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Even in China, do as the Romans do
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An Italian living in Shanghai has used her European sensibilities to create a home with East-meets-West ambience.

When Marianita Ruspoli bought an old 95-square-meter apartment two years ago with her husband Luca Pirri, she envisaged a cozy home with an eclectic twist ? an oasis of old-world charm in a city renowned for its skyscrapers and modern architecture.

The apartment block, built in 1948, stands at the intersection of Yongfu Road and Fuxing Road W. The facade of the old building still retains its stylish vertical focus supplemented by bands of contrasting colors.

"I grew up in a 16th century building in the historical center of Rome and I love the fact if I live in an old art-deco building here in Shanghai," Ruspoli says. To her surprise, the Corner Apartments is featured in "Shanghai Art Deco" by photographer Deke Erh.

The 33-year-old Italian spent several months renovating the "ugly" home, replacing the pipes and wiring and repainting the old wood floor in dark brown. The end result has created a greater sense of space and flow between the living room, dining room and bedroom, as well as added warmth and style.

The laid-back, East-meets-West aesthetic reflects the homemaker's artistic upbringing, from the design details inspired by much of her time in her hometown to her university study of art history and a natural talent for interior design inherited from her mother.

Ruspoli has helped her mom with family property projects including the Residenza Napoleone III in Rome and the Dar Seven in Marrakech. Residenza Napoleone III, one of the most luxurious and unusual places to stay in Rome, is situated in the 16th century Palazzo Ruspoli on Rome's legendary Via Condotti. It is named after Emperor Napoleon III, who lived there in 1830. Ruspoli took part in her family's project to restore the apartment to its original splendor, with impressive antique furnishings, oil paintings and 16th century tapestries.

"My family house in Rome is in Baroque style, but I wanted to create a different home in Shanghai that integrates the local culture and also celebrates the beauty of European style. I am happy with the way it turned out," Ruspoli says.

Ruspoli has made the apartment just the way she wants it. First thing was to install a wall separating the dining room and bedroom.

"Very often we have friends coming to Shanghai for a few days and I can easily switch the 8-square-meter dining room to a guest bedroom," she says. To enlarge the sense of space in the dining area, one wall has been mirrored.

Ruspoli also sacrificed a little of the master bedroom space to make room for a walk-in closet.

Her favorite colors - white, gray and black - are all over the place, helping establish a peaceful tone. "I love to paint stripes on the walls. I find them very decorative," she says.

The walls in the living area are white and gray, an ideal background for the furniture and art, making them stand out in an elegant manner.

"Neutral colors on the wall open up the room. It allows light to bounce off the walls and illuminate the rooms," she says.

She also made white linen sofas and chairs with simple clean lines, which minimizes the feel of a crowded room and can bring a sense of calm. "I use a handful of red accessories to brighten up the interior and to cast a warm glow in every room without being overwhelming."

Ruspoli is developing an approach by placing focal areas of exotic details against clean, contemporary backdrops. Whether it is the rich detail of a porcelain vase or an antique cabinet crafted in China, Ruspoli has realized the potential of local culture sources and design elements to impart magical moods in contemporary settings.

"The opportunity of living in Europe and China has refined my artistic sensibility in combining old and new," she says. "I had the passion of collecting artistic and antique Chinese ornaments even before I came here. In my bedroom in Rome, I have a collection of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vases and an old Chinese traditional portrait from 17th century."

Gradually, her treasures have occupied every corner of the house, ranging from a Buddha statue to some magnificent and unique 60-centimeter square "golden bricks."

Ruspoli loves having guests come over to enjoy the place as well as Italian food and wine.

It's been two years since she moved in and she might soon move to a bigger house - because the mom-to-be wants to create more space for her baby.

(Shanghai Daily July 21,2008)

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