A Shanghai lane house with a story to tell
The spacious lane house in the city center is a haven for Lucy and Richard Young, one filled with treasured pieces and memories from their 18 years of living in Shanghai.
The charm of the home is in its harmonious blend of classic architecture, tasteful adornments and a refined palette that allows the architectural elements to shine through.
The couple moved to Shanghai in 2004. Knowing their move would be long term, they decided to purchase an old property and renovate it so they could feel at home.
"Richard looked at over 100 lane houses and shikumen (stone-gate) houses. It was rare to get the perfect combination of a house in good condition and a nice lane. Plus, many old lane houses are quite narrow with steep stairs," Young said.
After 10 months of searching, the couple felt like they had seen all there was to see, and then their current home came on the market.
"A typical lane house at that time, it was in rough condition with a shared kitchen and bathrooms. But after learning more about the architecture we noticed a few unique features that we could work with and realized its potential to become an ideal living space for the family."
The house was built in 1924 by Charles Lee in a European style as a single-family home that consisted of three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
One of the previous residents was the famous 1930s Shanghai movie star Hu Die.
"My father's family is originally from Shanghai. Coincidentally, when Hu Die lived in Taipei in the 1960s, she purchased a home from a relative on my father's side and was well acquainted with my grandfather, Henry Kung, who was head of the Central Motion Pictures Company at that time," Young said.
The couple spent a year renovating the 250-square-meter house, working hand in hand with architectural firm A00 to maximize space for storage, utilities and living.
"We knew we would be living in the house for many years, so we invested in top materials and best practices for the guts of the house," she said.
They designed the layout with an open floor plan in mind for smooth movement between spaces on the first floor, integrating the living, dining and kitchen spaces. Wooden floors throughout the house anchor the all-white walls and high ceilings.
The spacious living area allows the couple to comfortably spend time together or entertain friends. The style is eclectic and reflects the couple's years together in Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai.
"Our favorite pieces actually 'lived' in the house before we moved in," Young said, pointing to a pair of green leather armchairs, the Art Deco-style wooden bar and an old mahjong table.
Another favorite piece is a small narrow table on the second-floor landing. "It's a piece I found that was tossed out of a third-floor window by neighbors who lived in an adjacent building. As luck would have it, I had just come home and saw it. One man's trash is another man's treasure. The table was so lovely and the only damage it had was a broken leg I had repaired."
The other key piece in the living room is the couch – inspired by a couch in the penthouse guestroom of a Miami hotel.
"About two decades ago, I was in Miami for a work conference held at The Raleigh, a beautiful 1940s Art Deco hotel. The architecture and style really made an impression on me. I thought of it and looked at the hotel's website for inspiration when we were considering some new furniture for the house," Young said.
The second floor and above is the family's private zone. They enclosed the rooftop terrace to create a family room with skylights and glass stairs, and the master bedroom is housed inside a lofty attic. The en-suite is a cozy space featuring many items the couple acquired when they lived in Singapore, such as a few tropical teak and rattan pieces. The pitched roof enhances the spacious feeling.
Young, owner of a gift paper company, Paper Tiger Shanghai, is also on a new adventure – launching a new gin brand, Julu Gin, together with her husband. The name is inspired by their beloved street, Julu Road, which she has called home for almost two decades.
"We used to love the eclectic mix of shops and mom-and-pop restaurants that dominated Julu and Fumin roads. The street has gone through a real gentrification, and this area is now referred to as the JuFu area.
What always impresses us about Shanghai is how fast things get turned around and changed. Despite the changes in the commercial aspect here, there is real history in the people. The friendliness and community spirit are very much alive.
"During lockdown we got to know more of our neighbors and even discovered one of them, a teacher named Yang, has lived on our lane since 1966. That is true Shanghai history – its people," Young said.