Expat Life

Expat Decorating…An Updated Master Bedroom

Doha master bedroom

So I want to relieve you of the suspense I left you in as of my last post and show you the current chapter in the story of my striped curtains. They have never looked better and ironically seem to have been custom designed for their new home framing the little charming arched windows that made me want this house in the first place. The rest of the bedroom has been updated too and I want to talk a little bit about that process, especially in response to all the inquiries I have been having lately about how to think about changing or modernizing a space when you have limited resources and no ideas on how to start. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the items in our bedroom, but here in Doha (and to a certain extent in Tokyo) they had started to feel too ‘Paris flea market’ if such a thing is possible. Almost all the furniture is 19th century antique French – even my winter duvet is made from antique document print curtain panels sourced at les puces. The tiny French night stands shown below in our Tokyo bedroom were purchased originally for a New York bedroom so small that there was barely 18 inches on the side of the bed and both they and the sweet lamps were completely insubstantial in our new cavernous Doha bedroom.

French night stand trimmed lamp striped curtains

By choice and by the default based on availability I talked about last time, the rest of the house had brightened with a more modern eclectic mix and the bedroom needed to join in that party. For years in Tokyo I had been dreaming of getting my gray painted walls again but now, with the gray tiled floor, everything felt too gray and too subtle. The room was screaming for some color punctuation, although I did not want to lose its overall soothing vibe. So the starting point was to think about what might be easy to change like textiles, bedding and accessories, using a Pinterest board and inspiration photos as a way to narrow down choices and test combinations.

My main inspiration came from two very different bedrooms, by two very different style designers. The first one, by Bunny Williams is in a formal Park Avenue apartment, full of gorgeous storied antiques.  The mirrored bed is a 1930s piece by French designer/artist Serge Roche. The headboard is upholstered in a spectacular Indian-inspired silk embroidery by Naeem Khan.  You can see more of this space in The Wall Street Journal and the New York Social Diary.

Bunny Williams NYC bedroom via WSJ mirrored bed

Vignettes of collected objects and art, as well as simple white ruffled linens against a soft color palette speak to the antiquarian in me. Much of the furniture is from a similar place and time as mine.

Bunny Williams bed embroidery detail dresser 2 views

The other bedroom is in a 1940s home in Charleston, designed by Angie Hranowsky and featured in Lonny Magazine. It is often referred to in blog posts on ‘boho glam’ or some other silly name as it unexpectedly combines casual elements such as a rattan headboard with a more glamorous material like the mirrored nightstands.

Angie Hranowsky lavender bedroom yellow lamps mirrored night stands boho

The lavender is of course my long standing favorite, but the unexpected surprise of the yellow is what really captured my attention, along with the incredible textile mix against simple white sheets.

angie-hranowsky-bedroom-lavender-yellow-mirrored night stands boho two views

So what binds these two very different spaces together? You might say nothing, but for me, they are filtered through the lens of what I have to work with plus the feeling I want to create. The Bunny Williams bedroom has a softened pretty formality that I can’t escape with the majority of the furniture I already own. The Angie Hranowsky bedroom has relaxed vibe I’d like to add, along with a color palette I adore. The actual binding between them is in the mirrored pieces (bed and night stands) and the handmade textiles – the Indian embroidery above Williams’ bed and the tapestry, bolster pillow and block printed John Robshaw quilt in the Hranowsky bedroom. I knew an embroidered ethnic textile – I was thinking suzani or something similar originally – would soften the formality of the furniture and bring in the color and visual interest I was looking for. But from a practical point of view, my husband and I are duvet sleepers and nothing will change that. I didn’t want a fussy extra coverlet that served no purpose other than display. As luck would have it, a ready-made savior came in the form of the Safia Embroidered Duvet Cover from Anthropologie. It is so perfect, it’s as if I conjured it, with its Indian applique and embroidery and exact color palette.

safia embroidered duvet crane canopy gray scallop sheets It didn’t hurt either that it coupled perfectly with the new Gray Scalloped Embroidered Sheets Set from Crane & Canopy and my other vintage white bed linens.

safia embroidered duvet cover crane canopy gray scallop sheeets master bedroom

Another key component of all the inspiration spaces I was using was mirror – for two main reasons. The original impetus was to add another material, another finish, to all the wood furniture. Part of what kept the room trapped in the past was that lack of variety, and even though the bed frame is painted, everything else is medium to dark wood tone. A mirrored surface provides much needed contrast while also being dressy enough to hold its own with the French antiques. But the second reason – the expat reason of its possible availability – is what truly made it compelling. As I’ve mentioned before, the local population here likes very glitzy interiors so I knew that somewhere out there something along the lines of what I was looking for existed. While my fantasy tables were of the vintage 1940s variety like these on the left from 1stdibs, settling for these brand new ones from the main mass market furniture store here in Doha didn’t feel like such a terrible compromise. The fact that they were also a fraction of the price didn’t hurt and honestly, their modernity, their newness, provides even more needed contrast with the rest of the room.

French 1940's Mirrored Night Stands home center new Other inspiration photos included one detail again and again – simple yellow ceramic gourd or vase-shaped lamps like the ones in the Angie Hranowsky bedroom, here in two stand-out rooms by Miles Redd and Bailey McCarthy. Most are Christopher Spitzmiller, which once again is not available here (although those of you in New York right now can go to the last day of his Summer Seconds Sale today!!!!) nor are there many similar options. This was a situation in which local sourcing just wasn’t going to happen. On a trip to Hong Kong last November I hunted for a pair of Imperial yellow porcelain vases to convert to lamps, but had no luck either.

Miles Redd bedroom Bailey McCarthy Spitzmiller yellow lamp mirror night stand

That left the internet, which is sometimes the only option when you know you want something very specific. I was obsessed with the gorgeous pair of yellow lamps on the left from Palm Beach Antiques Center, but no matter how I tried to spin it, they were way too large and a bit too orange. I’m still in love with their shape and luster and they are still available along with numerous other beauties. In the end, One Kings Lane delivered with this pair of more vase-shaped lamps with a Chinese mount. They were a bargain – especially if you compare similar pieces on 1st dibs (subtract an entire digit from those prices). And for another expat homily, sometimes the price of doing business and living your life is costly shipping. Luckily, I had finally joined Aramax, an international shipping service that delivers here pretty reliably and at fairly reasonable cost. Since the lamps were a bargain, paying their price over again in shipping was worth it. All in, they still cost less than many other choices.

yellow lamp pair palm beach antiques and one kings lane

The combination is bringing me great visual pleasure and the functionality of the taller, more substantial lamps and the extra drawer space the night stands provide can’t be beat.

Doha Master Bedroom uodated yellow imperial vase lamp mirror night stand

The room is not finished, but has certainly made strides in the right direction. Finding a floor covering is high on my list as getting out of bed to those acres of cold tiles isn’t very nice. In typical expat style I brought a giant empty suitcase with me on a quick trip back to the US a few weeks ago and stuffed it with a giant wool flokati rug. It never made it up to the bedroom, getting hijacked by the living room along the way, where there were also acres of cold tiles. I’d love to add a chaise or other comfy chair to the corner next to the settee, where some old world crystal sconces have been hung on either side of a trio of painterly lithographs by Japanese printmaker Keisuke Yamamoto. What an interesting coincidence that these prints are all about the arches and now they are hanging in a bedroom that is kinda all about the arches too. I happened to stumble across these yellow pillows in the housewares isle of our local supermarket (!) so I grabbed them, knowing they wouldn’t be there if I hesitated. Playing around with other pillow choices on the Pinterest board.

master bedroom settee Keisuke Yamamoto

Along those lines of mixing old and new, I’d like to find a great piece of abstract art to hang over the bed, a little like this combo in a room designed by Amanda Nisbet. Although I’m laughing a bit, as the night table lamps remind me so much of my old ones – they could use a little beefing up I think.

Amanda Nisbet french bed lavender modern art

Those little lamps have been relocated to atop the dresser, in similar style to the Bunny Williams bedroom. I’m still working on the gallery wall here, grouping antique sketches and etchings.

master bedroom dresser

Miles to go before I sleep…well no, not really. Actually, the house is in substantial shape as I ready myself to leave in two days for the next ten weeks of summer, where I’ll be turning my attention to our beloved beach cottage. See you there!

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do

Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do

While life as an expat in far away lands does bring some decorating joys, i.e. exotic accessories, much of the time basic goods, such as upholstered pieces and quality furniture for reasonable prices, are just not on the agenda. Invariably there are technical difficulties with the technical stuff, voltage variances and possibly language barriers for sourcing parts and hardware, let alone explaining the details of tufted buttons on a headboard. Designing interiors as an expat is much like being on a budget, without the great vintage shopping, thrift stores and Target that are such key resources in America. The best and most reliable places for shopping are often other folks houses - all expats know the best way to get stuff is to hone in on anyone moving back home the moment they announce it. Opportunities need to be grabbed as they tend to be one of a kind and won’t come around again. And the suitcases of all visitors and guests should always be maximized to one’s benefit. My mantra over the years has always been “get lucky and make do” because it has to be, and while it has definitely brought out my creativity, I occasionally wish I had a few other options on the table.

You’ve already heard some of my best stories  - certainly nothing will beat the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that was the free chairs and desk. The colorful scheme of Mally Skok and Raoul Textiles for the kitchen was born out of necessity from the inability to make any changes in our rental. And while I really did want the Saarinen Tulip table for the dining room, it emerged as the absolute front-runner of the three possible schemes simply because it could be had – although perhaps shipping from Malaysia isn’t exactly just had! The IKEA Tobias chairs around it are a classic case of making do with a very happy ending and my living room has a DIY coffee table coming. In the course of this year I’ve had to be resourceful, I’ve had to compromise but the stars have aligned for me at times too.

doha living room

One of my earliest stories here in Doha is a typical tale of triumph against newcomer odds. Long boxed up in storage in Japan, waiting for its imaginary future, this massive pierced brass karakusa (scrolling arabesque) globe chandelier was one of my favorite shrine sale finds ever.

antique brass karakusa globe fixture Japan

Of course in Japan I couldn’t hang it, the ceilings being so low that even basically flush mounted it would have hit the top of my sweet husband’s head (and he is about 6 feet tall). With the high ceilings here in Doha it was time for it to emerge and be hung. Enter said expat challenge, better known as chandelier chain. In America, you can walk into any hardware store and there are rolls of chain in different sizes and finishes. Of course here in Doha there is a single strip of lighting stores, which happens to be tucked behind the largest and most complicated building project in the city, making it almost impossible to get to even after you find it (if you find it!). But in my first weeks here, I managed to get there before closing time (all small businesses close between roughly 12:30 and 4:00pm every day – add that to the planning mix), double parked bravely and illegally (no other way to do it) and ran in. The first shop had only bright brass chain in a single size. As did the second, the third and so on. It seems there is only one size and one color finish of shiny brass chandelier chain to be had here in this country and it simply wouldn’t do for my antique fixture. What I did notice was that one small shop had a display chandelier hanging from old chain that was nicely patinated in that dark brass/bronze color even though there was none of it for sale. So I put on my best negotiating skills (all of this at 12:15 while double parked illegally) and managed to convince the owner to let me buy him a length of shiny new chain from another shop to exchange with him (and a little bonus) for his length of old chain. I think he thought I was absolutely nuts, but so be it, mission accomplished! Now it hangs in all its loveliness, casting mysterious shadows at night, and even my 6’7″ friend has no fears of hitting his head on it.

photo

Another favorite story has the longest expat legs of all. When we lived in Hong Kong from 1997-1998, I had a pair of gray and white silk curtains made – much like a ticking stripe – to hang in my chartreuse dining room. (As an aside, best dining room color ever – with gorgeous old Indonesian rosewood floors, Chinese table, painted Tibetan chest and lots of blue & white porcelain!) Upon moving back to New York City, I repurposed them in my gray bedroom, which had only one window so a single set was very useful. As the window was awkwardly placed near the ceiling, I needed to make a valance, so I asked a friend back in Hong Kong to go buy a bit more of the same silk and send it to me. This was all within the first year of leaving so it was easily done. Dug up some old snapshots (!) to give a sense of the curtains in both spaces.

HK and NY striped curtains bedroom

Fast forward five and half years and off we go to Tokyo where our bedroom had three large windows. Better yet, they were all different sizes – not width wise, but height wise – and the ceiling heights were different in each part of the room. I know it is impossible to imagine or even believe that the Japanese would build this way, but I tell you it’s true – it looked like they sourced the windows willy nilly from a sale. I wanted to use the curtains again because I loved them and nothing beats a classic stripe – it just can’t be improved upon. So I tracked down the shop with the silk (I always keep my samples/orders/receipts from every project in neat little Ziploc bags) and they actually still had some. I bought the rest of their final roll as obviously the decorating gods meant me to and had it delivered to my original curtain lady (she of the obi quilt block pillows). Soon after, I visited some friends in Hong Kong and brought the original pair of curtain panels with me. I had her copy the originals – and here is the kicker – make them all the same original long length. Then I had her hem each set to the random length of the windows in my Tokyo bedroom. One set was hemmed about 2 or 3 feet even. But my instincts told me that there was no purpose to having a bunch of odd size and short curtains in the long run.

bedroom settee with obi quilt pillow

So now for the moment of triumph. We arrive here in Doha, shake the curtains out from their box and hang them on the existing curtain tracks. They are all way too short, some as much as two feet plus!

bedroom curtains too short

I carefully pick out the secondary hem stitches and (drum roll please) they are exactly, yes exactly, the right length. Cosmic decorating karma. A steamer takes out any creases effortlessly. To top it all off, I wanted deep valances, filling the space between the arch of the windows and the ceilings and had just enough fabric from that final roll to make them. I think I will leave you in suspense until my very next post for you to see how it all turned out…

One last story about the kindness of friends and strangers in an expat decorating world. After much deliberation I decided I needed that Pier One/Craig’s List staple the Papasan Chair for my teenage daughter’s room. How can you keep the “no boys sitting on the bed” rule when there isn’t anywhere else to sit? Add in that the room was veering in the slightly too formal direction and that a request for somewhere to “sack out” had been made. Her new desk (our giant antique French partners desk moved from the study) created a perfect deep corner that needed to be filled by something round. I searched the internet for proof that a Papasan could look chic – even Apartment Therapy seemed to be giving them credence – and came up with a few examples, including this one in a similarly colored room. With all things wicker and rattan being back “in” can the Papasan be far behind? Well maybe not, but its just the perfect thing for a teen!

papasan chair via little bird told me

All that said, what would be one of the easiest and most budget friendly options to get ahold of in the USA doesn’t exist here in Doha. And the oversized scale of them makes it prohibitively expensive to ship. So I mentioned to a few friends that I was looking for one or something similar. Within a week, my friend LL (come to think of it – she of the lost desk and chairs!) brings me to the house of another woman in her compound, leaving to move back to Canada. LL had been in her house casing the goods when she noticed a Papasan in the living room, that was not for sale. In classic style, she convinced the woman to sell it to me and just buy a new one when she gets home. Such an expat moment! This is the best I could get my model to give, but you can see it is already being well used. And the cranberry colored cushion has just been sent out to be recovered in white cotton duck.

photo

Now much of my experience is only true in the places I have lived, namely Asia and the Middle East. Those lucky enough to live in Europe with its hundreds of years of furniture making its way to market might have a different story to tell. And there will be more on this topic in my next post, as I explore the challenge of updating a bedroom straight out of the Paris flea markets. But in the meantime, what have been your biggest challenges finding and creating your home, wherever you may live?

 

Countdown to Summer with Michelle R. Smith

 “If you buy something you love, there’s always a place for it.”
-Michelle R. Smith

There is a spring breeze blowing in the design world, courtesy of Michelle R. Smith. With numerous features on her NYC apartment and Sag Harbor home appearing over the last few months (here, herehere and her closet! here), this is a girl after my own true heart. She thinks interiors should be a bit “almost accidental looking” and is clearly no fan of the color red either. Ironically, what feels fresh is that Smith has her feet firmly planted in the past, using both beautiful antiques and flea market finds to ground her lovely interiors. That’s not to say there aren’t quirky modern pieces, but they are used to activate the spaces rather than as a list of big names of design giants past. Frankly I’ve been a bit exhausted with some of the design press lately in that sense. I even find myself being pulled from what I really love because of the difficulties in sourcing here in Doha, but she has gone and truly reminded me. All of this, plus the 100+ degree weather here, is starting to make me ache for our little Victorian beach house at the shore.

michelle_smith_home_tour_26

She has “make artwork look more valuable than it is” down pat, stacking and layering small pieces low on the walls. Artful but not overly styled vignettes are another signature.

michelle_smith_home_tour_04

Mellowed rugs and actual wooden antiques that aren’t painted. I feel like its been ages since we have seen large case pieces used in simple settings and she has many of them. Perhaps its just the New Yorker in me – there is never enough closet space – but a tall secretary or armoire just makes a room. Hers is one just peeking out on the right in this shot, a great vertical counterpoint to the built-in bookshelves.

Michelle R Smith living room bookshelves

She has the fancy meets rough equation down perfectly.

michelle_smith dining

A dream of a New York City galley kitchen – with a giant window no less – and quirky repurposed industrial egg beater light fixtures. Be sure to note the candy molds hung next to the window, reminding me of kashigata. Wondering if I should be considering this very neutral Farrow & Ball Charleston Gray for my beach house kitchen?

michelle_smith kitchen

An absolute mix of metals – copper, nickel, brass and a bit of tarnished silver.

michelle_smith_kitchen copper

The simplest of bathrooms with unlacquered brass hardware.

michelle_smith bathroom brass

Without sounding too scandalous it’s in the bedrooms that I truly fall in love. Antique bedsteads, marble-topped night stands, fluffy white linens and old-fashioned lampshades…

michelle_smith master bedroom

…aged Persians again and big antique mirrored wardrobes. It’s all just a little bit granny but not.

Michelle R Smith bedroom night stand

The guest room has a similar feel…

michelle_smith guest night stand

…with stacked works on paper and a giant campaign chest.

michelle_smith_guest corner

As much as I like her NYC apartment, its her house in Sag Harbor that has me dreaming of home (or home-home as my girls would call it). Maybe its the vintage cottage vibe, but somehow so many of her choices are familiar to me. 

Michelle Smith Sag harbor living room

European sideboards with gargoyles make the best drink stations.

Michelle R Smith drinks bar gargoyles

Most of the house has been painted Benjamin Moore’s Woodlawn Blue, the kind of neutral historic color that plays well with everything and seems just right for an old fishing village. These kind of soft grayed colors are found throughout our beach house, some Benjamin Moore and others Farrow & Ball.

Michelle Smith Sag Harbor fireplace

A familiar view, with a dining room side chair, resting quietly under a piece of artwork.

Michelle R Smith Sag Harbor

Is this a gently tweaked original kitchen? I’m not sure but what I would give to have had something like this to work with!

Michelle R Smith Sag Harbor Kitchen

The bathroom in Sag Harbor is making me the most homesick…

Michelle R Smith Sag Harbor bathroom

…and I am wondering how much ‘oldating’ she had to do here and how much was original. Wait, just got my answer – the bathrooms were gut jobs and have been completely reimagined!

Michelle R Smith Sag Harbor bathroom tub

Old houses always need quirky solutions to small spaces, like back-to-back beds in the guest room, and vacation ones need to sleep as many guests as possible. We know what that’s like and have managed to squeeze bed space in even unlikely places.

Michelle R Smith Sag Harbor guest room

But more than any of the other spaces, I’m back to the dreamy master bedroom, with its blush pink walls, four-poster, white lace…

Michelle Smith Sag Harbor Bedroom

…gleaming wooden dresser and smoky antique rug.  It reminds me of the prettiest pink bedrooms ever and makes me want to be home-home to sleep in mine.

Michelle R Smith master bedroom pink lace Sag Harbor

Just forty days and counting!

Related Posts:
So Long Summer…Vignettes and Views Around the House
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom
Brooklyn Belle from Hilary Robertson and Alastair McCowan
Weaving in Global Antiques…Katie Leede’s World Traveler’s Abode

Image credits: All images via Lonny, NYC & G, One Kings Lane or Studio MRS.

He Giveth…And He Taketh Away

french chairs

So I have been promising this story for ages and it is a good thing that I hadn’t told it as it developed a surprise ending yesterday. Design resources here in Doha are in some ways more limited and in other ways less limited than they were in Japan, but for everyone back in the USA, it really is a struggle to source items that you all have in such abundance of selection. This story might have been part of a larger post on decorating as an expat – entitled “Getting Lucky or Making Do” perhaps? – but now I think it is entitled to its own show.

Those of you who have been reading along with me these past months know from this post and this post that I snagged 3 French style fauteuils for free early this fall. They have been an integral part of my design scheme for our dining room, which has been proceeding nicely.

dining room progress

Along with the chairs I also got a huge marquetry desk with gold mounts and an inlaid leather blotter. It may sound potentially ugly and it certainly is a bit over the top, but it arrived on my horizon as if it had been an answer to a prayer. As you may also know, I’ve been working on redesigning my elder daughter’s bedroom. Her Pinterest board is full of Moroccan shaped upholstered headboards in interesting fabrics, monogrammed hotel linens, simple night stands and gourd/vase-shaped porcelain lamps. Basically, it is a look that is super popular right now and in her case, Ashley Whittaker has been her go-to designer for inspiration.

Ashley Whittaker House Beautiful bedroom suzani

Circumstances make it such that like the Whittaker room below, we too bought the IKEA Malm 3 drawer dresser to use as night tables. There are not a lot of other choices to be had and its simplicity and large storage capacity is unbeatable. We discussed using mirrors and O’verlays to create our own IKEA hack and make the Malm look like the dressers above, but decided we were perfectly happy with it on its own.

ashley whittaker bedroom HB

The trouble for me in all this was that the room had become too full of bright white furniture and was starting to feel childlike or worse perhaps, have that blogger-on-a-budget look. It needed some weight, some gravitas, some wood to ground it. Had I been at home, I would have trotted off to some antique/consignment/thrift shop and picked up an interesting wood desk in an afternoon. That isn’t possible here so I thought a bit and realized that what might be perfect – and more importantly available – would be a French style desk. As I have mentioned before, decorating here has a tendency to run to the super ornate brocade/damask/gilded avenues, but a piece or two plucked out and used in a tongue-in-cheek manner in a different environment could be perfect. And certainly a little OTT can be just right for a teen’s room. I mentioned it to my family that night at dinner and my daughter thought it sounded like a fun idea.

The very next day I was visiting a friend over at her large compound (think gated community if that word is just too weird) and as we were taking a walk we passed a villa (glamorous sounding but basically a house) that is used for compound storage. In the open car park stood a bunch of washers and dryers, metal bed frames and other detritus, but more importantly a huge desk in full Continental style with ormolu mounts and dark blue leather top. It was so exactly what I had been thinking of that I couldn’t believe it. Even the leather blotter was blue! It was covered in sand and dust and had just been sitting out there getting ruined. Tucked in a corner under cover were the three chairs, so dusty you couldn’t see the color of their upholstery. While not antiques in any way, they were good pieces of furniture with definite potential and needed saving. My regret from that day is that I didn’t think to snap a photo so you could see how trashed they were getting.

My friend proceeded to call her compound manager and over the next few weeks they determined that nobody needed or wanted the furniture and they gave it to me gratis. Because they were free I was particularly satisfied with them – one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth after all! I spent a good day cleaning them and I worked on the desk with some lemon oil and slowly it emerged. Since the room is in no way finished, I don’t have real photos, but here is a quick snapshot. We are planning to turn the tall vase into a desk lamp and be sure to note my small IKEA hack – I painted the legs of the Snille desk chair with old gold spray paint to make the modern chair integrate with the antique looking desk. The room was really beginning to come together.

photo

So the closing of this post should have been some kind of musing on fate and luck. Instead, I got a call yesterday from the aforementioned compound manager. It turns out that the furniture didn’t actually belong to the company that leases all the properties and is actually the personal property of the Sheikh who owns the compound. And guess what? He wanted it back! So as of today, I no longer have accent dining chairs and my daughter’s books and papers are on the floor of her room. I feel a bit paralyzed about going forward. Do I look for just the same things? Do I try something different? I love the serendipity of the find and now that has been snatched away. Your thoughts?

Related Posts:
(Fabric) Bordering on Obsession
Tussle at the Antique Jamboree…or the Never Wait Rule

Image Credits: Ashley Whittaker photos via Ashley Whittaker and House Beautiful

Trifore…Magical Triple Windows in Lebanese Houses

“In English the trifore is a triple arch, and is also known by the name “Lebanese window” and is identified with the typology of the central hall house that was common in Lebanon…This is a decorated wooden window characterized by three arched openings supported on the sides by engaged stone columns in the wall and in the center by separate columns that are mainly made of marble. The column consists of three components: a base, column and capital. The carpentry details include a wooden lattice that adorns the upper part of the window and a folding double-wing window element on its bottom part. The trifore also occurs next to the balcony – in these instances the middle unit in the trifore is constructed as a door. “



One of the joys of change is how it can alter our vision. Moving to Qatar has turned my eye towards parts of the world I didn’t think about much while I was living in Japan. I have written effusively about designer May Daouk’s Beirut home featured in Architectural Digest before, in particular the amazing arched windows in her great room. What I hadn’t quite realized was that this layout and design is not unusual and is in fact a classic style Lebanese house, with roots that stretch back through the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians and others. I’m not going to show the other photos of May’s house again, so be sure to visit them in the post or the magazine. They are truly that good!

may-daouk-beirut-home-AD

In addition to May Daouk’s home in Lebanon, I have stumbled across a few others and been amazed at the architectural consistency among them. Trifore, triple arch windows, or mandalouns as I have also seen them called, are the integral centerpiece to a great room with doors opening directly and symmetrically off to smaller chambers. Having just toured Pompeii and ancient Rome a few weeks ago, I can clearly see the links between the open courtyard centered homes there with these. The windowed axis provides cross ventilation in the summer months and copious sun for the colder months as well as views across the water or over the valleys, as traditionally they face outwards and often have a balcony. The triple window is almost always on the second floor, as we would call it, much like the Italian piano nobile that is so common to Venice. It seems very practical that the principal rooms for entertaining and living should be upstairs where the light and views are better.

trifore lebanese window via because i love sand

The vacation home of Kamal Mouzawak and Rabih Kayrouz, a Lebanese fashion designer, that was featured in The New York Times a few years ago has the same exact setup – a grand salon with a trifore window and doors opening off to the other rooms. This home was stripped to its bones and fully renovated after having been shuttered since Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. It was very sensitively done – about 70% of the original stone floors were taken up, restored and replaced. The decorating here is the antithesis of that in May Daouk’s home, being as spare as hers was richly layered. But both versions work. My eye can’t help but be drawn to the oval tulip table in front of the windows, proof again that that table works anywhere. I am excited as mine is on the boat from Malaysia as I type.

lebanese salon NYTimes

From this angle you can see more clearly how the other rooms open directly off the great room. Inset transom panels were painted in the early 20th century by Lebanese painter Youssef Howayek.

Lebanese house central hall

It isn’t only in the central salon that the light is outstanding. This view of the dining room with the kitchen beyond shows the high ceilings and tall windows throughout the house. I love the colors and simplicity of this space.

dining room lebanon house NYT

Shoe storage for them seems to be just as much of an issue as it is in Japan. This antique console has been well repurposed as a shoe cupboard.

shoe cupboard antique console

On yet a third design note is fashion designer Elie Saab’s Beirut home, designed by Chakib Richani, also featured in Architectural Digest.  Saab’s house is unusual in that the central hall and main living rooms are on the ground floor, not the second floor, with an enclosed garden. The doors in the central arch open directly to the lushly planted space, rather than the more expected balcony.

Elie Saab AD trifore Lebanon house

The simple palette and minimalist upholstery is designed to set off the carefully placed antiques. The space is also broken into three sections with internal trifore, again similar to May Daouk’s home.

Elie Saab Chakib Richani Architects AD Lebanon LR

The arch motif and gothic tracery continues into the master bedroom.

Elie Saab Bedroom Beirut AD

I can’t resist this photo and its detail of what looks to be an amazing inlaid chest. More on inlay coming soon!

Elie Saab Beirut Lebanon inlay dresser

Are you as entranced by this extraordinary architecture as I am? I know it influenced me tremendously in the choosing of our Doha house, but I can feel it affecting me well beyond that choice.

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Image credits: 1. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Simon Watson, 2. via Because I Love Sand, 3-6. The New York Times, photo credit: Bryan Denton, 7-10. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Marina Faust.

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