Idyllic habitat of history, memories and harmony

As soon as tenants have the chance to live in the charming historic houses in Shanghai, they get attached to them. Such is the case with French lady Sandrine Zerbib.
Dong Jun / SHINE

The bookshelves are considered the highlight of the home

As soon as tenants have the chance to live in the charming historic houses in Shanghai, they get attached to them. Such is the case with French lady Sandrine Zerbib.

Finding an ideal home in the city was not a simple task. 

“We used to live in a very nice house with a large garden on Hunan Road and it took a while to find one that we had same love-at-first-sight feelings for,” she said. “At the time when we lived in the house on Hunan Road, we were visited by an old German lady of almost 80 years old, who had celebrated her 9th birthday at that house. This is what we wanted a house full of history and memories.”

Having lived in Shanghai for more than 20 years, Zerbib can see the difference between now and two decades ago. Back then, not so many people were interested in old houses and there were many hidden gems. 

“Now it is very different. This market has become quite popular and it is not easy to find the ‘ideal’ place to live in. A lot of these old houses have been over refurbished and, have thus, lost some of their original charms. We can also see that there is now a trend to lease out old houses to companies which leaves much less choices for family living,” Zerbib said.

Dong Jun / SHINE

The charming old house features an eclectic mixture of furniture and artworks.

Zerbib and her Chinese husband Wang Changsheng visited dozens of houses and eventually discovered their current one thanks to a friend about to leave Shanghai.

“We jumped at the opportunity as this was the only one in a long series that gave us this kind of feeling,” Zerbib said.

The current house, the couple call home, is hidden in a peaceful lane in the tree-lined city center. It has abundant charm and outdoor space.

“It is next to the garden of a school and we feed birds and squirrels on the balcony every morning. We sometimes forget we live in the center of one of the most populated and vibrant cities in the world,” Zerbib said.

It was also in good condition so they didn’t need to make any major changes. 

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The dining table is where the couple entertains friends and family.

“By simply adding some shelves here and there, changing some wall colors and curtains, adding our own collection of furniture and artworks, we just feel at home,” she said.

“I always wanted to create an atmosphere that is in harmony with the house and its environment. This house is a town house but at the same time surrounded by gardens it feels a bit like a countryside house. And we wanted to have the same impression with our interior decoration: some colors, especially green tones and lots of plants.

“A warm, homey feeling is vital for us. We like to live and be surrounded by art, but not end up in a magazine cover style. Also a feminine touch is a plus.”

The living and dining room features generous volumes, as it is where the family spends most time. 

It’s like an extension of the garden with a lot of green colors used in the space. 

“Simple, elegant yet warm with lots of artworks, it’s a place which can bear the mess of real family life,” Zerbib said. “However, the bedroom is different: It must breathe calm and serenity, with very little furniture and appeasing colors. I’ve used the pale pink hues to ensure serenity and the right vibe to rest.”

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The bedroom breathes calm and serenity, with very little furniture and appeasing colors.

In general, the couple doesn’t like to be surrounded by only white.

“It is too cold for our taste. The whole thing is to find the right balance between warmth and colors on the one hand and elegance and peacefulness on the other hand.”

The couple have collected furniture with different styles over the years with some of them coming from Zerbib’s family back in France, including an old bench that used to be at her grandma’s garden. Some were purchased in Shanghai when they came across nice pieces and some were tailor-made according to their personal tastes.

Artworks are also essential.

“Our art collection is quite eclectic. It goes from an artwork by Ding Yi purchased more than 20 years ago, to neon dogs created by French artist Aurele, and a knit cover for the piano made by American artist Magda Sayeg, who spent a week at home to finish it,” she said.

Ask The Owner

Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?

A: Vibrant city but where you can still find oasis of peace and calm.

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Warm, peaceful and elegant.

Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?

A: I kiss my husband hello and we tell each other about our day. But this is only after we have been fully greeted by our dogs.

Q: How do you unwind?

A: My husband likes running in our gym to unwind. I prefer to read a book, lying on the sofa with my dog.

Q: Where do you spend most of your time at home?

A: In the living room. It is the place where the family spends time together, with the pets and also the place where we host our friends.

Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: We are in a lane. So naturally, we see some other houses. But on the right hand side, it is the big park of a school; lots of trees.

Q: What’s your favorite object in your home?

A: We have an old cast iron bench on the balcony which used to be in my grandmother’s garden. When I see it today in Shanghai, it gives me strong feelings.

Q: Where do you source furniture?

A: Some of our furniture comes from my family back in France, some was purchased in Shanghai when we came across nice stuff and some was tailor-made.

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