Located in Shanghai’s prestigious Jing’an district is a grand, three-storey villa with a graceful beaux arts exterior and orange dome. Now known as Prada Rong Zhai, this Western-style garden villa has a rich history, one that’s peopled with opera singers, entrepreneurs, journalists, and one of China’s wealthiest and most powerful families in the 20th century.
For the first half of the 1900s, it was the home of Yung Tsoong-King (Rong Zongjing) and his progeny. Yung was known as the “Flour King of China” for his role in establishing flour mills all over the nation. He also built cotton mills and yarn factories. By 1936, given his involvement in sources of food and clothing, he estimated that he owned half of China. But Yung was also a philanthropist, founding schools, planting forests, restoring monuments, and building roads and highways.
Yung bought Rong Zhai in 1918. He was not its first owner but he was the most famous. He commissioned the architect Chen Chunjiang to remodel the turn-of-the-century home. His children were born there, and business meetings, opera performances, ballroom dancing, and billiards all happened under its roof and in its gardens.
The home’s glory days ended with the approach of World War II. Yung abandoned the mansion in 1938 and fled to Hong Kong. Since then, it has housed a local institute of economic research and media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s local companies, among others. Its heyday, however, remained its time as the home of the Yung family.
It is this golden age in the mansion’s history that Prada wished to revive when the Milan-based luxury brand began restoring the home in 2011. Having restored Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and a Venetian palazzo, Ca’ Corner della Regina, Prada had the experience and the foresight to see the Shanghai mansion’s potential. Here was a future hub of arts and culture, a venue for exhibitions and events.
With the intention of demonstrating the brand’s commitment to China and to fostering cultural exchange, Prada commissioned the architect and restoration expert Roberto Baciocchi of Baciocchi Associati to restore the mansion to its former glory. “The most precious thing inside the mansion is the testimony to a lifestyle: [that of] a rich and important family, with family ties typical of the Chinese culture,” says Baciocchi.
A meeting of minds
“With this kind of work, the most difficult aspect is the complexity of the problems you face,” says Baciocchi. “You need to work with expert professionals and artisans, and they should have a certain sensibility for the work they are doing. A very beautiful relationship flourished between the project’s Italian and Chinese artisans, as everyone involved was working with the same enthusiasm.
“The first phase was to identify all the elements of the building, from colours to wood treatment to locks, without leaving out any detail,” Baciocchi continues. “The second phase was to reproduce ancient artisanal techniques to obtain the particular effects on materials and colours as they originally were.”
(See also: 3 Decor Trends To Watch In 2019)