Paris of the Middle East

Bespoke booths.

Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is witnessing a demand to renovate older buildings that were damaged during the war, according to Inge Moore, principal, HBA London.

The firm recently completed the Améthyste lounge in Beirut. “We transformed a once-famous hot-spot in Beirut, the pool bar at the Phoenicia hotel, into a new destination called Améthyste. The design has been infused with a refined nostalgia through elements such as the poolside projection of the hotel’s vintage black and white film collection that depicts Beirut’s elegant panache in decades past,” she added.

Moore said while Lebanon is unfortunately politically volatile right now, its design industry is very vibrant. “With such an energetic and cosmopolitan vibe, Lebanon is a great place to work.”

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Lebanon’s location puts it within easy reach of Europe, Africa and the rest of the Middle East. The Minister of Tourism, Fady Abboud, reported in 2010 a total of $8 billion was spent by visitors to Lebanon, making them the highest spending tourists anywhere in the world.

Shady Bou Saba, principal designer and prime contractor, Shady Bou Saba IDC, said the interior design industry is doing well, with more awareness about its importance in both commercial and residential projects.

Jamil Gharzouzi, managing director, Decoration Elie Gharzouzi, agreed, and said hundreds of projects are currently underway.

Gharzouzi said design trends in Lebanon are closely associated with those in Europe. “Generally, Beirut follows the same trends as Paris, London or Rome, but of course adapts ideas to its own country and clients. Beirut is a permanently open window between Orient and Occident (east and west).”

There are challenges to working in Lebanon, including pressures of tight timelines, budgets and local sources. Moore said for Améthyste, HBA had four months before Ramadan for conception to installation and added it was difficult to find sophisticated materials that could be delivered in time, yet also fall within a reasonable budget.

Balancing traditions and modernity is another challenge Lebanon-based interior designers face. “It is not always easy to conciliate modern ideas and concepts with very often traditional clients. The oriental way of life is different from the occidental way of life,” said Gharzouzi.

Moore said sustainability is important worldwide and not just in Lebanon. Saba agreed and said while sustainability is important, it’s not commonly practised among designers and fabricators.

Local products are used as much as possible, not only for budget reasons, but also because they correspond to the required standards of quality, according to Gharzouzi. He admitted much more needs to be done to increase use of recyclable or green materials, but said awareness is rising.

There is awareness, especially among the new generation of designers, of the necessity to preserve the environment, Gharzouzi added.

Lebanon is now seeing a resurgence of product designers who are interpreting native crafts with a twist. “For Améthyste, most of the furniture was made in Beirut from conventional materials and we used locally sourced lamps – however the designs have a contemporary edge,” Moore added.

Gharzouzi said every new project in Lebanon is an event for the interior design industry. “Beirut has become the capital for these concepts, which attract, amongst others, thousands of tourists every year,” he added.

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