Style | Diary of a Somebody

Yann Debelle de Montby

Scouring Shanghai for the weird, beautiful, and weirdly beautiful

Yann Debelle de Montby

Image: Derrick Santini

October 29 2010
Yann Debelle de Montby

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

All of yesterday was dedicated to one of my favourite activities: hunting for antiques and interesting objects – for myself, but also of course to use for several of my interior design projects. Surprisingly, Shanghai doesn’t offer very interesting hunting ground; most of the antiques are either fake or over-restored. But I am very stubborn, and as a born collector of eclectica, I always manage to find hidden places and beautiful objects.

So the morning was actually very rewarding: I managed to find an interesting late 19th-century medicine cabinet, and a beautifully carved small writing desk – which apparently came from the house of a famous trader of Shanghai – from the beginning of the 20th century. The Chinese dealers are very open to bargaining, which is wonderful as it allows a true interaction and often friendly communication between the seller and the buyer. It does remind me of my native Morocco, where bargaining is so deeply a part of the culture. As in Morocco, one has to take the time to sit down, to accept and drink a cup of tea (wonderful mint tea at home, and a large variety of healthy green teas in China). Meanwhile, my favorite antique dealer (his Chinese name is Zhu Zheng Hua) wanted to offer me a beautiful old Chinese bird cage – complete with a very talkative black bird in it! I still have to check with my wife if this present will be welcomed, as the bird says “hello” (“nihao!”) more or less all day long, interspersed, more surprisingly, with imitations of dogs, cats, and other quite unknown animals.

Lunch was a working one, at my desk. Always quite interesting, actually, as my office is located in the top floor of an old 1940s factory, near Xintiandi (the newly-restored old Shanghai residences), and the view I have is spectacular. Not necessarily beautiful, but definitely breathtaking. Then I sipped a tea that I’ve just discovered called Luo Han Guo – apparently very good to drink to prevent a cold. It comes from Guangxi province, and the taste is quite sweet and soothing.

After this break, I drove out to Sheshan International Golf Club (actually my driver drove me as I still haven’t really convinced myself that driving my own car in Shanghai is well advised). Sheshan is a beautiful golf complex located 45 minutes from Shanghai, which hosts the big HSBC tournament every year. I’d love to write that I was off to play golf for the rest of the day but, unfortunately, the reality was slightly different; I’m on site to finish two projects started a few months ago: the interior design of a Spanish-style villa overlooking the golf course (my customer – the club’s owner – sells them to the new wealthy Chinese customers for quite a lot of money, fully decorated; they go for between $5m to $20m, depending on the size). I had to put the final touches on with my team.

Then to another part of the club, where I’ve just finished building a quite spectacular Cuban cigar and wine bar, painting the ceiling the same true blue as the Cuban flag. I even managed to find a stuffed crocodile, which I hung from the ceiling (very “cabinet of curiosities”). Contrary to what most people think, I’ve found that the new rich Chinese actually love to be challenged in their opinions, and are tiring rather quickly of the cliché image that we seem to want to keep of their tastes. They love creative concepts – especially if you use them to tell an interesting story.

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