When Italian artist Monica Bertini, 42, decided to follow her artistic muse to New York and then Shanghai back in 2001, she left behind a 200-square-meter, former-warehouse home base in Umbria, Italy.
Back there in 2008, it became a shared conceptual living space divided into two living areas: one for her, one for her brother. Her spacious home is an inspirational, sleek gallery-feel space: all white, no doors but large entrances, and a minimalist, white warm floor. “I like the open-space layout. It gives a feeling of freedom where the white, sleek furniture becomes part of the structure, and the high ceilings create a minimal setting where the intensity of the decor embraces colors,” she said.
“I needed to breathe in it, to then be able to create a colorful environment with all the furniture, books, objects, memories, like a canvas for a painter,” Bertini said, adding that her Italian home is quite different from her previous dark wood, old colonial-style home in Shanghai. While in Shanghai, she lived near Huaihai Road. She produced artwork that was exhibited in galleries and museums such as MoCa, Duolun and Satellite Shanghai Biennale, and also worked on luxury projects and events. Bertini had studied nude painting at Brera Academy in Italy and is passionate about Eastern philosophies and wellness.
In Umbria, during the renovation process, she dismantled the drop ceiling with a built-in lighting system and used simple cables with bulbs. She began removing a wall only to realize it contained the central electric system. “But more than anything, the main challenge was to be able to create an open space with functional separations,” she said.
After six years living and working in Shanghai, Chinese elements are evident in the interior. There is a continuum in each room: China contemporary mixed with minimal pieces, giving life to a clean layout.
Her favorite work space is the main living room with an opium bed-turned-desk facing the living room, while at night the antique Shandong canopy bed with a few chairs in the bedroom is her perfect cocoon for reading and leisure time. “Welcome to old and new, light and dark, the yin and yang: Opposites create balance,” she said. “They all reflect a passion for contrasts and traditions, the revival of ancient techniques with a contemporary feel, and an aesthetic but conceptual vision on how the past still permeates the furniture.”
Each object here holds a story, and is chosen and mixed as a result of her life path. Found in the outskirts of Shanghai, each chair behind her H*Collection has experienced a long journey in Shanghai’s history of decor and fashion, and represents the “closing of a circle” after six intense years for Bertini. H*Collection is 25 original 1930 Art Deco armchairs, found in bad shape, and completely renovated with old masters techniques learned in Florence and reupholstered with silk velvet and 1930s qipao dresses also collected in Shanghai. Each of the 1930s qipao dresses used for the armchairs were selected to match or contrast, and recreate a story around the chair. The neutral space of her home gives the armchairs due emphasis, still vibrating with life, and bringing back the retro-glam spirit of Shanghai. Some of her chair creations are currently showcased at Palazzo Vecchio in Tuscany and Milan.
The old China beds and boxes found between Beijing and Shanghai also are a very important part of the house. Bertini enjoyed playing with design and fashion, collecting vintage pieces such as lamps, which she placed in all corners of the house, and leather suitcases used to store blankets, a trunk to store all her grandma’s handmade cotton sheets, and Chinese boxes to store pencils.
“I mixed them with new, sleek pieces to reinforce their mutual identities. For the Chinese antiques, I created an interactive dialogue with the surroundings, where objects and furniture can be occasionally moved around to create a new scheme. The goal is harmony among all parts...” she said.
Other artistic highlights at her home include “ART SAVES LIFE,” a neon by Aurele, the “two ladies” painting by Yong Jiepang, a white vintage Edra table, a golden “Fede” — the word means “faith” in Italian but it’s also a male nickname and it features the top of the phallus.
They also include a piece kept from her “G-series” porcelain and gold sculptures as well as an antique female pig sculpture from Pia Pierre, her first “aesthetic guru,” and an archeologist and art collector, who owns the Hong Merchant in Shanghai, where most of Bertini’s G-series collection is displayed.
The bathroom is very much a conceptual room with a very minimal decor. She opted for an all white bathroom with old pharmacy ampules containing pink Himalayan and white Sicillian salts, and old Chinese boxes to store combs and little objects. Since it is the most intimate of all rooms, she chose it for her “Heart Centered’’ art installation, inspired by a very powerful meditation technique of experiencing unconditional love, the first step of an awareness evolution.