A former television personality who founded a successful cosmetics brand, Yue-sai Kan deploys her sizable homes in Shanghai, Beijing and New York for large-scale entertaining

Yue-sai Kan’s Real-Estate Empire

The former television personality has homes in Shanghai, Beijing and New York

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‘In Beijing, traffic is a disaster, so central location is a must,’ Ms. Kan says of selecting her three bedroom, 3,983-square-foot, Beijing apartment. She says she’s spent less than 10 nights here since its purchase and renovation.Mick Ryan for The Wall Street Journal

MINA CHOI

Nov. 7, 2013 7:43 p.m. ET

Owning multiple homes across several continents might be a challenge for many. Yue-sai Kan sees it as a necessity. Known in China as a bridge between the East and the West, Ms. Kan is a former television personality and a businesswoman who founded Yue-sai Cosmetics in China, now part of L’Oréal. As the owner of the Miss Universe China franchise, a popular contest, Ms. Kan is often in the spotlight, and she entertains her guests and friends frequently at home—whether it’s the one in Shanghai, Beijing or New York. She also has an apartment on Copacabana beach in Rio; one in Brisbane, Australia; one in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, and one she co-owns with her sister in Rome, near the Spanish Steps.Ms. Kan, 64 and divorced, finds herself most frequently in her 8,072-square-foot Shanghai apartment, which almost spans the entire floor of a high-rise luxury building in the fashionable Jing’an District. “When I saw this place, I realized it was mine. It was huge. It had my name written all over it,” says Ms. Kan, perfectly turned out in haute-couture clothes and television-ready hair. She purchased the apartment in 2004 and became the first owner to move in.

Using the parlance of most mainland Chinese, Ms. Kan talks about her real-estate holdings in China in cost per square meter. The purchase price for the unit was nearly 30,000 yuan a square meter—or $3.7 million total—although Ms. Kan now estimates that it is worth at least several times what she paid for it.

Highly contemporary, the Shanghai apartment has been designed for entertainment on a large scale. Two elevators open directly onto her floor. An entry alcove has a mosaic of Ms. Kan’s portrait, while peony motifs are laid on the mosaic floor. Once inside, an open-plan layout accommodates a large reception area, sitting area and a massive dining room.

Many aspects of the décor—Burmese sculptures, Indonesian fossil table, French candelabras—reflect Ms. Kan’s careful balancing of her Chinese heritage with international sensibilities. Many of the objects in her multiple homes come from an eclectic private collection she has accumulated over decades of travel, and others come from her previous business venture, the House of Yue-sai—a luxury lifestyle store that launched in 2008 and closed its doors a few years later. Some of her favorite objects are stored in a 7,500-square-foot warehouse 25 minutes from the city center.

Ms. Kan likes to decorate her homes herself, with the occasional help of a young designer, Luke Van Duyn. “I redecorate almost every year, continuously,” she says, noting she just changed the colors of her Shanghai living room to soft beige and blue from aqua and yellow. “Life changes, so my décor needs to change, too.”

On the same floor of the same building, Ms. Kan also keeps a 2,152-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom guest unit with a separate entrance. Ms. Kan says it’s important that she entertain her visitors properly. “They can be close by, but they can still have a lot of privacy.” Ms. Kan says.

Both the Shanghai and Beijing apartments have an outdoor balcony so chain-smoking Chinese guests have a place to puff away. There is always a large round dining table that seats up to 20 to accommodate the vagaries of Chinese guests. Ms. Kan notes, “Entertaining in China is difficult. People often cancel at the last minute or bring another guest or more. So to have a proper seated dinner isn’t easy. A round table gives me the flexibility of accommodating more or fewer guests.”

And then there are things that she insists doing Western-style, regardless whether she is: “I don’t ask my guests to take shoes off. In fact, I insist that they keep them on.” She notes that shoes are a part of a woman’s “overall look.” Plus, she says she doesn’t have the space to hold shoes for 50 people.

The most important quality of all homes Ms. Kan owns is that they can be used for work, entertaining and even for live taping. The Shanghai apartment has five sets of professional studio television lights installed in the sitting area for any impromptu interviews or for her latest book launch.

When she feels the need to consort with the power players and the government elite, Ms. Kan takes the five-hour high-speed train ride to her Beijing home. To get the place ready, Ms. Kan sends her two housekeepers from Shanghai two days earlier to prepare it for her arrival. The location was the determining factor for the 3,983-square-foot three bedroom, four bath apartment that Ms. Kan purchased at the beginning of 2012. “In Beijing, traffic is a disaster, so central location is a must,” Ms. Kan says.

Smaller than her other homes, the Beijing apartment—which Ms. Kan calls her pied-à-terre—has more of a Southeast Asian flavor. Bone-laid cabinet pieces and silver furniture pieces purchased in India offer different accents, while a large dining table, nearly 10 feet in diameter, anchors the apartment.

Having multiple homes also means that some places don’t get lived in as much as she’d like; Ms. Kan says she has only spent less than 10 nights in the Beijing apartment since the purchase and renovation.

The home she has owned for the longest is her Manhattan townhouse in Sutton Square. She has owned the five-story 6,735-square-foot townhouse overlooking the East River since the early 1990s. She declines to say what she paid for the home.

Built in the 1920s, the Manhattan townhouse has a more classical European feel. It has a private, shared 1-acre garden. Yet a round mahogany dining table hints at Ms. Kan’s Chinese heritage and allows her to serve a proper Chinese meal to her New York guests.

As part of her spontaneous personality, Ms. Kan is currently renovating the New York City townhouse, saying the project will cost a few million dollars.

While she remains acutely aware of the investment value of her real estate, treating a home solely as an investment is something Ms. Kan holds in contempt. Ms. Kan states, “If I didn’t love it, why would I buy it? I could always stay in a hotel.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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