A Product Designer’s Colorful Shanghai Home
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Name: Alexander Åhnebrink
Location: Former French Concession — Shanghai, China
Size: 3,200 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, renting
When Alexander moved to China with his wife four years ago, he dreamed of a traditional courtyard home. He was met with reality: finding one that didn’t need serious renovations was next to impossible and they would be settling for a more modern serviced apartment in the city center. Fast forward three years, and they found themselves embarking on the home search once again, this time in Shanghai. With a growing family, Alexander now really wanted to prioritize finding a special place that felt like home, and soon he and his wife found themselves looking for houses instead of flats. They eventually did just that, and in a city known for its historic lane houses, finding a space that had already been remodeled by local design firm A00 was a pleasant surprise — one that always manages to stun visitors when the Åhnebrinks entertain.
The space, with its sleek wooden cabinetry, brick walls, and red details, is by the same architecture company behind Shanghai’s acclaimed URBN Hotel. But unlike the simplistic furnishings in most hotels, Alexander’s home is filled with snippets of life from his previous homes in Beijing, Milan, and London.
An interior designer himself, as well as a product designer, Alexander has a penchant for ’50s-era lighting and furniture, which he mixes with more modern pieces and many of his own DIY creations. He says his wife (who was in Europe with his two young children during the shoot) loves helping him pick out art and textiles, but when it comes to the bones of the home and the furniture, “she’s happy to let me do it.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: It’s a mixture of everything, but in general the pieces have a 1950s, post-war feeling. Even when I design my own stuff, without necessarily wanting it to, it fits in with this style.
Inspiration: I find a lot of inspiration in books. For colors, I reference Hieronymus Bosch, a painter from Holland. Another book that I love is a cookbook created by Dali’s wife, which features a mixture of Dali paintings and food. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. I don’t think there’s really only one book though — it depends on what projects I’m working on.
Favorite Element: Obviously my own things are among my favorite because I have a connection with them. I especially like the eye charts.
Biggest Challenge: There’s actually quite a lot of space here, so I think it’s difficult to get everything done. I’m still at it — there’s a lot of work to be done in the bedrooms. But the biggest challenge is to really curate each area the way you want it because it’s a big space.
What Friends Say: People don’t really expect this when they walk in a home in Shanghai, so they’ll say “Wow I didn’t know this existed!”
Biggest Embarrassment: The big TV in the middle of the room. I really don’t like it. I am really big on the details and it’s a huge, ugly black TV full of cables. I might replace it with a projector.
Proudest DIY: The stools and the Firefly lamps.
Biggest Indulgence: The stools — they took a lot of time. I created them for a furniture fair in Milan and the original idea was to create a super light leather piece using carbon fiber and cowhide.
Best Advice: When looking for apartments, be patient and have several different agents. You need to see as many places as possible and see the potential of the apartment because in China, everyone is very flexible and it’s so cheap to do construction work. A lot of times the landlord is happy to have someone who can help them out to fix the house. For furnishings, it’s good to do it little by little. It’s very difficult to do all of it at one time. I’ve always started off with a few pieces and see how it fits, and then add a few more.
Dream Sources: I would like to get some original pieces by Donald Judd, either wood furniture, like the super simple geometric pieces, or some original Eames prototypes.
Ray Sofa — B&B Italia (designed by Antonio Citterio)
Josef Frank Cushions — Svenskt Tenn
Tulip Cushions — Designed using his mom’s curtains
Coffee Table — Self-made
Leather stools — Self-made
Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair — HermanMiller Store
Red Poof —Market in Marrakech
‘Magie’ Painting — Basmat Levin
Blanket — From a Switzerland guesthouse
Potence Lamp — Vitra (designed by Jean Prouvé)
Loop Table Lamp — Fontana Arte (designed by Voon Wong & Benson Saw)
Arco Lamp — Flos (designed by Achille Castiglioni)
Kalahari Table — Mabeo (designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune)
Wishbone Chairs — Carl Hansen (designed by Hans J Wegner)
Tripp Trapp Chairs — Peter Opsvik
Slim Gold Candleholders — Brocki Secondhand in Celerina, Switzerland
Kin Gold Candleholders — Skultuna (designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune)
Firefly Lamp — Self-designed
Folding screen — Self-made with fabric from Hunan
Eames chair — Found in Milan on the street
Chinese side tables — Hu & Hu Home, Shanghai
Toio Lamp — Flos (designed by Achille Castiglioni)
Toftbo Bath Mat — IKEA
Stools — Beijing Antique Market
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