A Sunny Stairwell Brings Light to an Old Shanghai Dwelling

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Dark and structurally unsound, a narrow, three-story home needed to be brightened up.

On a dense site along an old lane in Shanghai, China, a 1947 residence boasts unexpectedly modern, quirky, and sun-drenched interiors. Stretching three stories across 2,583 square feet, the home received a dramatic update to its interiors by local studio RIGI Design.

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The house is about 18 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

The house is about 18 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

Because of its narrow site and messy interior layout, the original apartment was dark and cramped.

Because of its narrow site and messy interior layout, the original apartment was dark and cramped.

The old building was not structurally sound, so sections of it needed to be repaired.

The old building was not structurally sound, so sections of it needed to be repaired.

The original staircase in the northern section was demolished, and a new staircase with a skylight was built in the center of the house.

The original staircase in the northern section was demolished, and a new staircase with a skylight was built in the center of the house.

The team reinforced the building’s framework, and unified the height of the entire building. 

The team reinforced the building’s framework, and unified the height of the entire building. 

RIGI Design reshaped the form and functionality of the interior layout. 

RIGI Design reshaped the form and functionality of the interior layout. 

A modular furniture wall, which the RIGI team refers to as a "life board," was used as a flexible system that accommodates various storage and shelving configurations.

A modular furniture wall, which the RIGI team refers to as a "life board," was used as a flexible system that accommodates various storage and shelving configurations.

The project’s chief designer Liu Kai and his team reconstructed the first floor to better connect it with its formerly isolated interior courtyard.

The project’s chief designer Liu Kai and his team reconstructed the first floor to better connect it with its formerly isolated interior courtyard.

Perforations in the steel tread of the staircase allow light from the skylight above to filter all the way down to the lower levels.

Perforations in the steel tread of the staircase allow light from the skylight above to filter all the way down to the lower levels.

A sunlit, open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen are located on the first level. 

A sunlit, open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen are located on the first level. 

The new first floor is a semi-open area where the boundaries between the interiors and the outdoors dissolve.  

The new first floor is a semi-open area where the boundaries between the interiors and the outdoors dissolve.  

A sheltered area with a circular cut out on one side of the roof serves as an outdoor relaxation area for the adults, and a play area for their child.

A sheltered area with a circular cut out on one side of the roof serves as an outdoor relaxation area for the adults, and a play area for their child.

"Following natural daylight, going up along the steel staircase, we can see modified skylights, vertical lighting windows, and a pure outdoor space," says Liu. "This is the area we modified most. The whole building starts from light and vertical space."

"Following natural daylight, going up along the steel staircase, we can see modified skylights, vertical lighting windows, and a pure outdoor space," says Liu. "This is the area we modified most. The whole building starts from light and vertical space."

On the second floor, a door and storage spaces are hidden away behind a wall to give the space a clean, streamlined look. 

On the second floor, a door and storage spaces are hidden away behind a wall to give the space a clean, streamlined look. 

The staircase weaves upwards and around the interior sunlit patio on the first floor, so the functional zones extend vertically around the core source of natural light.

The staircase weaves upwards and around the interior sunlit patio on the first floor, so the functional zones extend vertically around the core source of natural light.

In the master bedroom, the sloping ceiling of the original structure was kept intact.

In the master bedroom, the sloping ceiling of the original structure was kept intact.

A volume containing a bathroom and cloakroom was built within the master bedroom.

A volume containing a bathroom and cloakroom was built within the master bedroom.

The light, clean profile of the vanity gives the bathroom a sense of spaciousness and modernity.

The light, clean profile of the vanity gives the bathroom a sense of spaciousness and modernity.

The child's room has a bunk bed and study area.

The child's room has a bunk bed and study area.

The "life board" shelving and storage system was custom designed  by RIGI Design.

The "life board" shelving and storage system was custom designed  by RIGI Design.

Sectional model of the new interiors

Sectional model of the new interiors

Before and after models

Before and after models

First, second, and third floor plan

First, second, and third floor plan

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