal and iconic is completely unaffected and engaging.
"When we just moved to the city in 2005, we were pretty minimalist but after we got our shipment from Boston we started to fill our house with all the knickknacks we collected in the States," said Bourne.
Years of living in Shanghai provided them with plenty of inspiration and opportunities to bring in new pieces. "We don't have any particular style other than we just both need to like the piece. We have all sorts of different things – sculptures, photography, paintings, prints, mobiles," Lam said.
One can be mesmerized by the arts, crafts and knickknacks in almost every corner of the house. Everywhere in the house, there is a story to tell, a detail to be noted.
The best buys were those found on the streets. "One of our favorite items also cost the least (10 yuan) – it's an old mattress spring that we bought from a junk guy in an old Shanghai lane. It's actually a beautiful sculpture! Every Christmas we decorate it the same way others would decorate a tree, it's our Xmas mattress," Lam said.
Bourne pointed to the Kodak Store Slide on the wall of the living room.
"I bought 30 slides from a Kodak store going out of business back in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was at college. These old photos from the 1970s are fascinating – some are landscapes, some are people and some are famous places. The one that is up now is 'Miss Teen USA 1971.' It just gives a somewhat vintage vibe to the space," he said.
The couple loves collecting photography work. Zeng Han's "Cosplay #11" is their largest photo and the "weirdest" one. One can spend hours looking at it and feeling intrigued. Oak Taylor-Smith's Liangmahe series – pictures of red letters on a pink wall with a lot of graffiti is displayed in their daughter Nina's room.
Some of their paintings also have stories. "My daughter Nina had a friend come over when she was in primary school and the friend looked at Qu Fengguo's painting 'Spring' and told us her dad painted it. We didn't believe it but actually, it was her dad!" said Lam.
Kin-Wah Tsang's works are also dear to Lam. "When I lived in Hong Kong, I fell in love with his paintings and emailed him. He very graciously made me two different paintings from his wallpaper series. One that is very aggressive, full of swear words and one that is very sweet and pink that says 'I love you' over and over again."
There are old maps, miniatures, a collection of blue and white pottery from Platane, and many more details in the house that are unique and special. Each of the objects has a personality of its own.
"Our house is designed to be functional and comfortable. We like to cook and have people over so the first floor can seat a lot of people comfortably, and the kitchen is set up to accommodate buffet dinners," Lam said.
"We believe that to really live in a place, you should commit, move in completely and decorate it – that means putting art up on the walls, buying curtains and taking everything out of the cardboard boxes. If you don't really move in, then it feels temporary. We want to make a real home."