FRENCH couple Lydie Ayme and Olivier Milcamps, with their three children, are wrapping up their Shanghai chapter very soon. And it is with great reluctance that they are leaving their beautiful Shanghai home on the top floor of a residential building.
Three years of living in Shanghai made the family discover China from the inside.
“This experience was also a family project for our three kids to have a life experience abroad. Indeed they are now more open to foreign culture and language. They are more curious and more respectful of differences after having been exposed to foreign countries,” Lydie said.
Home searching was not an easy task for a family of five who needed space and light. But the top floor triplex in a residential compound on Xingfu Road has space rarely found in city apartments. The interior is modern and simplistic. The living room has a 6-meter-high ceiling, giving them incredible volume and an abundance of sunlight.
“What is less satisfactory is the choice of some materials. A wooden floor would be so much nicer than the basic tiled floor of the living area or the dark floor upstairs. I especially didn’t like the big pillar in the middle of the first floor so we had it painted white to give a neutral base and we ‘dress it up’ with our furniture and decoration” she said.
The couple placed a mix of design furniture and more special items selected from decoration stores, art galleries and from their travels.
“The lamps are extremely important to a nice homey vibe. Some recessed spotlights or neon can kill the atmosphere. We selected our ambient lights very carefully to create a warm ambience,” Lydie said.
“Our approach to our home has always been the same. We need a place with a ‘soul’ which could come from light, volume, materials and architecture.
“Then we usually paint it all in white to have a neutral base so that it gives a lot of freedom to choose the decoration.”
In the living room, the couple has opted for comfortable dark grey sofas and a classic coffee table from designer Noguchi. The rest of the decoration are “coup de Coeur.”
“We buy only ‘love at first sight’ items, all from different origins. The portrait big picture is from Paul Graham, a very well-known photographer whose artworks are collected by a lot of museums. We bought it in Paris Photo, a very famous international art fair there,” Lydie said.
The Chinese kid portrait was bought in Shanghai. It’s done by artist Phil Akashi with seal imprints with Chinese character “mei.” The intense look of the Chinese kid makes it a very strong art piece.
Other favorite items the couple has brought to their Shanghai home include: two sheep in wood, with real sheep fur acquired in Paris, two Inuit sculptures from a minority group in north Canada, found during their trip to Quebec, and a reproduction of the white bear sculpture from French artist Francois Pompon, who died in 1933 but whose artworks are still so modern.
“We also love our Marianne torso (symbol of French Republic), the bird of Charles and Ray Eames, an owl in wood found in an antique shop in Luang Prabang and much more,” Lydie said.
Next to the living area decorated with the couple’s personal collection, the dining room is rather sleek and minimal. They have mostly white contemporary furniture in the dining space including the table, chairs and USM cabinet.
“Then the atmosphere is coming from powerful artworks, which are opposite in style and color: the first one from French artist Francois Morellet — a graphic black and white work based on his vision of light,” said Lydie.
“The other one is a very colorful and rich artwork from Ye Hongxing, a young Chinese artist working with small stickers. The paining is made 100 percent with stickers but it is hardly noticeable until you look at it from very close.”
Another wall at the first level of the apartment is dedicated to photography works from younger designer and photographer Ugo di Maruro.
“We met him in an event organized by French architect Jeremy Cheval. Cheval invited about 20 artists to participate in this event dedicated to the forgotten shikumen neighborhood.
“And in a dark lane of Siwenli shikumen neighborhood we met Ugo who was selling his pictures taken in shikumen houses and we fell in love with his work, his capacity to catch simple moments making powerful images. We bought the 12 pictures as testimonies of old Shanghai life,” Lydie said.
“The latest artworks we bought from Ye Hongxing are particularly dear to our heart. Before coming to China, most of the artwork we bought was monochrome, black, grey, white tones.
“After we met with Shanghai art gallery, Art + and discovered all of their work to support Chinese artists we became more familiar with Chinese contemporary art and for the first time bought two very colorful artworks from Ye, a mandala welcoming our guest in the entrance and the tiger looking at you with its light blue eyes wherever you stand.”
Artworks are evidently the center of the apartment’s decoration.
“We have been visiting art galleries and museums forever and our kids have the same ‘virus’,” Lydie said.
“Apart from the pieces we bought in Shanghai, we came from France with many artworks dear to our hearts, including a lithography of Jean-Charles Blais and Poliakoff, as well as the first artwork we bought after we just graduated, which is a drawing of Chasse-pot, a French sculptor who died recently.
“I think for everyone to create a nice home, you need to put your heart in your decoration, to choose it ‘with love’ and then people can feel it.
“Forget about copying some magazine pictures, just get inspired by them and spend time to visit antique markets, showrooms and art galleries rather than shopping on the internet. The light would make a big difference to create a warm atmosphere,” Lydie said.
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: The energy of the city. Despite the pollution we never did as much sport as here!
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Welcoming, eclectic, with personality.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: Exchange a look with Ye’s tiger in front of entrance.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: Open a nice bottle of wine and share it with my loved ones or close friends.
Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?
A: In the living room and dining room, as most French we love long family dinner.
Q: What’s the view outside of your window?
A: Close view is the former French concession with villas and trees and further we can admire Shanghai skyline from pearl tower to Shanghai tower. It is especially beautiful at night.
Q: What’s your favorite object at home?
A: Impossible to choose one from my collection of objects.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Shanghai?
A: Most of our furniture came with us from France, but in Shanghai we like USM, Platane or the selection of CASA CASA on Anfu Road. They have a lot of items from Flos, Fritz Hansen or Vitra which are the brands we like very much.