What are the three types of old properties?


There are a variety of different colonial residential properties - old apartments, lane houses and garden houses. Broadly speaking they are all called laofangzi (old properties), however there are distinct differences between them.

1.Garden Houses

These 'one-of-a-kind' old properties come in a number of different forms. Garden Houses are certainly the most stunning − but unfortunately also in the most limited supply.

What are the three types of old properties

Each Garden House has a unique history as they were usually built on demand for wealthy Chinese or Western families.

They were typically built to house one family and are between 250-1500sqm in size. They are usually 2 stories high, have servants quarters and traditionally had separate staircases for the staff and the owners.

Garden Houses are stand-alone villas with large gardens.

Most of these properties have been restored rather than completely changed internally as is often the case with lane houses. This means you often have the original floors, staircases, and moldings which have been kept to highlight the history of the property.

Older Villas are very difficult to find and much sought after.

They are usually near the City center and were built between 1920 and 1940. For those old villas that have been completely renovated, the prices are sky-high but then you also get a private garden in downtown Shanghai and a superb house with rooms for parties that can bring back memories from the 1930s heydays.

2.Lane Houses

Lane Houses are simply explained as terrace houses or townhouses. They are in lanes which are often called Shikumen, literally translated as 'stone gate' as the lane typically had a stone gate entrance.

Why do expats want to live in colonial properties

Lane Houses are all unique and it is rare to see two the same in the sense of design.

There used to be more than 9000 of these shikumen buildings in Shanghai but many of them have been destroyed to make way for new apartment blocks. Lane Houses are far more prevalent than Garden Houses and are extremely popular with expatriates.

A Lane House typically has 3 or 4 floors.

They usually have a livingroom, diningroom and kitchen on the ground floor, then 2 large bedrooms facing south, 2 small rooms facing north and many now have open attics which are used as either family rooms or another bedroom. The large rooms facing south and the small rooms which were originally meant for staff and/or lodgers facing north.

Almost all lane houses have some outdoor space.

This can be in the form of a roof terrace and/or a small courtyard at the front or the back of the house. Traditionally they had an internal courtyard, however in almost all renovated lanehouses in Shanghai this space has been incorporated into the kitchen or living room on the ground floor.

A taste of the local culture that you will not find in any other style of housing.

Lanes shoot off in every direction from the major thoroughfares in Shanghai and once you get away from the busy streets you are in an entirely different world, one of calm and quiet. (Granted, the latter depends somewhat on the nature of the lane and the sophistication of its inhabitants.) Villas or duplexes line both sides of the lane and sometimes there are small apartment houses tucked away at the far end.

3.Colonial Apartments

The other type of property is the colonial apartment. These are often art deco buildings such as the Gascogne apartments on Huaihai Road. The residential apartment blocks at this time had all modern facilities available including running water, electricity and lovely lobbies with concierges. These properties are still hugely popular and many have beenbeautifully restored inside and out.

Tips for renting a Shanghai old apartment

The famous architects and Art Deco buildings.

One of the most famous architects working in Shanghai was Laszlo Hudec, a Hungarian architect who lived in the city between 1918–1947. Some of his most notable Art Deco buildings include the Park Hotel and the Grand Theater. Other prominent architects who contributed to the Art Deco style are Parker & Palmer who designed the Peace Hotel, Metropole Hotel and the Broadway Mansions, and Austrian architect GH Gonda who designed the Capital Theatre Lane house.

Some lane houses have been divided into separate apartments.

These can be wonderful smaller units, but there is no doubt you will have a more 'local' experience as getting to your home most likely entails walking through your neighbour’s kitchen and sometimes even their living room. There are a couple of important points you need to consider before moving into any of these colonial homes − no matter how wonderful it looks when you first see it.

Some of the 'quirky' points may be endearing when you first see old properties but could become very frustrating for you once you have moved it.

Examples are bathrooms right next to/in the kitchen or having to walk through the master bedroom to get to the bathroom or to the great outdoor space where you had envisioned having lots of parties. Also, if you have young children the steep stairs in a lane house may be more stressful than you first thought. Further many lane houses have their main entrance straight in the kitchen, which may not be for everyone.

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