A lane house transformed into a work of art
Texture, color and fun knick-knacks are layered up in Jacqui Gray’s rented lane house, like a collagist composing a work of art.
The English woman, who has been living in Asia since 2004, has a knack for colorful ethnic textiles. This self-professed “textiles obsessive” has steadily transformed the interior of her four-level lane house, layering texture with intense colors based on her aesthetic instinct.
Originally from Stafford, England, Gray grew up in the seaside town of Weymouth and began her career in London in the retail industry. She began traveling to exotic, developing countries with her husband from the age of 23.
“Visiting countries such as Uganda, Eritrea and Bangladesh opened up my world,” she said. “I realized how much I enjoyed these places that have real ‘souls’ about them.”
In 2001, she visited Sri Lanka and discovered the boutique “Barefoot.”
“I was absolutely impressed by their intense color and texture,” she said. “I decided to bring the brand to the UK, which was when I started my personal desire to do something with color and texture. I’ve been collecting all kinds of textiles since then.”
Gray’s first living experience outside the UK was in Bangladesh, where she joined Tesco and moved into the retail supply chain in 2004. She rented a charming period cottage in Dhaka.
“My interior style was similar at the time, decorated with colorful fabrics and natural materials,” she said. “I loved visiting local markets, hunting for the most beautiful textiles and artifacts.”
She moved to Shanghai in 2011 with her three children and continued to work for Tesco. Her first rented house in Hongqiao was family oriented. “When my oldest son left for university and I left Tesco, I said it was time to move to downtown,” Gray said.
She was drawn to the charming old features of lane houses, and began her first lane house experience on Yuyuan Road.
“We were the only expat family inside that lane,” she said. “It was very real. I moved into my current house because it has a better shape and layout.”
“I love the peaceful ambience of this community,” Gray said. “When you walk away from busy Fumin Road, the noise level falls away. The houses have real character and the residents here are a mix of older people who have lived here a long time and professionals.”
With its perfect downtown location, she goes everywhere on her bicycle.
“There’s a great buzz in this area,” she said. You navigate and you’re in the heart of it. But when I’m back home and go to my rooftop, I don’t hear any noise except for birds singing which is delightful. I like to be surrounded by character and the ambience feeds my soul.”
Compared to the usual long layout of lane houses, her 150-square-meter house is square with an outside patio on the first level and a roof-top terrace.
When she moved in, the condition was fairly good with charming Art Deco-style windows and abundant natural light in every corner.
“Energy matters to me, and this house feeds me with energy in different ways at different times of the day,” Gray said. “Against the cream walls, all surfaces deserve to be richly decorated.”
She did the “fun” decorating herself, with a “massive” collection of textiles and both antique and custom-made furniture from Bangladesh and China.
The core base color of the interior is China red, with shades of India ochre and indigo blue, and there’s an exuberant feeling to the house Gray now lives in alone.
Nothing in this kaleidoscopic house is designed to match, which is part of its appeal.
“I like having stuff around me,” she said. “I purchase things because I like them. I’m not trying to create an environment, but when all my things are put together it works. I go with the flow and listen to my heart. It’s my chance to pull things together to create an ambience that is all mine.”
The only things from her native country are an armchair and a few rugs. She designed her dining table herself, which was made from an old teak tree in Bangladesh. Her period-style bed comes from an antique shop in Dhaka and features incredible craftsmanship.
The living and dining rooms on the first floor set the tone for the entire house, a welcoming focal point where Gray reflects on her passions and interests that contains everything from quirky ornaments to piles of books.
“I collect as I travel, and I get pleasure from having pieces I’ve seen and bought from around Asia,” she said.
A few interesting items stand out — Buddha statues from southeast Asia, a lacquered bamboo offering vessel from Myanmar, print blocks from India, Chinese bird cages and colorful ethnic Miao textiles hung on the wall.
She looks for beautiful materials and colors and is particularly drawn by ethnic fabrics.
“Work wise, I deal with mass market goods, but I love to discover beautiful local fabrics wherever I go,” Gray said. “I buy them because I like them without knowing what I’m going to do with them. Gradually, I’ve collected a lot.”
Hands-on creativity has always been part of her life. She started to play with her collection two years ago, creating free-style works of art made with textiles. Some of her works are given out as gifts to friends, and a few are displayed here and in her recently purchased property in the French countryside.
Gray recently acquired a gorgeous baby outfit and embroidered baby carrier from ethnic Miao villages during a trip to China’s southwest Guizhou Province. The beautifully crafted pieces are framed and hung on the walls of her living room.
Gray said she has embarked on a journey of self-improvement.
“Before the coronavirus broke out, I was on an airplane twice a week for work,” she said. “Now my work doesn’t involve foreign travel, and the beauty of it is I can enjoy more time at home. I had the urge to play piano again, so the piano is the latest addition to the house. I’m also doing watercolor painting and sewing to let my creativity flow.
Ask The Owner
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: The dynamism here is phenomenal, and that brings the energy and pace of change. As a person living here, the dynamic energy is all around you and you get taken with that and always push forward. The sense of opportunity and the “can do” spirit is incredible — you set a goal and make it happen.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Texture, color and warmth.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: By doing one of my new hobbies — playing piano, drawing, painting and exercising.
Q: Where do you spend most of your time at home?
A: In my study/workshop on the second floor where I sew, work, draw and study languages.
Q: What’s the view outside your window?
A: My neighborhood.
Q: What’s your favorite object in your home?
A: The bamboo tiffin carrier from Myanmar.
Q: Where do you buy furniture?
A: On my travels.