Starting with just a blank slate, and a bed

Paul Dragoni's apartment in Shanghai is functional, comfortable and boasts eye-catching artwork.
Dong Jun / SHINE

The living room is functional, comfortable and boasts eye-catching artwork.

Paul Dragoni’s apartment in Shanghai is functional, comfortable and boasts eye-catching artwork.

The creative copywriter at Imagination Shanghai and co-owner of bar Below moved to Shanghai when a job opportunity came up. At the time he was living in Hong Kong and had actually decided to move back to London.

“I changed my plans and arrived in Shanghai the first day of 2017,” Dragoni said.

Dong Jun / SHINE

The Indonesian wood mask is one of the items that Paul Dragoni picked up during his travels. 

Unlike most of the expats finding it challenging to have an ideal home in the city, Dragoni said house-hunting has been surprisingly easy.

“This is my second apartment in the center of Shanghai and both times I found somewhere straight away — so I’m either incredibly lucky or very easy to please,” he said.

“My criteria is as much about character as anything else. It’s like with people, you can’t always describe it, but when you meet them, you know you’ll get along.”

When he first visited the apartment, the previous tenant had moved out only a few hours before, so it still had that recently vacated feel. “Regardless — the location, the layout — it all felt right to me. It just needed a few cosmetic improvements,” he said.

Dong Jun / SHINE

Paul Dragoni has a thing for 1990s club flyers and festival graphics.

He agreed a deal with the landlord when he would take care of the renovation in exchange for a reduced price on the rent.

Dragoni said this was the first time he moved somewhere completely unfurnished — so it was a totally blank slate. “For the first month, I ate, slept and did practically everything on the bed because that was my only piece of furniture.

“Now, I’ve been living here a few months and gradually made my mark on the place. It’s still a work in progress and I don’t think I ever really finish.”

Dong Jun / SHINE

One of the more interesting items at home is the neon. They have this brilliant graphic language: hands, eyes, stars, crescent moons.

Talking about style he envisions, Dragoni said: “Something very modern and minimal. Obviously it didn’t turn out like that. I think the natural instincts just win out and it’s probably better that way.”

He pointed out there are recurring elements in the space.

“The plants for example ... I didn’t set out to have so many, but I love going to the flower market and it’s hard not to come back with something,” he said.

Dragoni painted the background in white so the quite colorful pieces stand out. “This time, I also tried to have one grey wall — it turned out ashy blue instead — but I decided to go with it. I still think it looks good,” he said.

He likes his apartment to be relaxing and homey. “It’s nice to have some familiar stuff around you when you’re living away from home — and obviously you pick up new items along the way. I don’t tend to worry too much about whether things will go together, if you like it, it’s probably not going to be out of place,” he said.

He brought over personal items with him to mix with the furniture and decorative items he found in Shanghai. “I also inherited quite a few pieces of furniture from friends, so I should probably take this opportunity to say thank you to them too.”

“I guess that one of the more interesting items at home is the neon. They have this brilliant graphic language: hands, eyes, stars, crescent moons… it’s not something that you can easily get made in the UK, but here in Shanghai it’s much more accessible,” Dragoni said.

Dragoni is a fan of Celia Hempton’s work. “I brought one of her prints along with some other pieces, from House of Voltaire in London, which sells limited editions from contemporary artists and designers. I also have a thing for these 1990s club flyers and festival graphics, that’s why I have the framed Lollapalooza and Kinky Gerlinky posters.

“I think the place you live is often a reflection of how you see yourself. So as long as you make yourself happy, other people should feel comfortable too. After Hong Kong, having so much space still feels like a luxury.”

Dong Jun / SHINE

Paul Dragoni is creative copywriter at Imagination Shanghai.

Ask The Owner

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

A: Obviously the people, the food…. I’m also enjoying trying to learn a new language.


Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Work in progress.


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

A: Eat.


Q: How do you unwind?

A: Sometimes I need a bit of time on my own to decompress.


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

A: I feel like I’m out a lot, so probably the bed.


Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: In the winter, the top of Jinjiang Hotel. In the summer, a wall of green.


Q: How do you scent your home?

A: These candles from 10 Corso Como.


Q: What’s your favorite object at home?

A: I left boxes of books in London, plus more behind in Hong Kong, so I’m pretty fond of the books that I still have.


Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?

A: Friends’ apartments. Online shopping on Taobao and Xianyu. The Indonesian wood mask is one of the items that Paul Dragoni picked up during his travels. — All photos by Dong Jun Paul Dragoni has a thing for 1990s club flyers and festival graphics. One of the more interesting items at home is the neon. They have this brilliant graphic language: hands, eyes, stars, crescent moons.

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