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At Home with...the Drobnaks

For expatriates, one of the most difficult aspects of moving to China is finding an appropriate place to live. This process becomes exponentially harder if one chooses to avoid high rise apartments or the suburban communities that ring Shanghai, instead opting for something more traditional. Mary Drobnak’s story proves that persistence will eventually pay off.

After living in China for three years, Mary, a registered nurse, and her husband Klaus, an automotive executive, spent two and a half more years in New Delhi. However, Shanghai’s siren call was simply too seductive and earlier this spring they found themselves back in China. For five months prior she searched for the perfect home, making the long journey from India every month. After arriving in the city, they spent five weeks living in a hotel before she finally stumbled upon the beautifully renovated lao fangzi they now call home – just in time as their sea container full of belongings landed only days later.

“The landlord created a wonderful foundation of space and design and all of our belongings ended up fitting perfectly into the layout,” Mary explains. The Drobnak’s furniture and artwork betray their extensive relationship with Asia: hand-carved Indian tables sit atop woven Chinese rugs, Rajasthani string puppets dance playfully in their son’s room, a colourful painting from Bali dominates the family den, while statues from Shaanxi exude their ancient wisdom from room corners.

The home itself is three storeys of cleverly stacked rooms and hidden nooks and crannies tied together with a skeletal wooden and iron staircase. It includes perks such as a four metre waterfall feature and a rooftop terrace. Impressively, four bathrooms, two bedrooms, two offices, recreation room, a library, and a dining and living room are squeezed into the narrow structure. A modern kitchen completes the space.

“It is so comfortable here that this has truly become our home away from home,” she readily admits. In fact, the house is the definition of cosy; it is an oasis of tranquillity surrounded by the non-stop turmoil of the French Concession. But Mary is quick to add that her family’s level of comfort is not solely conditional on the home they have created. “I really feel as though we have started to integrate into the community,” she says. “The local neighbourhood, the young boys especially, have taken quite a liking to my family and become very protective of us. This has greatly encouraged our sense of belonging.”

If you or someone you know has a fabulous house that deserves to be shown off in Shanghai TALK's At Home with... column, email us at [email protected] so we can check it out.


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