WHL Apartment



Category:
Renovation, Interior

Timeline:
2018.05-2018.09

Location:
Shanghai

Size:
60m²



“remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” – Marcel Proust


No. 673 Weihai Road, a four-story linear form apartment building, is in-between Minli Middle School and Sun Court Apartment. The main entrance is small and unnoticeable, right next to a bubble tea store. Our site is a residential unit, located on the second floor of this building.


The building itself has no historical significance. However, since it is located besides the Sun Court Apartment, people often call it “The Little Sun Apartment”. Although the front door is a bit shoddy, once you entered the stairwell, you will be fascinated by the excellence of its architectural craftsmanship. The white and green mosaic tiles, the casted iron balustrade, and the terrazzo staircase base, luscious details that bring you back to the old days.


It is hard to imagine that a property in the heart of downtown area would have been vacant for nearly ten years. Our site happens to be one of the exceptions. The first visit was like bumping into an amber where time stops. Historical footprints from the 1930s to the early 1990s have been vividly preserved in this 60-square-meter apartment.


The bedroom ceiling and moulding have aged together like a plaster fossil, glistening and opalescent. The original bedroom walls were covered by a light blue base paint atop of indigo line drawing of wheat ears and leaves, a design reckons pattern from the Arts and Crafts movement. One striking fact we discovered is that the line drawing patterns seem to be printed directly on the wall. No trace of other media like paper or fabric was found during our inspection. It is the first time that we have seen an antique wall surface treatment like this. We couldn't help but wonder, what was the purpose of this building, who had lived here, and what kind of story has happened here before?


The owner who grew up here since young has settled overseas, leave the apartment untenanted afterwards. The living room was lightly refurbished in the 90s, the rest remains intact till now. The diverse styling of furniture selection is an evidence of time passed. There are cupboards, chests, drawers and door locks in their original condition which were installed from the early 30s to the late 90s.  


When a beam of light penetrated into the ruins in the afternoon, movements of lights and shadows shattered on the decaying wall, the life of this apartment appeared and emerged in front of us. We were suddenly connected with the site at that moment. How to preserve the memories of time is key subject to us before we kick start our design.


The project brief is quite clear: to re-establish this apartment as a high-end residential unit that aesthetic appealing and also meets the basic living function needs. Therefore, our design solution is to focus on the balance between function, spatial experience, and preservation of historical details.


Shadows are casted in different parts of the house when the sun rotates from time to time. First appears at the bedroom in the morning, then to the living and finally sets in the outdoor balcony. Observing the movement of light is another factor that matters in our design.


The apartment has a ceiling height of 3.5 meters, tall windows and a separate outdoor balcony. Unfortunately, nearly one third of the entire house is sealed up by an enclosed kitchen, walk-in wardrobe and bathroom. The fragmentation created by excessive partition walls made a rather cramming spatial experience.


After the investigation of existing structure by our contractors, all the partition walls between each spaces are demolished to open up the entire space. An open kitchen with a full height storage cabinet is next to the living room, while meeting the functional requirements of the client, we have created a new spatial experience.


We try to minimise the loss of the ‘fossil’ moulding as much as possible. Due to the new open kitchen design, the existing moulding for the living room were carefully shifted to the new location. As for bedroom, all the existing moulding is fully retained. Another element that was fully kept is the existing solid wood flooring. One unique material quality about solid wood is that it will reveal the trace of time. The skirting were carefully removed from partition walls and reused in the new space, not an inch of new skirting is added.


Similar examples of recycling and reusing existing materials including: doors for new bedroom and bathroom were once used for the kitchen, ceiling lamp in the living were reassigned to the new bedroom, the antique cabinet in the living was once a storage cabinet, last but not least is the cabinet in the foyer, also was a kitchen storage cabinet. Who could believe those furniture were almost thrown away during construction phase?


Great effort is applied to the remaining doors: the main entrance, the bedroom and the bathroom door. We discovered that all the doors have been painted several times. Paint layers have been built upon layers. Our contractor carefully polished each door over and over again and finally reached a point that all remaining paints look like slices of stratum, revealing the history of the house.


Hand-made bricks are used in the kitchen and hallway floor to match the historical details of the apartment. Unfortunately, not all historical details can be conserved. The original bedroom wall surface is removed due to safety issue. A bathroom wall with stunning texture which we adored dearly is also demolished because it decomposed over times. All the windows were also dismantled for the same reason.


Although a lot of work has been done to recall the story of the house, we are not meant to restore any history. Rather, it is like examining our imagination of life in the past. Therefore, we are not shy from using new materials. Wardrobe and kitchen cabinets are made of plywood, and stainless steel for kitchen countertop. This addition of highly reflective material emphasizes and magnifies other historical elements in the apartment. This addition of reflective material is to emphasize and magnifies all the existing beautiful details in this space.


Shortly after project completion, the newly renovated apartment ushered its new dweller. They are two partners from Single Person, a vintage houseware store. They have a unique vision about this place and a great taste on furniture selection. They gradually added many of their personal collections to the space. Project photography were taken half years later after their arrival. All furniture and houseware items shown in the photos are their labor of love.


As designers, our job is to build a space where the inhabitant is bestowed by a sense of belonging. They shall be surrounded not only by things of beauty but also gentle reassurance.  To appreciate the space as it is today yet comfortable enough to embrace its past.


After all, only when new life begins, can the story of the existing space carry on.