HIDDEN inside a residential compound in the former French concession, Gallic artist Zoe Candelon-Vayssieres’ art-filled house offers its owner peace, tranquility and comfort.
Originally from Paris, she moved to Shanghai four years ago with her husband and two teenagers in order to experience a different world, beyond their comfortable life in the center of Paris.
“As a pure Parisian girl, the area of the former French concession, with its beautiful platane trees and low-rise buildings, was an obvious choice,” she said. “However, house hunting was the first indicator that we’d have to change our mindset if we wanted to fit into local life. In Paris the tenant maybe the king but in Shanghai, the landlord is ‘emperor.’ It took us some time to understand the way it works here.”
With all the challenges, the family finally found this beautiful house in the middle of a park, where calm and silence are much appreciated in the vibrant and noisy city of Shanghai.
“We were looking for a place full of charm, space and comfort, and this house met all of our expectations,” Zoe said.
They loved the huge living room with direct access to the garden and noticed the potential of making the spacious interior nice right away. They opted to repaint the walls in white to create a neutral atmosphere to make their art collections stand out.
“To create a familiar, homey atmosphere, we brought quite a few pieces of furniture from Paris. Little by little, some Chinese antiques have entered into our world in the form of Art Deco tables, chairs, a chest, simple handcrafted objects and even wooden fragments of architecture,” Zoe said.
The first floor is an open-plan living and dining area with a sliding door opening to the “atelier” space for Zoe to create.
“Our house has always been a mixture of cultures, styles and ideas. We are only driven by passion. If we like an object or a piece of art, we never think of how it will fit with the rest of the house. Simply liking it is reason enough to buy it. We prefer no rules, just a series of crushes,” the artist explained.
The pair has collected creations from Chinese artist such as Zhang Ruyi and Gao Lei. “To me, art and photography are the two keys to create a warm, inviting home.”
And it’s the mixture of old and contemporary art brings the interior back to life. The mixture of culture and periods is reflected everywhere in the house. In one corner, an old Italian coffer from the 15th century catches the eyes. Upon it, there is a contemporary sculpture — a white wave from an Czech-Argentinean artist, Federico Diaz; nearby, a wooden fragment of architecture from a Shanghainese house; above hangs an abstract water green painting from French artist Veronique Bour.
“I think the artworks from different artists and periods have mixed very well though they have nothing in common,” Zoe said.
For the creative genius, like Zoe, Shanghai’s streets offer the same mixture of cultures that give her inspirations.
“Especially the lilongs (lanes), which represent a hybrid of cultural styles like Western stone pediments, with traditional Chinese courtyards and lintels. I would have loved to live in a lane house but unfortunately, we were unable to get the space we wanted,” she said.
“I fell in love with those lane houses and the shikumen style, thanks to a friend, Jeremy Cheval, who introduced me to lilong stories. This is how I started to collect handcrafted things like stools, baskets, door lintels, bricks and casting them bronze. In Shanghai, I see everyday objects disappearing every minute, and I decided to be an active witness of this transition. Much similar to Shanghai today, in 1950s, Paris was ridding itself of the old to embrace modernity. During that time, photographers immortalized the disappearing beauty of the city,” Zoe said.
“As photographers do photography, I do ‘objectography’.” Zoe’s father is a photographer, so she essentially grew up with photographs as wallpaper.
In her home atelier, she created a full wall of photographs that capture everyday life by Bernard Plossu, Duane Michals and Tony Ray Jones.
“ I slipped one of my sculptures ‘the framed peony’ into the collection. For this sculpture, I used part of a shikumen balcony etched with a peony and added a black frame that brings another dimension to the object, giving the visual sensation emptiness. I then engrave a sentence on it, capturing the object’s memory. Here, the sentence is the address where the piece was found,” she said.
The art dealer who helped Zoe at the beginning loved her idea because today he would give a fortune to have an object from his grandparents’ home.
“Did transform an object into sculpture would imply the end of it as an object? I don’t think so. As a sculpture, it brings with it both, the soul of the object and the soul of the place it comes from,” Zoe explained her ideas behind her “objects of art.”
“I chose bronze as the main materials as I love its sensuality. In our dining room, we have a bronze table from French artist Claude Lalanne. When seated, your fingers encounter this mild metal and the veined detailing of the ginkgo leaf — a sensory experience. “Bronze enjoys a long tradition in China. Visiting Shanghai Museum, I saw the magnificent antique vessel. Bronze crosses centuries and casts a timelessness over everything it touches.”
A bronze wicker basket created by Zoe is displayed in the living area.
“One of my clients shared a lovely story with me about this piece: She sent her Shanghainese driver to pick up the sculpture at my studio and when he arrived with the package, he asked her why she bought a new basket as there were plenty in the kitchen, but when they unpacked the sculpture together, he froze, exclaiming: ‘we don’t see these kinds of baskets anymore! It’s just like the ones from my childhood!’ This instantly made my work worth it,” she said.
“My artwork is my tribute to Shanghai: the city that had seduced me.”
Ask the owner
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: The visual mix of cultures and the kindness of people on the street.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Cosy, calm and esthetic.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: I take my shoes off.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: By putting music on.
Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?
A: As an artist, in my studio, which is a room on the ground floor.
Q: What’s the view outside your window?
A: Green. Beautiful leaves shape the landscape with a wonderful pallet of green that you would never see in Europe.
Q: What’s your favorite object at home?
A: My first sculpture, the stool — my first crush in this city.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?
A: Anywhere, it is a matter of falling in love with an object.