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Elegant historic villa forms base of new fashion house showrooms

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The House of Grace Chen fashion brand has found a new home in a refurbished heritage villa accompanied by a new pavillion on this project by Kokaistudios

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High-end designer clothes showcased in a refined, designer setting – this architectural and interior design project by architectural studio Kokaistudios for one of China's leading names in haute couture fashion brings a brand new level of meaning to the words high-fashion environment.

The multi-faceted project encompasses a reworking of the elegant and old as well as the creation of the elegant and brand new. A grand 1920s historic villa in the heart of Shanghai's former French Concession was chosen as an apt location for the home of fashion brand Grace Chen, says project architect for Kokaistudios Filippo Gabbiani.

"The work involved creating show spaces, fitting rooms, offices, a library and a show kitchen in the reworked villa, as well as a VIP suite for a more immersive retail experience. Then there's a new showroom pavilion – the project reflects a milestone in the growth of the Grace Chen brand.

"When Grace Chen approached Kokaistudios with her vision for the transformation of the villa into a refined base for her eponymous fashion brand we were immediately interested," Gabbiani says. "With her fashion focus on craftsmanship and intricate detailing, and a style rooted in Chinese culture yet given a modern interpretation, our team felt the fashion house had a kindred design spirit."

In response, Kokaistudios developed the new showroom or glass pavilion adjacent to the villa and on view straight ahead from the entry. The new build is light-filled and modern, contrasting and complementing the classic lines of the old villa.


"As well as addressing the renovation and interior design of the 1924 villa, we created the dramatic new pavilion and also revamped other structures on the site that had been added over the years," Gabbiani says. "Last of all, we landscaped the garden areas to create a lush live event area which, in conjunction with the pavilion, can host small fashion shows."

The entrance to the fashion house environment is marked by a large black-and-bronze woven metal sculptural entrance gate. Inspired by one of Chen's designs, the feature gate provides both privacy and a strong sense of arrival. Immediately inside the gate are the gardens, which are finished in white, hand-hammered stone pavers set off with water features and lush greenery, all centred around the glass event space.

Designed to showcase Chen's latest designer creations and also to double as a temporary exhibition space for other artists and designers, the pavilion has already become a coveted event space within a few months of completion.

Adjacent to the pavilion is the show kitchen, which opens onto a shaded and intimate alfresco dining area. Kokaistudios' complex restoration has highlighted the villa's original historic features, including French doors and inlaid marble mosaic flooring on the upstairs terrace as well as the traditional facade brickwork.

"The beautiful old building had been added to in the 1980s and we chose to clad this part of the project in a simple, understated green wall system with planter boxes and flowering plants.

"For the villa itself we settled on a palette of neutral colours and natural materials that together create a stylish yet understated supporting backdrop to show off the designer's chic creations. The main entrance into the villa is by stepping through the French doors into a light-filled showroom and lounge featuring custom designed displays and large antique mirrors with soft rounded edges inspired by 1930s Art Deco style.

On the second floor, two of the fitting rooms have a very feminine feel and style, while the other has a more masculine tone, ideal for the launch of a menswear collection, for example.

"The warmth of the ground and first floors decor – largely provided by the colour palette and the Marmorino stucco wall finish – gives way to a more unfinished feel in the intimate library-salon area on the top floor. Here, we decided to finish the exposed brick in a light grey paint."

The second floor also includes a VIP suite so out-of-town-clients can make the most of their visit to the fashion house. For the suite, Kokaistudios chose a soft, feminine decor – again achieved largely through the choice of colours and furniture.

"While elements such as the cabinetry and display mirrors were designed to complement the villa, we added contrasting modern pieces, including furniture and fixtures by local and international houses."

The eclectic blend of functions between retail, exhibition, hospitality, office space and even the landscaping all required a versatile lighting solution. Responding to this, Kokaistudios designed a flexible system that creates a warm, almost residential mood adaptable to everything from small events to major fashion exhibitions. As well as lights by Flos, Fortuny, and Stellarworks, the architect introduced Murano glass lamps designed and produced in Italy by his own family business.

"This project required us to become a tailor for a tailor and create a custom response that involved the restoration of a historical home, the insertion of a contemporary, edgy architectural element and a unifying landscape," says Gabbiani. "Everything was closely considered, right down to the smallest details and finest finishes – a truly tailored project."

First published date: 20 September 2017

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Credit List

Project House of Grace Chen
Architecture, facade design and interior design Kokaistudios – project architect, Filippo Gabbiani
Construction Wenyujituan
Flooring Imoni, Poly Regen carpet
Walls Marmorino venetian plaster; painted exposed brick
Paints Danilo
Display system, custom furniture Bussola & Ralph (China)
Lighting Flos, Bussola, Gabbiani, Fortuny
Furniture Outdoor – Van Collection; indoor – Stellar Works
Dining chair Casa
Vertical blind system Van Collection