June 21, 2011 - Shanghai
In 1949 Shanghai had over 5,000 garden villas. Today, less than 100 remain in private hands. This rare historic mansion, located in the city's central Jing'an District, was recently purchased and remodelled by architect Philip Liao.
In the years following the WWI, a number of majestic 'garden villas' - as they are known locally - were constructed in the city's central Jing'an district, making the neighbourhood one of the most prestigious of its time. Over the years, various senior Nationalist Party officials have resided there, and today, the historic mansions continue to be home to a privileged few who enjoy pockets of space and serenity in Shanghai's bustling city centre.
The Liao family purchased this historic villa in 2006 for approximately US$4.4 million, and invested two years and an additional US$750,000 in extensive renovations. The family bought the home as an investment property, but the market slump in 2008 prompted them to wait before putting the property back on the market.
In addition to its investment potential, the historic property had personal appeal for the family. Mrs. Mao is originally from Shanghai and Philip Liao, the eldest son, who was born in Hong Kong and studied architecture abroad before setting up his own practice, Philip Liao & Partners Limited, says he has always felt a connection to Shanghai's preserved historical buildings and a deep appreciation for the city's rich urban texture - a quality that distinguishes it from many other booming centres across China.
Liao says he was immediately drawn to the villa when he first glimpsed it back in 2006. "I was walking along a winding alleyway and entered a beautiful open yard that was not enclosed by tall towers" he recalls. "I was suddenly aware of being steeped in Shanghai's history, surrounded by old buildings and I fell in love with the house as soon as I saw it."
The villa purchased by the Liaos was designed and constructed by its original owner in the 1930s and is situated on a plot of 700 sq m, including a 500 sq m garden. The owner built the house upon returning from studies in Germany and fused Bauhaus principles and art deco flourishes with Chinese detailing such as paper cut window shutters. Maintaining this unique marriage of Chinese and Western elements was a central concern for Liao when he refurbished the villa.
Liao's firm is renowned for its work renovating historic buildings - the Bethany Convent at Hong Kong's Academy for Performing Arts was recently awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacifric Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
The private villa, however, gave the architect complete creative license. Liao describes his conceptual approach as one driven by the ancient architectural triad, "commodity, firmness and delight," as a way of creating a secure, functional, and delightful living space.
"The structure of old building included elegant features, but the design was outdated," Liao says. "The main challenge was modernising the facilities to create a comfortable living space while at the same time giving full play to original details and keeping the original building intact."
The original layout featured 800 sq m of living space, which Liao reorganised, converting about 400 sq m into open air or transitional space. The first floor porch was fitted with French doors that lead out to the swimming pool but also seal off to create a sunroom in the winter. Outdoor areas are landscaped, including stepping stones and a pathway that accesses the second floor garden terrace.
The bathroom on the top floor, one of Liao's favourite spaces, was fitted with a large rainforest shower, heated floors, and double paned glass for Shanghai's chilly winters. An additional brick wall was installed for privacy, as was a sleek block stone wash basin. Liao also imported fine Italian Travatino tile and American Walnut for the home's interiors, creating a clean, modern finish but retaining a sense of warmth. He also installed a number of health conscious, energy-saving features, including a thermal heat pump, a water purifier and double-paned glass.
The investments have undoubtedly paid off. Since the renovations were completed in 2008, the villa has caught the attention of various local real estate agents and offers have come in upwards of US$13,000,000. Prices for garden villas in central Shanghai currently average around US$17,650 / sq m. In November of 2009, another villa on Yuyuan Road, formerly the residence of H.H. Kung - the wealthy Chinese banker and politician who joined the Kuomintang in the 1930s - sold for record US$29.4 million. With only a limited number of villas available, prices are only expected to increase.
For the time being, this villa remains a rare oasis of calm in Shanghai's bustling city centre, where the architect makes frequent visits from his home in Hong Kong. "I wouldn't want to stay any other place," he says.
Source: LP Luxury Properties
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