On the one hand the household was disciplined, with each room assigned a strict role - rooms have titles such as men's reception, women's reception, girls' room, boys' room and "introspection room", where unruly boys were punished.
On the other hand a sweeping fantasy is conjured by the finesse of the traditional architecture, the elegant stone carvings and the flow of the inter-connecting courtyards.
These two juxtapositions are a mirror of the creative process, the way the fantasy of the creator is channeled by the discipline employed during the rendition. This experience enriches visitors and perhaps fostered the former occupants' intellectual incandescence, an experience that would be lost in the distractions of a commercial establishment.
Only traditional arts find a home in Gao Fu. Yang is vice president of Xi'an's Traditional Painting Institute and one room in the house displays paintings by its members. These add another layer to the artistic riches, complementing the old furniture that is modest and elegant (the furniture was sourced from private collections after the original furniture was destroyed in the "cultural revolution").
Yang paints traditional landscapes, mostly done in charcoal-color ink, depicting mountains, gushing waterfalls, flocks of birds, the odd peasantry farmhouse, bamboo and anthropomorphic trees - paintings that are claustrophobic but simultaneously heavenly and exquisite.
"I have been painting since I was 12 and it's my only passion," Yang said. "Each time I complete a painting, which takes 8 hours, I feel a pride akin to protecting my homeland, like a soldier stationed at a remote frontier."
The house also has a theater and I paid a mere 5 yuan to watch a shadow puppet show. It dramatized a peasant love scene and the excellent execution - the timbre of the high-pitched oration, the thumping and flighty music of the drum and the erhu (the two-stringed violin-like traditional instrument), and the vivacious movements of the puppets - left me feeling the emotional force of unconsummated love.
Afterwards I sat in the courtyard sipping tea (served at a tiny teahouse), and in the quiet house, with the music from the zither fluttering around my ears like butterflies, I felt my mind still and lost in thought. By the time I left the house I felt comprehensively refreshed.