by Jincy IypeSep 14, 2020
In this very special edition of Made In:, a STIR series exploring homegrown design across the world, we travel into the beautiful and brave Lebanon, precariously poised but centred in faith even in the face of adversity. We stand in solidarity with the country as it slowly recovers from the devastating explosions in Beirut, and applaud the power of its native design in restoring hope for the future. STIR hails the indomitable spirit of creation, sends prayers and upholds the positivity of the Lebanese in the belief that nothing can deter their efforts and excellence.
“Our country has raised us to be stubbornly resilient - resilient in a way only Lebanese cities and its people can be. To be honest, the pandemic is the least of our worries. We have an ongoing economic and political crisis and this explosion has hammered us with despair yet again. The idea of going back to the basics, to embrace the homegrown, has become vital – we have no choice. We have to stay true to our roots, engage with local craftsmen, encourage Lebanese manufacturing and production that will contribute to the local economy,” shares Beirut-based designer Nada Debs, the curator of this selection.
Debs’s multi-faceted work spans scale and discipline - from product and furniture design to art, craft, fashion and interiors. Her design approach: ‘handmade and heartmade’. Raised in Japan and the United States, Debs unites the minimalism of Japanese design, the modernity of European aesthetic with the divine craftsmanship of Lebanon, distilling them into pieces of emotional resonance and beauty. “Lebanon is where multitudes have come and settled – bringing their culture, cuisine, art and architecture. The very fabric of the creative sector here reflects the heterogeneous nature and history of the country. This gives rise to a malleable identity of design, a medium to display the powerful spirit of Lebanon, that of survival, adaptation, dignity and resilience,” she says.
Lebanese design has an ephemeral aesthetic and spiritual vibration - It speaks of the indomitable spirit of our people and culture. – Nada Debs
Debs employs the nuance of geometry in her creations, inspired by its universality. This can be observed in her Arabesque Armchair, which uses a typical arabesque motif carved in solid wood and lacquered in a matte finish. Her limited edition Coffee Bean low table is made with glistening mother of pearl (a typical Lebanese design material) with stainless steel legs, its large central hole lightening its mass. Debs also interprets the traditional hand-craft technique of parquetry in a modern way in her pleated Funquetry console, which is finely fitted with strips of different coloured wood. The airy Geometric table links a cylinder, cube and cuboid while coloured glass creates interesting shadows in its see-through form.
Equally interesting is her You & I woven rug collection, made in collaboration with women carpet weavers in Afghanistan. Two distinct parts of the delicately coloured carpet overlap neatly as a metaphor for two people in love.
Her picks for Made in Lebanon is a curiously creative and stubborn bunch – “These artisans fluently imbibe the resilience of our culture in their magnetic work and production choices. All of them work with local craftsmen and use locally produced material in a majority of their products – They are passionate and thirsty to do more. They are not afraid to fail,” says Nada.
In no particular order, here are the selections of designers and their works representing the product design industry in Lebanon, works that are a subtle balance between art and functional design – works that are a ray of hope in troubled times.
Stephanie Sayar and Charbel Garibeh
Together known as Sayar & Garibeh, the Beirut-based designers create functionally playful products that are colourful and unusual. Their works have been exhibited at a number of international fairs in Miami, New York, Milan, Paris, London, Beirut and Dubai, and selected as Best of Milan Design Week (2015, 2016).
“We try to inject positivity in our creations and processes. The Lebanese life, its richness, orchestral chaos and the contrast has always inspired us. We are most stirred by the Lebanese culinary experience, its vibrant colours and eclectic mix of elements displayed at a table,” says Garibeh. Sayar & Garibeh's dreamy products employ old crafts and techniques in a modern manner, while natural materials such as terracotta, ceramic and wicker blend playfully with contemporary ones like foam, resin and epoxy.
"Lebanon is a small Mediterranean country with limited resources and we have taken up the challenge of using what’s available, and employing traditional craftsmen to create objects that reinterpret and glorify our culture."
Created from clay, resin and brass, the baby blue and white form of the Bubble Lighting fixture looks over the room as a static bubble caught in a trance. The rust coloured rope used to create the Willowy Chair is naturally dyed with water based powder terracotta, handcrafted entirely by two Lebanese artisans. The Lochness Coffee Table derives its design from Sayar & Garibeh’s idea of the Scottish mythical creature, its unconfined, moss green form shaped from organic resin clay. The beige coloured, hand sculpted, french walnut Pyrosome bench has a similar free-floating form, its wooden edges doubling up as the base and side tables.
Baz is a French-Lebanese designer who worked with the likes of Humberto and Fernando Campana and Pierre Charpin before embarking on her own practice. Her studio collaborates with highly-skilled Lebanese artisans and craftsmen to create sculptural lighting design products in a process of “nurturing the link between the hand that draws and the hand that makes”.
“I design through dialogue. Every handmade piece is the result of a collaborative exchange,” explains Baz. She believes that craftsmanship is the backbone of her practice - whether working with glass, wood, marble or brass, Baz tries to push the limits of these materials, resulting in functional objects that are at once ornate and clean, strong and subtle.
“Sustainable design is of utmost essence because it respects not only materials and objects but the people and the craft behind it. You are not just buying a beautiful piece but are supporting the process, imagination and collaborative effort that went into it.”
Inspired by the lightness of a cloud, the handcrafted Cloud lighting series is done in black painted steel and sand casted brass, its form holding frosted glass lined with a ring of led lights. Entirely handmade, the poetic Feuillage collection is composed of fine metal leaves delicately welded on a branch holding frosted glass lightbulbs, comprising four combinations finished in black, burgundy, metallic copper, night blue and white. The Mandolin lighting fixtures evoke intimacy in its sleek design; made from brass, nickel and mirror glass, these backlit mirrors create a warm yet seductive scenography within any setting. The Oyster is a series of sculptural lighting fashioned from brass and blown satin glass globe. The light bulb sits nestled like a pearl inside an oyster, against bowl-shaped backgrounds finished in midnight blue, burgundy, emerald green, verdigris and brushed brass.
Trad has worked with world-renowned studios as Fredrikson Stallard and Michael Anastassiades prior to setting up his own design studio that has earned a reputation of being one of the most impressive emerging designers in Beirut with his understated furniture, lighting and other home décor pieces. “During my stay in Japan, I learned about their traditional carpentry techniques, which formed the foundation of my work,” says Trad, a product designer fascinated with simplicity and the natural beauty of materials.
Trad majorly employs oak wood and marble in his creations, which provides lightness and depth at the same time. He often also works with brass aspen white, arrabescato and travertine, and thinks that onyx is interesting to work with when it comes to lighting fixtures, “as it creates a dreamy atmosphere".
"My works are characterised by continuous patterns and textures that sit in contrast to plain surfaces, delicate entities that blend with their context without being imposing."
The Kumo lighting fixtures (Kumo - Japanese for cloud) borrows the lightness of clouds in its nebulous form, dark hand carved wood framing pink onyx. Displaying a lovely union of French oak, gold tainted stainless steel and rattan, Eva is a partition that is designed to be used as a room divider, as well as a changing space. The handcarved, marble topped Uroko coffee table (Uroko – Japanese for fish scale) presents a fluid yet sturdy shape that features a flow of ‘scales’, reflecting light and casting discreet shadows on each indentation. Trad’s Oscura cigar box (Oscura – Spanish for obscure) is also hand-carved with the same fish scale pattern as the Uroko coffee table. His products are hand-carved in collaboration with local Lebanese craftsmen.
Massoud’s introspective portfolio stems from his relentless questioning of social, political, cultural, and environmental norms, researching new spaces, ideas, cultures and destinations. He collaborates and shares ink and paper with local artisans and designers, creating a global narrative that unites possibilities, people, material and ideas. He also frequently collaborates with his sibling, ceramist Mary-Lynn Massoud, to create his intriguing pieces.
Autopsy was their first collaboration, working with Lebanese designers and South African artisans in an alliance between Southern Guild and Carwan Gallery. “Autopsy explores the fragility of life, inspired by traditional South African fertility dolls,” informs Massoud. The collection comprises six unique stools realised in casted bronze with bespoke coloured oxidations, clay and ceramic, highlighting various rituals between tribes, and exploring the concept of female fertility. The Boob Boobie Doo table sees two dazzling polished bronze hands holding up a pink marbled breast, another collaboration between the siblings and The HAAS Brothers, its fantastical form representing sex, sensuality and vulnerability. Created in timeless Carrara marble, the handmade Cities collection comprises modern-day downscaled relics that trigger memories and associations of architecture across countries through the Louvre - Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim - New York, Lenin's Mausoleum - Moscow, and more.
Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem
“Our fascination with the city as object, as urban-scale installation, and as industrial design led us to co-found our studio 200 Grs in 2013,” explain Haddad and Hachem. The studio's bespoke pieces serve a multitude of functions and bring into play local Lebanese craftsmanship that is at risk of disappearing.
“Beirut is trying to recover from an apocalyptic, violent explosion. My city has lived through wars and inside attacks, and yet this blast took things to a whole different level – its fabric of history eradicated, ripped away in 30 seconds,” a bereaved Haddad says. “To surrender is not an option, because we simply deserve better. This is a call for action to every reader around the globe to join the people of Beirut in their battle for human rights, as it is and should be everyone’s battle,” Hachem continues.
“Our creativity is our act of resistance. It is our weapon. Growing up in a city that taught us to live one day at a time, our work falls within a discourse of thought that re-questions design and positions it as a tool for social impact and change.”
Merging art and design, the inky black Cloud high table draws inspiration from the grounded stature of the regional pine tree that reaches for the clouds, its spindly legs and overlapping tops displaying functional and sculptural design. The Deinos is a 6.2 m long buffet table made out of French oak and wrapped in a metal black sheet Kintsugi details - the Japanese art of ‘golden joinery’. Stuck Stick is a flexible system designed to hang objects in any space without having to drill a hole anywhere. Held in place by tension - the pressure exerted by the rod between floor and ceiling - keeps a variety of objects including vases, candles, vintage mirrors and potted plants, seemingly stuck in space, as a light architectural partition.
“We have a difficult task of rebuilding Beirut. With no means, no government support and no resources. We still hope and aspire for a brighter, freer future. Do we dare give up? Do we dare dream? Join us!”
Curated by Amit Gupta and Pramiti Madhavji, STIR X Script presents Made In: an original series that features curated selections of product designers across countries, showcasing modern, sustainable, homegrown design.
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