This is a two-bedroom apartment (the so-called “double south” type) in an “old,shabby and small” community in Shanghai. The original layout is one room, one living room, one kitchen and one bathroom, covering an area of 47.83 square meters. The householder is a couple, an architect (the leader designer in this case, me) and a dramatist. They were also brought together by drama. Therefore, this space will be an ordinary “home” as well as a place for drama creation, which demands some auxiliary functions in the design, so that the needs of life and work will both be fulfilled in this apartment.

▼室内概览,overview © 谢东叡


▼外部环境,view from the outside © 谢东叡

First: How to find our own living state and space. As an architect, I do have unique advantages for this, but I believe that everyone has their own space acumen. I hope that through this sharing, we can activate our imagination and find our own “way of life” instead of decorating and living according to the “template”. Whether for professionals or amateur of home decoration, is a full range of sensory entertainment and hard work to understand materials、colors、utensils and collocations. The contemporary design market is becoming a game of “style” and “template” establishment, consumers as followers. We are more closely related to “commodities” and less related to life. For those who are interested in or those who have to deal with home decoration for at least once in their life, it will be beneficial to have a good designer to help, but in any case, we should not be satisfied with living in the house type arranged by the designer or developer, but we have to build our own life in the selected house type. Second, what is the future of “old, shabby and small” community? We also want to explore the possibility of “upgrading” the “old, shabby and small” apartment,the “old, shabby and small” building,or the “old, shabby and small” community in this case . In the future, we will share this part with you in our “Utopian design” column.

▼改造前,before renovation © 谢东叡


Functional Reorganization and Replacement


Limited by the structural conditions of the house itself, there is little room for change. In the layout, the biggest adjustment is to move the kitchen boundary southward to expand the space, and set up two wall cabinets with moving doors to separate a porch from the originally open kitchen space at the entrance, and isolate a cloakroom with glass in the bedroom in addition. The traditional master bedroom or living room becomes an “empty” space in turn. An original two-bedroom apartment is developed into a porch, kitchen, toilet, cloakroom, bedroom, balcony and an “empty” space.

▼轴测图,axonometric © 寻长设计


Empty Space ——Multifunctional “empty” room


We often have this feeling: a room or an apartment is very big when it is rented / bought. As soon as the furniture goes in, it felt small. Once we start living, it becomes even smaller. Sometimes, the whole house is like a “furniture exhibition hall”. If you think about it carefully, it seems that furniture has become the master of this home, because furniture has greatly disciplined our code of conduct and walking boundaries. The place with furniture is the area where people bend or can’t reach the boundary, and the rest of the space is our scope of activities. Besides the sofa seats or bed, we don’t seem to have much “spots” at home. Comparing with this kind of life style, it would more interesting to have the freedom to roll in the space, rather than walking in the “traffic flow line” which is left by furniture, and being defined by furniture.

▼拆改过程和家具拆分组合示意,renovation process and furniture combination diagram © 寻长设计


1 客厅 | The Living Room


The living room is an external space and a place for hospitality conceptually. Fireplace is often the center of living room in foreign countries. In China, the traditional living room in many places will have a set of “Zhong Tang furniture”, which integrates tables, chairs and shelves. It displays the functions of reception, etiquette and Buddhist hall, reflecting the whole nation’s reverence for nature, worship of ancestors and follow the ethics. These reminds me of the scene of worshiping in front of the name boards of ancestors in the central hall when I go back to my hometown during Chinese New Year. This kind of space is still very common in many modern apartments of oversea Chinese families, but it is becoming more and more rare in modern families within China. Just like the western modern family space described in Jean Baudrillard’s Le système des objets : some important objects have disappeared – like the big wall clock or the seat clock. Accordingly, the materialized time has disappeared, and the sense of history and security has disappeared.

▼“空”的空间作为客厅使用,the “empty” space used as the living room © 谢东叡


I don’t want to return to the traditional order. I just want to bring up the traditional and modern relay way in this apartment. For those of us who were not born and raised in Shanghai, is there a traditional “nostalgia space”? Therefore, in this “empty” space, I have created a strong, simple Zhong Tang furniture and a completely symmetrical spatial pattern. The balcony’s original “door and window” has also been replaced by the old Shanghai style lattice steel doors and windows to enhance the sense of axis. This set of Zhong Tang furniture consists of a silhouette bronze carving of Fo Guang temple and a black lacquer baking cabinet. Behind the bronze temple, there is a small sound and some old objects. Those most solemn places can also be places where people express their deepest and unspeakable emotions.

▼室内“中轴”,the sense of axis © 谢东叡


2 排练厅 | Rehearsal Hall


The demands of “empty” space first comes from the rehearsals, but when I really sketch an empty house with wooden floor, mirror and handle, that sense of freedom poured back into my mind and became the essence of my design. The traditional living room becomes a rehearsal hall composed of wooden floor, stainless-steel mirror and specially designed handle. The bar (designed to be 20cm wide) can be used not only for dance practice, but also as a support / dining table for small parties. We call it ” Dragon Girl’s bed”. It is a space that people can fully occupy and walk around. It’s as simple as a primitive cave or a minimalism stage for modern theatre.

▼“空”的空间作为排练厅使用,the “empty” space used as the rehearsal hall © 谢东叡


3 剧场 | Theater


It’s really going to be a theater here. We have prepared some shooting and performances based on this location. I designed an L-shaped through track at the top, so that the two pieces of red velvet curtains hanging to the ground can move from the front of the balcony to the front of the handle and stainless-steel mirror. When the red curtains open, you can see the balcony in your life or the theater in the mirror. The stainless-steel mirror faces a whole writable magnetic projection wall, which provides a space for drawing the concept sketch of stage art. The image is projected in the mirror to facilitate rehearsal and performance with scenes. There are four magnetic track lamps in the ceiling, which can adjust the position and light angle according to the effect we want.

▼“空”的空间作为剧场使用,the “empty” space used as the theater © 谢东叡

▼磁吸白板墙可绘制舞美草图,a space for drawing the concept sketch of stage art © 谢东叡


4 餐厅 | Restaurant


It’s also a restaurant for two people or friends. We hope this small apartment can also host a party of many people. But in this way, “empty” room should not be empty, in order to solve the problem of these extra tables, I designed a portable table. Each unit of this table is composed of Polyester Fiber Board table legs and Hign Density Board table top. One, two or three can be assembled according to the situation, which can be arranged in one line or distributed for different scenes. After being disassembled, it can be stored on a flat plate to save some space.

▼“空”的空间作为餐厅使用,the “empty” space used as a restaurant © 谢东叡


On the wall adjacent to the kitchen, in addition to the “Zhong Tang furniture”, another “unavailable” door is made, symmetrical with another real door. Behind the door is a bar space facing the kitchen. At the same time, it is also a window to chat with the person who is doing the cooking. The design of the space creates and guides into communication and company in our routine life.

▼玄关柜移门与厨房共用,the sharing sliding door © 谢东叡

▼移门打开连通客厅与厨房,behind the door, a bar space facing the kitchen © 谢东叡


Green Space


Balcony, kitchen and toilet are the three spaces that I think need nature the most. We use green brushed stone, green marble and blue stone to create nature in domestic space. Stepping on the warm green stone ground, you can touch the stones on the wall with your hand, giving you a kind of primitive rough touch that synthetic materials can’t give. The green water brushed stone of balcony and toilet wall (Note: a traditional building exterior wall facing technique, now the technique is improved, it is more environmental friendly, only needs a small amount of water during construction) has different colors after being wet and dried. As time gone by, the environment will give people some subtle feedback in this way.

▼从起居空间看阳台,view of the balcony from the living space © 谢东叡


We decide not to close the balcony, to keep a place in contact with nature for urban life. We use the frameless balcony window which can be fully opened, so that we can sit at home and enjoy the open space, enjoying flowers and sunshine, even the BBQ. It is a little reassurance of routine life.

▼阳台一角,the balcony © 谢东叡


Lying Space


We separated a cloakroom/makeup room from the small bedroom, we believe that the space for sleep need not be too big. A row of neckties, belts and scarves on the clothes hanger are made by hand to realize the visual segmentation between the cloakroom and the bedroom.

▼衣帽间兼化妆间,the cloakroom/makeup room © 谢东叡


The bed body and the head of the bed are independent structures. The customized bed with black matte baking paint integrates reading lamp, the headrest (Turquoise velvet soft bag) and “bedtime book” shelf, which looks smart and practical. Rough plaster walls disperse the light projected on them, creating a simple and relaxed spiritual atmosphere.

▼床头灯光,bedside lights © 谢东叡


Family Dinner


Our team has been sticking to brand design integration concept, which is also consistent in this case. Even though “home” does not have a commercial attribute, I designed a family emblem for it and asked a ceramic artist friend to hand draw the design draft on the porcelain plate and fire it into several coasters, which is the exclusive gift. It should be closer to the source meaning of the word “brand”, which has a strong emotional value.

▼家徽,family emblem © 谢东叡


After the decoration, the curtain of life slowly opened, and three tables were arranged in the “empty” space. Reduce the lighting, light the candle, turn on the music, and a bistro belonging to us appears immediately. Like this moment of writing, it’s a simple pleasure of sharing. I hope that in the construction of the residence, we can be the directors of ourselves, and perform our own lives in a brand new way.

▼局部,details © 谢东叡

▼平面图,plan © 寻长设计


Project name: Home Theater
Design: NARMAL
Website: www.narmal.com
Contact e-mail: info@narmal.com
Leader designer & Team: Gao Jie,Li Yujin,Zou Keyang,Cheng Yuye,Tong Ruwei,Guo Jing
Project location: Shanghai
Gross Built Area(square meters): 47.83sqm
Photo credits: Xie Dongrui
Construction: Shanghai Laijiang Construction Engineering Co. Ltd.
Lighting consultants: Great Lighting
Clients: the leader designer in this case
Brands/Products used in the project: BETONBAU/Stucco, GERHEN/Woven Vinyl Flooring, Appletree, WOOD ARTIST