“My home is a workshop for my life,” says furniture designer, Nada Debs. “From delving deeper into the prototypes of my new design pieces to exploring my love for the arts, it’s important to me that when people come over they say, ‘The space is so you’.” After visiting Nada’s 11th floor apartment in the Beirut neighbourhood of Verdun, Bazaar Interiors can confirm the space is most certainly a reflection of the talented designer. Tasteful and chic but with light-hearted, playful elements, it reflects Nada’s creative flair that’s seen her become one of the region’s most celebrated design stars. A global citizen, Nada was born in Lebanon, raised in Japan, studied in the United States and worked in London. On returning to Lebanon after 40 years away, she discovered designs for modern Middle Eastern furniture were almost non-existent. Determined to use her multi-cultural background to create furniture which would appeal to a global market, in 2000 she created her company, East and East. Today, it has retail outlets in Beirut and is represented internationally in New York, Dubai, Geneva, Cairo and Amman. Nada has broken a few glass ceilings during her stellar career. Whether it’s designers from the Middle East seeking a stronger global presence or as a woman looking to forge a successful career, the designer has paved the way so that others can have it a bit easier.
“Coming back to Lebanon gave me a deeper understanding of my culture,” she says. “I saw a face of the Arab world not many people abroad know about… I saw compassion, big hearts and open arms. I decided to make myself a channel for communicating that part of my culture to the world.” Nada’s crystal clear intent could not have been better timed. As turmoil in the Arab community takes its share of the headlines, it is through the creative voices such as hers that a fresh perspective on the orient – traditionally shrouded in intrigue – will also emerge. Marking Nada’s 10 remarkable years as a Middle East-based international brand, the designer has adopted a new mission statement, #CraftCool, which aims to raise awareness of hand-made, artisanal craft with a new generation of design lovers. We meet up with the designer at home and discover that love, respect and soul-searching are as integral to her design process as they are to her way of life.
What inspired you to choose this particular apartment?
My home was actually a hand-me-down from my family who had purchased with the thought they would return to Beirut from Japan. But they never did - they are still there! The apartment is in a residential area that’s now being bombarded by malls, but it gives me a sense of connection to my family.
What was the thought process behind designing the space and what aspects of your personality did you want your home to convey?
My home is constantly evolving with me so a neutral backdrop is the perfect choice as it can take on a mix of design eras, colours and art. The space itself is very rectangular and plain so to create warm, welcoming spaces I used vintage rugs to delineate the different areas.
You have an enviable collection of art and design. What are your most treasured pieces?
My favourite piece of art is a painting by an unknown artist and it sits right beside one by a South American artist I bought at Christie’s. Isn’t that the beauty of art? You are drawn to it just because you love it; lineage comes second
When did you decide to pursue a career in design?
I was drawn to arts and illustration since I was a little girl, but my parents wanted me to pursue a ‘stable’ career. After finishing my business studies, I decided it was time to do something for myself. I enrolled in the Interior Architecture programme at the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States. I was still battling between a course in arts and design as I stood in the enrolment queue. By the time it was my turn to present my papers, I saw design as a manifestation of art in the third dimension. One thing led to another and here I am.
What prompted your move into furniture design?
I spent a weekend in New York City and happened across a contemporary furniture showcase. It was the big turning point for me; to see such diversity being appreciated. After that, I spent my weekends creating furniture pieces; the carpenter workshops seemed alive with passion and energy. When I moved to London in 1992, the design firm I was working at expanded into furniture. It’s where I truly came into my own as a furniture designer. I loved dealing with craftsmen, blacksmiths and other trades. It was always a thrill to see the prototypes for the first time and we’d spend weeks perfecting them. Soon after, in 1995, I launched my own bespoke furniture label, NDK Design.
As a person of Lebanese origin, who has lived in Japan and studied in the States, how are these diverse influences reflected in your life and work?
In Japan, I learned that you can simplify a thing to its bare minimum to get to the essence of it. In the US, the Americans always went back to basics and their designs were functional, no-nonsense objects. They always looked to the future for modern influences and materials. In the UK, where I started my brand, I was influenced by how much the British revered the past and appreciated handicraft. Back in Lebanon, I noticed the influence of geometry and ornament. Here people appreciate Islamic geometry, which is influenced by mathematics.
Styling: Julia Maile. Photography: Rebecca Rees. Words: Pratyush Sarup. This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Harper's Bazaar Interiors