Soul-searching down Jing'an lanes

Some places have soul. And that's what Mercedes Yao was looking for when acquiring a property in the city.


Some places have soul. And that’s what Mercedes Yao was looking for when acquiring a property in the city.

After renting out her beautiful lane house in Jing’an District to a diplomat, she moved into another lane house she bought in 2008 on Changle Road. As soon as you enter her home, there’s a tangible warmth and energy. It is the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate before stepping outside into the irresistible Shanghai atmosphere.

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The living space of Mercedes Yao's beautiful lane house in Jing’an District

Tucked inside a city lane, the four-level house oozes genuine old Shanghai aesthetics, both inside and out.

Originally built in the 1930s, Yao has meticulously transformed the property into a comfortable home and retained its historic character and charm. Reference and connection to 1930s Shanghai culture comes mostly through the materials and colors used.

“This house was true love at first sight to me. I saw it on the Internet for sale, the big black iron windows and the 4.5-meter-high ceiling immediately drew my attention. I made an offer on my first visit,” she said.

“Compared to most of the old houses I’ve seen, the condition of this house was fairly decent, except for the dampness of the walls which is so common to Shanghai lane houses. I liked its central location, layout, especially the high ceiling.”

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The living room has a delightful ambience, seeing how the past has been preserved according to its original beauty.

Yao prefers old houses because she grew up in one of the lanes and there are so many beautiful childhood memories linked with these lanes and the stunning traditional architecture, colors, street life, sounds and smell.

Yao was attracted to the history of the building in which she could sense the passing of time in the structure, space and details so she didn’t make any change to the layout. In terms of the interior, she wanted an easy living space without fuss.

“Unlike my other homes, I keep this one simply modern with a Shanghai twist,” she said. “My interior style varies because I like to create a style that complements the natural, original character of the place.”

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The beautiful trolley for Mercedes Yao’s collection of spirits is placed at the corner of the living space.

Step into each room of this house and you will discover a delightful ambience, seeing how the past has been preserved according to its original beauty. 

And you will definitely be tempted by the romance of living in an old Shanghai-style house with a modern lifestyle. A free-flowing space was created, giving a sense of coherence with mostly cream walls and rich, old wood floors throughout.

“I have an overall idea of what I wanted in this home, then I go out to look for the right pieces in antique and modern furniture stores. I didn’t expect to have everything ready at the same time so if I see something I like I will buy it,” Yao said.

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Mercedes Yao loves to bring back the right home decors during her travels including this Indonesian statue. 

Some antique Art Deco furniture pieces are sprinkled throughout different rooms so each one takes on a slightly different character. The beautiful antique furniture along with modern comfort pieces offers a personal sanctuary of comfort, distinguished by the elegance and charm of old Shanghai. Simple indeed, yet every detail from the small stool to a whiskey trolley is a delight for the eyes.

The first level of the home is designed for proper dining and gatherings while the second level is ideal for a cozy evening with friends or simply unwinding after a long day at work. “Both rooms on different levels feature big windows with original black iron handles and a 4.5-meter-high ceiling. I keep the window ‘naked’ (no curtain) so that the beautiful plane trees outside can play their magic as a living shade. The color of leaves changes throughout the days and seasons which are so beautiful and irresistible,” Yao said.

The top floor of the lane house has a small, cozy terrace.

She shows a small collection of her artworks here. The artwork in the dining room is painted by famous French artist Denis Rebas who drew it right in front of Yao’s eyes when he was in Shanghai for an art show last year. “It’s an amazing experience to see an artwork get developed from the beginning till the end. I feel so intimate with it,” she said.

The master bedroom is rather compact, with mostly white decor. Yao chose the smallest room as her bedroom as she wanted to give the best spaces for the living space and social gatherings. However, the bedroom is simplistic yet cozy — a peaceful retreat for Yao.

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Home owner Mercedes Yao enjoys reading or relaxing in her master bedroom with a corner functioning as a study.

Ask the Owner

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

A: Convenience.


Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Shanghai easy living.


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

A: Pat my dog because he’s always at the door welcoming me.


Q: How do you unwind?

A: Have a glass of wine or cocktail on the balcony. If time is ample I would enjoy a nice cigar.


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

A: Living room.


Q: What’s the view outside your window?

A: A boundless stretch of green plane trees.


Q: How do you scent your home?

A: Fresh flowers, essential oils and scented candles.


Q: What’s your favorite object at home?

A: My comfy sofa.


Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?

A: A combination of antique and modern furniture stores.



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