On a recent stroll near the Bund, Shanghaiist chanced upon a curious joint that was billing itself as a restaurant, design house, hair studio, live music joint, and art gallery. Ma.Design, it was called. We were intrigued.
We started sniffing around, much to the dismay of the staff and the marketing manager who looked as us if we were crazy. They don’t want business? Who knows.
It’s a neat little space inside though. On the first floor, a fellow with a manga-inspired cut stood guard in front of the hair studio (that was empty at the time). Cuts start at 80 RMB. There’s also a restaurant with a confused menu — beef with Korea style sauce (42 RMB), salmon with Spanish sauce (48), lamb with Thai basil and baked banana (42 RMB) and, the most unappetizing sounding of all: “farfali” with smoked ducked breast with olive oil, herbs, cheese, chili and vegetable (38 RMB). There’s fusion, and then there’s identity crisis. The door sign proudly announces “music” as a feature of the place, we see a small stage with some instruments set up. Another live music venue? Great. When asked about this, however, the staff shifted around uncomfortably and mumbled something about “thinking about it in the future” and admitted that there hadn’t been a show yet (it’s been open since 2002). The shiny new drums looked very pretty up there though. Elevator music posing as jazz hummed in the background.
The second floor, however, makes up for the follies of the first. There’s a design studio housing some great paintings as well as a gallery of owner Simon Ma’s design experiments. (Ma has worked on projects for Rolex, Nike, Nu Skin and L’Oreal, we’re told by a poster. The staff is hostile when it comes to questions. Ask at your own risk.) There were some fantastic examples of contemporary furniture design, heavily laden with traditional Chinese elements. Very cool. Ma’s architectural/interior design background (also from aforementioned poster) definitely shows in the design of the space. Check out the neat stairwell, which uses mirrors to good effect.
Some interesting abstract paintings also caught our eye. While decidedly Western in style, Ma incorporated elements of Chinese calligraphy into his compositions. We like.
Traditional Chinese womenswear, unimpressive abstract sculptures, kitschy Chinese emblems (plastic lotus flowers, anyone?) and other gift shop staples litter about as well. While Ma’s design work is intriguing, we suggest he figure out what the hell is going on in the rest of the space though. Schizo much? It’s got potential and is worth a peek if you’re in the area, but don’t bother chatting up the staff.
Ma.Design House. 115 Jiangxi Zhong Lu, near Guang Dong Lu. Tel: 63216611.