When a Belgian-born jewelry designer wanted to live in a place of worship, her husband readily agreed
Home is where the heart is, or, for some people, home is where their true love is. And for furniture designer Liu Linian that means home is in a once-tumble-down temple that his wife longed to live in.
Despite owning a modern villa in suburban Beijing, Jehanne de Biolley's love of the exotic made her insist on living in the ancient temple built in the Ming Dynasty.
The Belgian jewelry and fashion designer was deeply attracted to Asian culture and art and insisted on moving her family into a home that might not have been Liu's first choice. "She said if she wanted to live in an ordinary house, she could always find one in Europe," said Liu.
He said he gave his wife, whom he calls by the Chinese name Cui Cui, his full backing when she said one day she wanted to live in Nianhua Temple, which stands in a quiet hutong near the downtown Gulou street.
The temple was built in 1581 but has been used to house a printing press for the past 60 years.
The pavilion houses and courtyard rented by Liu is in the northwest corner of the temple.
Walking toward Liu's home, with the sound of the printing press in the air, it's hard to imagine that this was once a temple - until you look up at the ancient roof of the old building. "When we found this place, it was very shabby due to the lack of maintenance," he said.
Despite only renting the home on an annual basis, the couple poured in 500,000 yuan and spent three months to renovate the houses.
However, the effort was worth it because they have changed the place into another world.
A tatami now rests on the root of the south wall with spotlights installed on the nearby trees. From May to August each year, the tatami is the place where Liu and his families drink green teas and hide from the hot rsummer.
"With the spotlights on, it can also turn into a stage where my children give us a great show at night," Liu said. Various plants and deck chairs, some of which were designed by Liu himself, are scattered around the large courtyard.
Liu has turned the west pavilion houses into children's rooms and the houses on the east side are the kitchen and guestrooms.
He stood in the middle of the courtyard, pointing to the old trees behind the main house which stand on the north side of the courtyard and face south.
"Look at the trees. They look like a small forest. Can you imagine we still live in downtown Beijing? Sometimes, when the rain comes, we can even find snakes in our courtyard," Liu said, believing their presence is evidence that they live in a natural environment.
However, what Liu is really proud of is not the courtyard but his living room.
In order to keep the original design of the temple, he barely made any changes to the room. No extravagant lights or floors can be found.
"We just repainted the wall white and used some simple floor tiles," he said. As an artist, Liu doesn't believe in decorations on ceilings and floors, nor does he like wallpaper.
"Home is the one place which doesn't need any decoration. Some people insist on pursuing a certain decoration style. It is so wrong. The only thing that matters here is, do you or do you not live comfortably in your home," he explained about his decoration philosophy.
Liu said that whenever he visits families who have made a great effort to decorate their homes, he is required to take off his shoes and changed into slippers.
"No one needs to wear slippers in my home, even I don't do that and I feel free and comfortable when I walk with my bare feet," he said.
Since decoration is not part of the home, the most important element to show your taste and life experience is what is displayed in it. In Liu's case, it's his own furniture and his wife's collections from all over the world.
"You can never find anyone's home which is fuller than mine. My wife is constantly visiting Panjiayuan market and finding interesting stuff," he said.
Though he said his home doesn't have the room for one more thing, he still believes home is a place where you can put all of your beloved things together.
"Just put them in a comfortable order," he added.