Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane

Yang Di
Robin Dell and Jaimie Villanueva's garden apartment tucked in a typical Shanghai lane is an oasis of calm and comfort.
Yang Di

Directed by Yang Di. Shot by Yang Di. Subtitles by Yang Di.

Robin Dell and Jaimie Villanueva's garden apartment tucked into a typical Shanghai lane is an oasis of calm and comfort.

The site is adequately sized for a growing family, with charming French glass doors spanning the width of the living area, looking out to the large garden attached to the house.

Dell and Villanueva moved into this 160-square-meter apartment when they were expecting their third child.

"We met in London, moved to Shanghai in 2006 and never left this leafy downtown in Xuhui District," said Dell, founder of imondi, a reclaimed wood flooring specialist.

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

Robin Dell and Jaimie Villanueva with Simona and Lucas in their garden

Their first home was on Kangping Road but when the family grew, the couple started searching for a more suitable residence. Before finding this ideal abode with its gorgeous garden, they looked at about 60 apartments.

"We love the charm of historical homes in the city. I grew up in London living in those beautiful old houses with amazing history and beautiful interiors designed by my mom. I feel like Shanghai is 'the London of Asia,' – its a walkable city with village-like neighborhood," Dell said.

"We love this neighborhood accessible to most expat-oriented groceries mixed with local shops, restaurants and our usual hang-out spots," Villanueva said.

The garden apartment is tucked inside a lane on Fuxing Road W. The lane is famously called Rose Villa, which contains seven villa houses, of which the No. 2 villa was the residence of Lan Ni, the second wife of Sun Ke (Dr Sun Yat-sen's son).

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

The garden apartment is tucked inside the historic lane "Rose Villa" on Fuxing Road W.

"We are fascinated by the history and stories of the lane. The first time we entered the place we saw the potential of an ideal family house. The amazing garden really drew us in and the access to the garden from every bedroom is a plus," she said.

They removed a few doors inside and heavy curtains, trim down some branches outside to let more natural light in. "We don't impose a particular interior style but likes a cozy place to relax and hang out at home with family and friends," Villanueva said.

"It's a controlled mess," Dell joked.

The basic color scheme is neutral. They opt for earthy colors for big pieces and able to add bits of color and texture with art and decorative items.

The furniture pieces chosen for the home are refined and sleek. The dining table and a few chairs are from Stellar Works. The furniture brand combines Japanese design and European tradition to create timeless and sustainable furniture. Other few design pieces are created by Shanghai-based Danish designer Soren Matz.

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

The furniture pieces chosen for the dining area are refined and sleek. The dining table and a few chairs are from Stellar Works.

The couple and their children Simona, Jacob, and Lucas love to spend their time in the kitchen and dining spaces. The dining table is an extended counter of the open kitchen, where the family of five gathers to shares special moments.

The open living area provided the perfect opportunity to incorporate built-in bookshelves floor to ceiling.

"Books have a special place in the house," Villanueva said. "We're a reading family and we don't encourage any kindles or iPads for reading."

"A decade ago, when I brought a lot of old books from London to here, suddenly I felt Shanghai was a home rather than just being a place to live," Dell said. "This bookshelf means a lot to me."

He designed and built it himself, cutting plywood sheets into strips, painting them four different colors and screwing them together into simple boxes and then assembling them on the wall in various patterns.

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

The open living area provided the perfect opportunity to incorporate built-in bookshelves floor to ceiling.

"When I first came to China I set up a small wood flooring factory that has over the years became the world's largest manufacturer of reclaimed wood flooring which we supply to the most beautiful projects around China and the rest of the world. I feel incredibly lucky to work with wood; it's not something I grew up with and I enjoy setting myself the challenge of little projects around the house like this."

"I love to display 'our family life' on the wall. You can see my grandma's collected vintage posters from Budapest when they lived there, some family photos from my parents to my kids capturing fun moments, vintage finds in flea markets from Paris – just simply to tell our stories from different periods."

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

The couple loves to display "family life" on the wall.

Expat family at home in cozy garden apartment tucked inside a Shanghai lane
Dong Jun

A treasure piece on the wall is a kimono using calligraphy paper created by the couple's old friend Hiro Namba.

He also pointed to another treasure piece on the wall: a kimono using calligraphy paper created by the couple's old friend Hiro Namba.

"He moved to Bangkok a few years ago. Coming from three-generations of calligraphy artists family, Namba spent weeks and weeks practicing characters on calligraphy paper.

"He was asked by a gallery owner to create collages of his calligraphy papers and has now become famous for his beautiful art pieces. Our piece is the first piece of a set of 10; it is special to us as the work was incredible collaborative and he is a special friend who we miss a lot," Dell said.

Making a homey interior is an on-going process, according to the couple. It's designed specifically for the way the family lives and interacts as a unit.

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