Commercial Interior Design - - Contents - WORDS: SH­WETA PARIDA

Key­note speak­ers, David Raf­foul and Ni­co­las Mous­sallem, share why iden­tity forms the crux of their de­sign phi­los­o­phy.

For Beirut-based de­sign­ers,

David Raf­foul and Ni­co­las Mous­sallem, de­sign is about cre­at­ing a cer­tain kind of en­ergy that the prod­uct or the space will emanate. Re­cently in Dubai to give a key­note pre­sen­ta­tion at the designMENA Sum­mit, Raf­foul says: “Be­ing in­vited to speak at the event is an hon­our for us. We wanted to get out of our bub­ble in Beirut to ex­change ideas and also col­lab­o­rate with the in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als.”

Mous­sallem agrees: “It’s a rare op­por­tu­nity to get a tar­geted au­di­ence. We gen­er­ally speak to the clients or the press, but this felt more in­ter­ac­tive and in­for­ma­tional.”

The de­sign­ers, both 30, dab­ble in prod­uct as well as in­te­rior de­sign. At this year’s designMENA Sum­mit, the fo­cus was turned to re­gional tal­ent, who are pro­vid­ing a con­tex­tual mean­ing to their work, whether through the nar­ra­tive or ma­te­ri­al­ity. Sus­tain­able build­ing and mas­ter plan­ning are terms which are rel­e­vant to ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments uni­ver­sally, even if the ex­e­cu­tion varies depend­ing on the re­gion. “A lot of ques­tions that were raised dur­ing the panel talks are top­ics that we were ask­ing our­selves but didn’t know that they were be­ing dis­cussed widely,” says Mous­sallem.

“We will go back with a dif­fer­ent vi­sion of built ur­ban land­scapes.”

Raf­foul adds that it was en­light­en­ing to dis­cover that peo­ple are try­ing to make a change. “While we spoke about prod­uct and in­te­rior de­sign on a mi­cro level, the ex­perts spoke about mas­ter plan­ning on a macro level. It was in­ter­est­ing to note the op­pos­ing scales of each point of view.”

The de­signer duo also share that they were im­pressed by Driss Ket­tani’s pre­sen­ta­tion, who was the other key­note speaker at the event. They say: “His work is note­wor­thy for the use of earthy ma­te­ri­als and tex­ture. It re­it­er­ates the fact that de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects can ef­fec­tively make a change in the so­ci­ety. He has kept the roots of the re­gion, while con­tem­po­ris­ing his de­sign lan­guage.”

Es­tab­lish­ing a sin­gu­lar iden­tity is im­por­tant to Raf­foul and Mous­sallem, who met in 2006 while study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture at the Le­banese Academy of Fine Arts in Beirut. The duo then moved to Mi­lan for fur­ther stud­ies, at­tend­ing the mas­ter’s pro­gramme in prod­uct de­sign at the Po­litec­nico di Mi­lano.

At a rel­a­tively young age, both have amassed ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing in cre­ative sec­tors around the world. Post their grad­u­a­tion from Po­litec­nico di Mi­lano, Raf­foul went on to com­plete in­tern­ships at Benet­ton’s re­search in­sti­tute, Fabrica in Tre­viso, Italy and Nendo in Tokyo. “At Fabrica, we worked in this build­ing de­signed by famed Ja­panese ar­chi­tect, Tadao Ando. The in­sti­tute in­vites cre­ators from around the world.”

On the other hand, Mous­sallem, who stud­ied physics and maths be­fore get­ting into the de­sign field, re­turned to Beirut to work on free­lance projects. Raf­foul joined him af­ter the com­ple­tion of his in­tern­ship stints and the pair set up their own stu­dio. “We are a de­sign prac­tice en­gaged in de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts

spa­ces,” they share. Their lo­ca­tion be­came the defin­ing point.

They sum up their ide­ol­ogy: “We started fill­ing the gaps by defin­ing that we’re based in Beirut. We be­lieve in or­ganic de­vel­op­ment, and want to fo­cus on the essence of what we do. We’re a four-per­son team. For us, it’s not just about de­sign­ing a chair, but de­vel­op­ing a phi­los­o­phy to­gether.”

Once back on home turf, Mous­sallem and Raf­foul, felt that while Beirut is teem­ing with good de­sign­ers, their work is ei­ther crafto­ri­ented or in a lan­guage that the duo do not speak, such as Arabesque. Mous­sallem elab­o­rates: “There are de­tails we re­late to but not the whole phi­los­o­phy. We de­cided to look into our grand­mas’ homes to un­der­stand where our cul­ture comes from and what makes Le­banese de­sign what it is. We dis­cov­ered that we don’t ac­tu­ally have Le­banese de­sign. It’s just pieces of ob­jects from around the world that are used in ev­ery space in ex­actly the same way.” The ob­ser­va­tion even­tu­ally re­sulted in a col­lec­tion called Loulou and Hoda for Beirut-based Joy Mar­dini Gallery, which is a con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tion of clas­sic ob­jects.

De­vel­op­ing their own de­sign lan­guage has been a key prin­ci­ple for the de­sign­ers. They col­lec­tively say: “Whether it is an ob­ject or a space, we al­ways have the same ap­proach. We like to use many dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als, and cer­tainly do not be­lieve in the law of ‘max­i­mum three ma­te­ri­als per ob­ject’.” Mous­sallem and Raf­foul mix dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate a con­junc­tive force, with thought-pro­vok­ing de­tails. The en­ergy of the space or the prod­uct is the con­stant in their work, which they la­bel as a “nos­tal­gic fu­ture”. “To sum it up, we think that the DNA of our work is the en­ergy and feel­ing it shares, and not re­ally a spe­cific de­tail or mate­and

To sum it up, we think that the DNA of our work is the en­ergy and feel­ing it shares, and not re­ally a spe­cific de­tail or ma­te­rial.

rial,” says Raf­foul.

Div­ing deeper into the essence of their prac­tice, Raf­foul and Mous­sallem have ex­plored other di­men­sions of their be­lief by ask­ing such ques­tions as “how do two peo­ple share the same iden­tity?” To re­spond to in­quis­i­tive ques­tions arising out of their nascent prac­tice’s be­liefs, the two em­barked on an ex­ploratory jour­ney. “We went to Por­tu­gal’s Vista Ale­gre porce­lain fac­tory, which is lo­cated be­tween Porto and Lis­bon, in the mid­dle of nowhere,” shares Mous­sallem. “We stayed there for three months de­sign­ing porce­lain and the time spent there helped us dis­cover our iden­tity, and that was the start of our stu­dio. We started to cre­ate some­thing from noth­ing us­ing the ‘sec­onda’ pieces, which are es­sen­tially items that did not pass the qual­ity test. We started fus­ing dif­fer­ent shapes to cre­ate sculp­tures. This was our first big in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

The process has not only an­swered their ques­tions, but also broad­ened their out­look. “It led us to be­lieve that in­ten­sive re­search around the lan­guage is im­por­tant,” says Raf­foul. “De­con­struct­ing the ex­ist­ing and mak­ing it our own is what in­spires us.”

Other sources of in­spi­ra­tion in­clude the French elec­tronic band Daft Punk, whose cult mu­sic al­bum, Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries, re­mains a favourite of the de­sign­ers. “The mu­si­cian duo use the theme of time in their

We like to use many dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als, and do not be­lieve in the law of max­i­mum three ma­te­ri­als per ob­ject.

work — both past and fu­ture,” says Raf­foul. While the com­bi­na­tion of time and space quanta seems to ap­peal to the de­sign­ers, they be­lieve that it’s not just one el­e­ment that in­spires and con­nects them.

For in­stance, ge­om­e­try is an­other as­pect which in­flu­ences their work. In their F&B project, a restau­rant in Beirut called Ka­leo, they wanted to cre­ate a whole new ex­pe­ri­ence. “We have ac­cen­tu­ated the ge­om­e­try in­spired by By­b­los, while the same leit­mo­tif con­tin­ues through­out the prop­erty,” says Mous­sallem.

It was dur­ing one of the mo­ments of self-dis­cov­ery that the de­signer duo was com­mis­sioned by the cel­e­brated Nil­u­far

Gallery in Mi­lan, known for its prized vin­tage col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing clas­sic fur­ni­ture pieces as Gio Ponti, Franco Al­bini and other known names. Mous­sallem says: “We con­tacted the owner of the gallery, Nina Yashar (known for her keen eye for col­lectible de­sign), who was or­gan­is­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion in Beirut. Af­ter shar­ing our con­tact de­tails, she re­quested to see our port­fo­lio which was lim­ited back then. She asked us to cre­ate a whole se­ries of chairs in two weeks. This is how the col­lec­tion Dualita came about. It doesn’t fol­low any spe­cific era.”

The com­mis­sion from Yashar was fol­lowed by a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ital­ian safe­maker, Agresti for a de­sign ex­hi­bi­tion in Mi­lan. The Floren­tine firm asked the duo to reimag­ine the tra­di­tional safe as an ob­ject, and not sim­ply a box where you keep your valu­ables locked. “It has pock­ets, where you can keep things such as your diary, glasses, pen and keys. We wanted to cre­ate some­thing that’s not hid­den, but con­trib­utes to daily func­tion,” says Raf­foul.

Con­stel­la­tion ta­ble from the Su­per­nova col­lec­tion for Car­pen­ter's Work­shop Gallery

Raf­foul and Mous­sallem were one of the key­note speak­ers at designMENA Sum­mit 2018

Carine Gil­son bou­tique in Paris by david/ni­co­las

Mon­o­cle cabi­net ac­cen­tu­ates the mix of ma­te­ri­als and tex­tures.

Wall pan­elling and wooden shelf in the Su­per­nova col­lec­tion.

Geo­met­ric mo­tifs make a re­cur­ring ap­pear­ance in Ka­leo restau­rant by david/ ni­co­las stu­dio.

Door han­dles for Carine Gil­son bou­tique re­flect the sig­na­ture de­sign de­tail.

A uni­form threadcan be seen through­out the Ka­leo restau­rant.

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