Ambassador’s residence an art-filled haven

Luxembourg’s ambassador to China, Paul Steinmetz

THE residence of Luxembourg’s ambassador to China, Paul Steinmetz, is a gem hidden inside a traditional alley — a meticulously desgined garden house built in 1937 for a wealthy Chinese merchant.

“We found the historic archives of the house and an 88-year-old descendent of the family still lives in Tianjin now. The architectural style of the house was inspired by the colonial houses in Tianjin,” the ambassador said.

It was later used as the Pakistan Embassy until 1978, when the lease was transferred to the embassy of Luxembourg. The country’s first ambassador to China came in 1982 and six ambassadors have lived in this residence before Steinmetz’s posting.

Steinmetz finds the residence’s tranquility and abundant green appealing even inside the rather noisy alley. He has ensured that inside the 400-square-meter residence is an oasis for him and his family.

When Steinmetz moved in, he re-painted the walls, installed new lighting fixtures made in Luxembourg and Germany, and renovated other parts of the space to give a new look.

“I’ve also brought here my furniture, artworks and collections,” he said. “We cannot renovate the residence back to its 1930’s look… but we were trying to recreate a friendly, light-filled, contemporary European look instead.”

Steinmetz wanted to keep the interior rather simple and clean with high quality, modern furniture. Harmony and comfort are obviously important in the residence. It’s about balance and making his home feel personal, giving the design a life of its own.

Avoiding clutter was also an important consideration. For this reason, Steinmetz only chose pieces that were dear to him and inspired fond memories.

“Simplicity and friendliness are the themes of my decoration style. Luxembourg is an open country, open to influences from our neighbors. We like modern furniture styles, but at the same time respect the old,” he said.

“I’ve also made sure that we have enough space to showcase my art collection from my country’s artists (and) art pieces I’ve collected during my stays in India and Japan.”

Steinmetz said Luxembourg’s art scene is evolving. “We have a young generation of artists who create paintings, photographs, installations, and multimedia art in different art forms. It’s a challenge for me to showcase the diversity of art from my country in my residence, but I would like to organize Luxembourg art exhibitions in China soon. I would like to have more cultural exchanges between the two countries.”

The ambassador mentioned Su-Mei Tse, a well-known Luxembourg-born Chinese-origin contemporary artist who captured the art world’s attention when her pavilion won the Golden Lion at the 2003 Venice Biennale. She has also had solo exhibitions from Chicago to Japan. “She is a great artist and musician creating meaningful installations and video arts. I would like her come to China in the future,” Steinmetz said.

The residence’s interior is filled with a mixed collection of impressive artworks and antiques from different countries and cultures. Highlights include a hanging vintage kimono from Japan, photograph works by the Pakistani artist Rachid Rana and an antique vase from the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

The ambassador’s fondness for Asian art and style are evident in the space. Many of the furniture and decorations were collected in his years living and traveling around Asia. The mixture is eclectic but Steinmetz is a skilled harmonizer of his various pieces, a quality that ensures a unified atmosphere throughout the residence.

The ambassador very often hosts receptions in this beautiful residence, especially in its verdant garden.

He said the biggest news between Luxembourg and China is the opening of a Confucius Center in the end of this year in Luxembourg. “There is also a new joint venture cargo airline with Henan Province for the second half of 2017. Plus there might be a Southwest China to Luxembourg freight train: we are discussing the economics. Also… we will celebrate the 45th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship in November 2017,” Steinmetz said.

Q: What’s the best thing about living in Beijing?

A: The dry weather.

Q: Describe your home in three words.

A: Art Deco, green and tranquil.

Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?

A: Get out of my shoes and read the newspapers.

Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?

A: On the terrace or in the garden.

Q: What’s the best view outside your window?

A: The hutong roofs.

Q: What’s your favorite object at home?

A: My art collection. They are my souvenirs from previous postings in Asia.

Q: Where do you source furniture in Beijing?

A: At Lily’s Antiques and a few other real, or probably also faux, antique dealers.