colour is my oxygen
MARYAM MAHDAVI pauses, mid-descent, on the massive wooden staircase of her home in Brussels, which the designer fondly refers to as “the hysterical grand old lady”. The image of the two personalities — the woman and the architecture — is a striking one. Mahdavi, like the house, is undeniably rock’n’roll. Worldly, yet cultivated. Composed of ruffled elegance and memories, neither is afraid to proudly display the traces of an extraordinary life. Iranian by birth, Mahdavi was plunged into what she describes as “the cruel world of the Swiss boarding school system” at the age of six. “It wasn’t death,” she’s quick to point out, aware of her place in the world, “but I was very young, so I created an internal world for myself, a bubble of imagination.” Her father’s appointment as Iranian ambassador to Paris from Tehran when she was in her teens allowed her to expand that gift and define a life path that has remained true to creative pursuit. She studied for three years at the prestigious ESMOD fashion school and then took up art history at the École du Louvre, where she worked restoring 18th-century paintings. “I loved restoring portraits — their eyes more than anything,” Mahdavi says. “I would enter into the universe of the painting by going into the blacks of the eyes and it was like I was entering a tunnel into the interior of that person. It was very curious; almost like a state of trance. And this is a bit like the way I work today as a designer: I get into the story of my subjects, be it a room or a person. There is a lot of precision in everything I do.” Mahdavi regularly emerges from the ‘rabbit hole’ of her Alice in Wonderland life with works of decorative art, interiors and creative collaborations with people like Wilfrid Vacher, CEO at prestigious Brussels auction house, Cornette de Saint Cyr, and the fashion house Joseph in London, for which she designed installations in 2014. Fashion, poetry and charisma have always been at the centre of Mahdavi’s universe. A self-confessed “decadent romantic”, she has a knack for shedding new light on old concepts in a world that is, as she admits, quintessentially conservative. Her clients, like her, are “international types”. Often artistic, always original, they are “eccentric, but in the best sense of the word. I don’t work with people who want to live in a showroom. I work with individuals who are emotional and come from a strong sense of culture. “When I work on a project, there is always one object, or a creation that comes out of it,” Mahdavi continues. “It’s a manifestation of ››
this page: In a corner of designer MARYAM MAHDAVI’s living room is her own table design, ‘Soupçon With Lemarié Feathers’. opposite page: The designer refers to this area as her “Hemingway bar”. The top rug, layered above others in the Persian tradition, is by MADELEINE CASTAING from Didden & Co in Brussels; ‘Corsi’ low table and suspended lamp by Mahdavi; ‘Hexagon’ wallpaper by DAVID HICKS for Cole & Son. Details, last pages.
In the living room, chairs are originals from the defunct Belgian airline SABENA AIRWAYS’ first class lounge; table is from Mahdavi’s Subscon collection. The various objects on the mantelpiece are vintage finds — including the 1970s porcelain leopard, one of many that Mahdavi likes to move around to different places in her home. above: in the bedroom, ‘Tutu’ pendant light by Mahdavi; 1940s Bauhaus-style sofa lounge by OTTO SCHULTZ for Boet; rug by MADELEINE CASTAING from Didden & Co; ‘Taffetas de Soie’ curtains from the RUBELLI collection.