A Colourful World
The vibrant Beirut home of architect and designer Annabel Karim Kassar is a perfect reminder of her upbringing and travels around the world
A peek into the architect and designer Annabel Karim Kassar’s vibrant home in Beirut
Nestled in Beirut’s bohemian quarter, down a narrow street of early 20th-century villas, is the Gemmayzeh home of French-born architect and designer Annabel Karim Kassar. One of the few parts of the city where old Beirut remains intact, this neighbourhood has been undergoing gentrification since the end of the civil war in 1990, and is well known today for its trendy pubs, cafes and restaurants.
“When I found this place, it had been unoccupied for over 10 years. There had been a restaurant on the ground level, but it didn’t survive,” says Kassar. “So I converted this part into a spare bedroom and an office workspace.”
The house is about 4,300 square feet, spread over two levels and with a garden in front. In Beirut, reconstruction is a complicated process and it took a year to complete the project. “What I did was a highly idiosyncratic renovation, a distinctive melange of East and West,” she explains. “I went pretty wild with colour. I was inspired by the palm tree, which stands in front of the house, and its orange dates and very green leaves.”
The house is surrounded by European-style buildings, bars and restaurants, all buzzing with young people at night—so the heart of the house was deliberately decorated to be vibrant and dramatic in a riot of pink, orange and green. “I wanted the walls to be a statement that shouts colour and, as a result, they’re transformed into designer pieces themselves,” explains Kassar.
She wasn’t shy with the rest of her home’s decor, either. “All the furniture I carefully designed myself, or picked out what I felt was going to be strong enough,” she says. “I deliberately chose oversized lampshades and bold geometric-patterned
flooring; they all had to hold their own against all that colour. Anything quieter would have been drowned out.”
Kassar has a uniquely multicultural approach to her work. “I have lived in the Middle East, in Morocco and in Dubai for a few years, and in Lebanon for most of my life,” she says. “This cultural heritage can be found in each of my projects. It sums up my way of being and thinking, having lived in several cities around the world.”
A strong architectural structure layered with gorgeous ornamentation defines Kassar’s distinctive work, coupled with the use of unusual materials, decorative motifs and lots of light. “I find inspiration in traditional craftsmanship and architectural styles, and then give it a modern twist,” she says. “My openness to culture, tradition and innovation, rather than a signature ‘look’ or style, pushes me into working on varied projects. Like anything new or innovative, I’m partly inspired by what came before. I’m intrigued by transforming tradition and memory into contemporary designs, and I’m not afraid of doing things differently.”
“Light is a physical material that’s as visible as a concrete wall, and must be incorporated and designed from the outset of a project”
Having lived in numerous Arabic countries, Kassar is at ease using traditional ornamentation similar to that used in ancient Moorish architecture, but she also mixes other references. For example, the gold paint used on the connecting doors in her home was inspired by similar tones found in many of the Christian churches in the area.
Kassar considers light an important component of the architecture of a space and this is evident in the Gemmayzeh house, where light fixtures create patterns on the colourful walls, while blind-free windows allow light to pour into each room.
“For me, light is more than just a transparent presence,” says Kassar. “It’s a physical material that’s as visible as a concrete wall, and must be incorporated and designed from the outset of a project. It really brings a space to life and is always the starting point for me.”
Kassar has combined a selection of modern furniture with local artisans’ pieces and vintage items, many of which were sourced in small French flea markets. Dotted throughout the rooms is a collection of her own furniture designs, such as the hexagonal dining table. Her inspirations include Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus school.
When she’s not travelling for projects around the world, Kassar enjoys nothing more than working on different tables in the house, both indoors and out, and making the most of the sunshine. In this home, to be sure, it seems peace—and quite a bit of colour—has been restored to the land.
FROM LEFT The bright colour scheme was inspired by a palm tree that stood in front of the house; all the furniture was designed or handpicked by Annabel Karim Kassar opposite page Kassar matched the bold colours of the interior with oversized...
FROM LEFT An ornamental standalone bathtub in the bathroom; the vibrant colour scheme and bold patterns extend to the bedrooms as well opposite page The different shades of green on the walls and the bedding are a good contrast to the strong...