There's no place like home for expat family
Living In Shanghai
Lisa Renstroem and her husband Jimmy moved to the city from India in July of 2019 due to Jimmy's job relocation.
The couple came here twice before the move to search for a new home. Initially, they had a very clear picture of where they wanted to live – a renovated, industrial-style lane house in the tree-lined downtown area.
"It was very important to us that it was unfurnished, as decorating in a new space and making it feel like 'us' is my favorite part of every move we have made," Lisa Renstroem said, adding that this was their fifth move as a family.
Lisa, from the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, and Jimmy, from Sweden, met abroad (in countries that were not their own) and have moved around a lot.
"To us, the home we live in becomes our main home, not just our home in our host country. Since we don't officially have a home to go back to, we put all of our effort into making this one feel right," Renstroem said.
She said the relocation company was eager to show them overly hotel-like, furnished service apartments that were lovely but wouldn't have felt like their home as they envisioned it.
"I wanted bare walls to hang our artwork, a natural color palette, renovated bathrooms and kitchen and, if possible, no marble, which we saw so much," Renstroem said. "As we had moved from a large house in India with a huge garden, we were hoping to end up with a bit of outdoor space that we had come to love."
Before seeing the Jing'an District apartment they now call home, she was hesitant, but their agent promised it was "special."
"We walked into a bright and newly renovated duplex with light floors and gray accent walls, matching bathrooms and to top it off, a 150-square-meter rooftop garden with grass. We quickly realized that our dream Shanghai home didn't need to be a lane house after all," she said.
The couple loves the natural light in the space, the openness of the living room, views of the Bund and having so much outdoor space – all in downtown Shanghai. The overall design is industrial chic.
"I created my previous homes with different styles. For this Shanghai home, I wanted it to be cool-yet-also-livable-and -comfortable, as we are a family with two kids including a 1-year-old baby," she said.
The first level includes the dining and living rooms. The idea for the dining room was to create an open and central area for the family to gather as well as host guests, while also highlighting their art.
"We wanted to keep it minimalistic enough to avoid it from looking cluttered, and keep enough open space on the floor for the kids to play on," she said.
The living room is a soothing area for the family to relax. Both rooms feature art and mementos the couple has collected throughout their many moves in Europe, Hong Kong and India.
A gigantic brass elephant head from Bangalore, India, highlights the living area. A collection of Italian wall plates from Fornasetti, wire art from markets in Bangkok, a giant horse head made of drift wood from Germany and a deer painting from a Hong Kong market they got for their first apartment are some of their favorite pieces.
Renstroem said their newest piece purchased here is a Mongolian military vest that hangs over the bar in the living room, giving off a somewhat masculine vibe.
"I feel like our travels are represented through the design of our home. Our color palette in the main family spaces is never too bright, and I tend to stick to white, black with touches of gold or silver," she said, adding that she loves to use ethnic rugs for a bit of color pop under the dining room and coffee tables.
For the kids' rooms on the second floor, each boy has something of a theme color – black for the older son and brown for the younger one, clearly represented in their rooms.
"The master bedroom is the one room that usually stays the same from country to country," Renstroem said.
"Our bed (side tables and artwork above) is one of the few functional pieces that we bring everywhere with us, and the layout tends to stay the same to create a tranquil and calming environment."
"A welcoming home is one that has a good, inviting vibe, one that makes us want to spend time in it and one that we are always glad to return to after holidays – or in the case of the last year and a half, are content not to leave," she added.
Renstroem said the whole family, including their 7-year-old son, are homebodies who usually prefer staying in if they can.
"My son even claims to love quarantining after our two weeks in home quarantine in 2020. Whether that's hosting kids playdates, birthdays, BBQs, lunches or dinners, we'd always rather do it at our home, so it really means the world to us that we have a space where we feel comfortable doing so," she said.
Ask The Owner
Q: What's the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: Getting everything delivered to your doorstep instantly.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Airy, light and social.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: On the couch watching Netflix and getting a foot massage.
Q: Where do you spend most of your time at home?
A: Sitting on the floor playing with the baby (or on my phone while the baby plays) in the living room.
Q: What's the view outside your window?
A: The Pearl Tower and some of the Bund on one side and the lanes of Jing'an District out toward the west on the other.
Q: Where do you buy furniture?
A: Everywhere – Timothy Oulton, Kartell, Restoration Hardware, Indigo Living and of course Taobao.