BEIRUT

Belle - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs STEPHAN JULLIARD Words IAN PHILLIPS Styling SARAH DE B EAUMONT

A tra­di­tional Le­banese res­i­dence, re­stored and re-imag­ined, is now home to a bril­liant col­lec­tion of art and de­sign pieces.

In the an­cient Mediter­ranean city of Beirut a clas­si­cal home with a che­quered his­tory glo­ries in a glam­orous re­make.

This page A sculp­ture by Er­win Wurm sits un­der the branches of a pot­ted tree in the airy liv­ing room. Large art­work by Ge­org Baselitz; small work by Yayoi Kusama. Op­po­site page The orig­i­nal part of the house dates from the 18th cen­tury. Stone arches and col­umns are typ­i­cal of Le­banese ar­chi­tec­ture. A sculp­ture by Thomas House­ago stands in the gar­den with the sea in the dis­tance.

Th­ese pages The ter­race o the liv­ing room looks out to the glit­ter­ing Mediter­ranean. Twin so­fas by Axel Ver­vo­ordt face an art­work by Ge­org Baselitz on the left and one by Al­berto Burri on the op­po­site wall. The pair of Giò Ponti arm­chairs date from the 1950s, and the ‘PK80’ daybed by Poul Kjærholm is a sim­i­lar vin­tage. Op­po­site page, top Own­ers Karim and Magda Abil­lama. ‘Tulip’ side ta­ble by Eero Saari­nen with ce­ramic bowl by Is­raeli artist Michal Fargo.

Ask Karim Abil­lama what he likes best about his house sit­u­ated a few kilo­me­tres from the cen­tre of Beirut and he’ll tell you it’s the di­rect view of the sea. “As a Mediter­ranean, hav­ing con­tact with the wa­ter is very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially be­ing able to see the hori­zon,” he de­clares. Yet, it’s not the only at­trac­tion. The struc­ture is also one of the rare tra­di­tional Le­banese res­i­dences still in ex­is­tence. “It’s some­what a link to the past and I’m very at­tached to her­itage,” says Karim, whose an­ces­tors played a prom­i­nent role in the coun­try’s his­tory. They are said to have ar­rived in Lebanon in the 9th cen­tury, fought against the Franks dur­ing the Cru­sades, then in 1616 were ap­pointed gov­er­nors of the Metn re­gion east of Beirut.

Built in sev­eral stages, the house he shares with his wife Magda (owner of ul­tra-trendy con­cept store Ginette in the Gem­mayzeh dis­trict) and their three chil­dren, dates from the 18th cen­tury. Dur­ing the civil war that tore Lebanon apart between 1975 and 1990, the struc­ture was used as a squat by two fam­i­lies and dam­aged in the hos­til­i­ties. One of the ex­ter­nal col­umns still bears the scars of be­ing hit by an ar­tillery shell. When Karim rst saw it, the house was in a sad state: part of the fa­cade had been cov­ered in an ochre-coloured plas­ter, oors were on the verge of col­laps­ing and ceil­ings dec­o­rated with crude paint­ings rep­re­sent­ing boats and the sea.

Both the restora­tion work and the task of ex­tend­ing the house were en­trusted to his ar­chi­tect brother Raëd, whose other projects have in­cluded the Beirut Art Cen­ter and a se­ries of in­ter­na­tional stores for the fash­ion brand, Joseph. Here, Raëd’s main con­cern was to re­spect the clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. He favoured lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, such as large blocks of ‘spuma’, a lime­stone quar­ried in the north of Lebanon, and also de­cided to re­vive the tra­di­tion of ter­razzo oor­ing.

Th­ese pages Karim’s ar­chi­tect brother, Raëd, de­signed the new ex­ten­sion. Top right A Carsten Höller sculp­ture in the entry. Bot­tom Vin­tage arm­chair by Finn Juhl. Art­work above the sofa by Richard Prince. Lamps by ce­ram­i­cist Jos Devriendt. Sculp­ture on the ter­race by François-Xavier Lalanne.

This page Bronze and lava din­ing ta­ble by Mas­si­m­il­iano Lo­catelli with ’611’ chairs by Al­var Aalto. ‘Star­brick’ pen­dant lights by Ola­fur Elias­son for Zum­to­bel. Large three-di­men­sional archival print by John Baldessari and between the win­dows is a work by Wade Guy­ton. Op­po­site page Above the mar­ble ƒre­place in the small sit­ting room is a work by En­rico Castel­lani above a sculp­ture by Antony Gorm­ley. To its left is a small Ge­orge Condo work.

“More than any­thing, art al­lows me to dream,” ex­plains Karim. “It’s some­thing that trans­ports me to other hori­zons.”

“We had great dif culty nd­ing crafts­peo­ple still ac­quainted with the tech­nique,” the ar­chi­tect re­calls. “We ended up work­ing with a gentle­man who was 80, who ar­rived at the crack of dawn and clocked off at 10 in the morn­ing.” For the rail­ing of the bal­cony, Raëd copied a his­toric de­sign he dis­cov­ered at a black­smith’s. He also left a 15-cen­time­tre gap between the orig­i­nal struc­ture and his sober yet strongly geo­met­ric ex­ten­sion “in or­der to state in no un­cer­tain man­ner that I’m not try­ing to en­ter into com­pe­ti­tion with what’s from the past”.

Ini­tially, Karim dec­o­rated the in­te­ri­ors in a rel­a­tively clas­si­cal style. There were fres­coes above the doors, 18th-cen­tury paint­ings, a re­fec­tory ta­ble from Axel Ver­vo­ordt and 19th-cen­tury Swedish chairs in painted wood. Then, in 2010, he had what can only be termed an aes­thetic rev­e­la­tion dur­ing a visit to an ex­hi­bi­tion of the Amer­i­can artist Ed Ruscha at the Moderna Museet in Stock­holm.

“The strength and graphic qual­i­ties of his work re­ally made a big im­pres­sion on me,” he re­calls. It also gave rise to what has be­come an over­rid­ing pas­sion for con­tem­po­rary art, which to­day trans­lates into a col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing works by the likes of John Baldessari, Richard Prince, Al­berto Burri and Ge­org Baselitz.

Two of his favourite ac­qui­si­tions are sculp­tures − the large mon­key on the ter­race by François-Xavier Lalanne (“I love it be­cause its ex­pres­sion is al­most hu­man”) and a head­less hu­man gure by the pool by Thomas House­ago, which he dis­cov­ered on his very rst trip to the Ga­lerie Xavier Hufkens in Brus­sels. “It was stand­ing out­side with its arms crossed, as if it were wait­ing for me,” he re­mem­bers.

In or­der to ac­com­mo­date all th­ese pieces, Karim de­cided to change the in­te­rior quite radically. “I re­moved any­thing dec­o­ra­tive,” he ex­plains. “I wanted ev­ery­thing to be white and be­came al­ler­gic to hav­ing fur­ni­ture xed to the walls.” In its place, he brought in pieces by 20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects, such as two serv­ing trol­leys by Al­var Aalto and a pair of arm­chairs by GiO Ponti, and adopted a rather ab­stract ap­proach for the din­ing room. With its sculp­tural Mas­si­m­il­iano Lo­catelli ta­ble, rare Al­var Aalto stack­ing chairs and strik­ingly an­gu­lar Ola­fur Elias­son ceil­ing lights, it is both slightly aus­tere and quasi-con­cep­tual.

Much of the art­work is in the same vein. “My tastes are rather min­i­mal­is­tic,” ad­mits Karim. “In gen­eral, there are not lots of colours.” That does not, how­ever, pre­vent him from adding a few fun touches, such as the small Antony Gorm­ley sculp­ture of a man with his hands pressed against the wall or the over­sized mush­room by Carsten Höller in the entry hall.

“More than any­thing, art al­lows me to dream,” he re­joices. “It’s some­thing that trans­ports me to other hori­zons.” Cer­tainly way be­yond the one he can see out of his win­dows!

“I re­moved any­thing dec­o­ra­tive,” he says. “I wanted ev­ery­thing to be white and be­came al­ler­gic to hav­ing fur­ni­ture xed to the walls.” This page The art­work above the bed is by Roni Horn and the large paint­ing by John Arm­leder. ‘OW150’ bench by Ole Wan­scher. Chair and ot­toman by Charles and Ray Eames. Op­po­site page, top Mod­u­lar sofa in the main bed­room by Piero Lis­soni for Liv­ing Di­vani. Art­work by In­dian artist Prab­ha­vathi Mep­payil. Bot­tom Poul Kjærholm’s iconic ‘PK9’ chairs in the study. The stor­age unit is from USM. Gela­tine sil­ver print by Hiroshi Sugi­moto.

SPEED READ

» Le­banese en­tre­pre­neur Karim Abil­lama and wife Magda bought one of the rare tra­di­tional Le­banese res­i­dences still in ex­is­tence in Beirut. » Built in the 18th cen­tury, the struc­ture was war dam­aged and in a state of near col­lapse in parts. » Karim’s ar­chi­tect brother Raëd un­der­took a re­spect­ful restora­tion of the build­ing and its orig­i­nal fea­tures and care­fully ex­e­cuted a mod­ern ex­ten­sion. » Af­ter rst favour­ing a clas­si­cal decor, Karim later radically changed the in­te­ri­ors to white and added pieces by 20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects. » Karim’s pas­sion for con­tem­po­rary art trans­lates into a col­lec­tion in­clud­ing works by John Baldessari, Richard Prince, Al­berto Burri and Ge­org Baselitz.

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