For the past eight years, Edoardo Allegranti has worked in the shipping business in Shanghai. Until recently, the young Italian executive lived in a high-rise building reserved for foreigners—just like the majority of international expats working in China today. Apartments in these buildings are typically identical to one another and come fully furnished. Residents take the elevator down to the basement garage, the gym, or the supermarket, where they can buy food from their home countries. Allegranti sought a less cloistered life. "I wanted to get back in touch with real life, to no longer feel so isolated," he says. He dreamed of living among locals in the center of the city, of strolling through streets buzzing with activity, and of shopping in tiny neighborhood stores. But what he missed most of all was having a home of his own that he could furnish and decorate as he pleased.