In a quiet street in Jumeirah, in a whitewashed house hidden from view, lives one of Arabia’s great design hopefuls. It is hard to imagine, as you walk up the petunia-lined path, that a man once described by Architectural Digest as ‘the prince of Persia’ lives inside the modest villa. Harder still to believe is that he lives here with his sister. And yet, once through the front door, the beautifully groomed, polite and perfectly poised Taher Asad-Bakhtiari is most definitely regal.
Like the home that he shares with Fatima, Taher is a carefully orchestrated combination of edginess, cool and slight aloofness. Standing in his leather biker boots, PVC trousers and Haider Ackermann jacket, the Iranian artist can seem intimidating. But his enfant terrible demeanour is undermined by his boyish charm, the visible friendship that he enjoys with his sister and the fact that he’s worked through the night to get the house cover-worthy.
When it came to living together, the siblings tried hard to ensure that their home felt like a representation of them both. Taher explains,
Much of the furniture was sourced by Taher and then approved by Fatima, who is a banker, from the console table in the dining room that Taher had copied to the giant table in the entrance hall that he found in Tehran. The art hanging on the walls is a mixture of Taher’s own work and pieces that both he and Fatima have collected over the years, all coming together seamlessly. In fact, the only source of conflict so far has been technological, as opposed to visual. “The only thing we can’t find common ground on is the television in the living room. Fatima wants it to be there but I hate televisions in general, especially ones in the living room, so we’re stuck on that one”.
Artful collaborators, Taher and Fatima. Ligne Rosset sofa, Dhs43,500, Aati
Besides being their home, the house acts as a canvas for Taher’s work, with kilim and gabbeh rugs that he has designed peppering the floors and walls. Entirely self-taught, Taher has caught the attention of the design industry with his bright and inventive creations and he is now firmly billed as ‘one to watch’. After graduating from hotel management school in Switzerland, Taher’s initial foray into design involved a little bit of architecture, a bit of design and some interiors work, but it was when he began experimenting with rug design in 2012 that his reputation really took off. Today he is represented by the prestigious Carwan Gallery, which also collaborates with Nada Debs and India Mahdavi, and he is a regular face at Design Days Dubai, Alaan Artspace in Riyadh, and Milan Art Fair.
Beyond being visually pleasing, Taher’s pieces are a revival of traditional nomadic weaving, and it is perhaps the story that they tell, of an Iran long-forgotten, that has made them so captivating.“Multi-functional tribal weaves were originally produced to decorate and to cover but with the demise of tribal life, that type of art has died. What has not however is the technique, and I believe the survival of this craft goes through reinvention” Part of its reinvention, under Taher, has been a greater level of experimentation, and he positively encourages the artisan weavers that he employs to play around with different materials and techniques. The result is a collection of rugs and screens where no two pieces are the same, in colourways that are completely unexpected.
The console in the dining room was made by Dubai Garden Centre. The mirrored candelabras were made by Taher and Fatima's mother, who is also an artist
Taher’s creativity is clearly inherited. His mother’s great aunt is the acclaimed geometric artist and ceramist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, while his father is of the noble and eminent Bakhtiari family, who count poets, actresses and politicians among their forefathers. While a privileged upbringing is generally considered unfashionable by struggling artists, Taher is proud of his ancestry and credits it for his ability to dip seamlessly between tradition and innovation. “Coming from a family such as mine has made me appreciate combining the traditional with the modern. I like a house that consists of new and old; I like a craft that is old but has a contemporary relevance.” His father’s family home – complete with beautiful rugs, old paintings and a dining table that could seat 24 people – has perhaps motivated Taher to pay homage to grandeur but it is his mother’s side of the family that has brought out the artist in him. “I think the mix and match, kitsch elements of my work come from my mom’s side. She was always at parties wearing tribal clothes mixed with army boots and tribal jewellery.”
Iran is at the heart of everything that Taher makes, from the kilim and gabbeh rugs to the oil barrels that he reimagines as stools and tables. Even the way that Taher dresses references his heritage and his home. Being close to Tehran is still important to him and its proximity to Dubai was one of the reasons that he chose to move to the emirate. He is hugely invested in his motherland and is delighted that it is currently enjoying a cultural reinvigoration. But for now he is content with being a UAE resident, reaping the benefits of the unrestricted art market that exists here and allows him to promote his work. “Dubai is a multi-cultural place and what HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has done with this city and where he is taking it is absolutely inspiring. I feel hugely honoured to be part of this journey.
Photography: Paul Robida. Styling: Tory Waller
This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Harper's Bazaar Interiors