The balmy rays of warm Beirut sun flood Nancy Gabriel’s penthouse apartment in Achrafieh, Beirut. High up on the 27th floor with riveting views over Beirut, a massive floor-to-ceiling artwork by Peter Zimmerman takes up a full wall and illuminates the space through its fantastic large swirls of colour creating an experience akin to being in a sixties disco. Elsewhere in this incredible abode designed by Gregory Gatserelia are classic modern design objects by names such as Ettore Sottass, Gabriella Crespi and Gio Ponti—all of which ignite this heavenly apartment with their contemporary charm. Combine these with artworks by some of Lebanon’s most beloved artists such as Ayman Baalbaki, the late Saloua Raouda Choucair and Abdulrahman Katanani and you have the dream abode for any art and design lover.
Nancy’s gracious and elegant air lights up the scene. Here she resides with her husband Salim and her three children. But it’s through frequent enriching trips around the world with her partner Guillaume Excoffier – the other end of G&G – that fills her with her artistic zest for life. Guillaume’s playful attitude complements Nancy’s focused drive striking the perfect balance for a team on the mission to create beautiful spaces through vintage furniture.
It all started in 2011 when Nancy met Guillaume. She had been living in Paris and had been working for 16 years as an executive producer. “When I moved back to Lebanon I stopped producing,” says Nancy. “I started looking into the art and design world which were two things that I always used to love – but which I hadn’t had enough time to spend on it.” When she had the time Nancy would travel to art and design fairs all over the world. She began reading books on the subject as well as magazines and that’s where she discovered Guillaume. “In all of the big magazines I used to read articles on Guillaume and I was very attracted by the text and how they were describing Guillaume,” she says. “He was a treasure hunter and very eclectic. I always had my own style and my own taste and I always liked eclectic looks. I always liked the mix of going to places and hunting, searching for pieces.” During this time Guillaume had opened a design store in St. Germain in Paris dedicated to a mix of contemporary and vintage design objects with some artwork on the walls. He studied business in Paris and his love for design objects stems from an innate interest broadened by travels throughout the world to Brazil, Italy, and the US as well as countless other places. “It was in the US that I became impressed with a way of mixing contemporary and vintage design objects,” says Guillaume who used to work for Galerie Perrotin, a contemporary art gallery in Paris as well as Lagardère press group, also in Paris.
Nancy was on a trip to Paris and decided to go to Guillaume’s gallery and introduce herself. “He was very cold!” she exclaims. Guillaume laughs in the background and in his warm way, laughs, and says, “I am French, you know.” It’s hard to imagine him ever being cold. “But I didn’t care that he was cold because I liked what he had,” states Nancy. “For a year I was his client. Every time I went to Paris I would go to his store and buy things for myself and my home.” Soon after, when Nancy bought a place in Paris and was in the midst of deciding on the interior design, she decided to check on Guillaume again. “I asked him if he would help me decorate my house,” she recalls. “He said ‘why not?’ and he came to my apartment.” At Nancy’s place for several hours the two bounced ideas off of each other. There was a connection. It was a dream opportunity for both of them to start something they were so passionate about. Suddenly, Nancy decided to stop everything she was doing and just work with Guillaume to put together “a spirit” through the design of her new Parisian place.
The next adventure came around three weeks later when Nancy proposed to Guillaume the possibility of doing a pop-up in Beirut called “Guillaume in Beirut.” He immediately agreed and they did their first exhibition together at The Gathering in a little 80 square meter place on the top of the restaurant in 2013. The realisation time took six months and the show was on for one month – just enough time to create a buzz in the art and design community. The preparation involved travelling around the world and selecting design pieces that would work well together. A huge success, they completely sold out.
“We own all of the pieces,” emphasises Nancy. “We buy everything. We have no deals with anyone. We believe in the pieces and we invest in them.” She and Guillaume exhibit to sell – just like an art gallery. The pieces that don’t sell go back into their stock for a future exhibition or for a client’s preference. But it takes a particular taste and culture to appreciate the design objects they exhibit. “It’s not just about the budget to buy the vintage pieces but the culture to know which pieces to buy,” adds Nancy. “We buy pieces that are very diverse,” adds Guillaume. “Eclecticism is our style.” From the 17th century to the contemporary, it’s the beauty of such variations that give depth to what G&G does.
Gabriella Crespi “Cubo Magico” coffee tables, Italy, circa 1975; Vintage sofa, circa 1970s; Tommaso Barbi onyx side table; Maison Jansen “Waterlily” floor lamp
But perhaps the bigger question is how do they know what to buy and invest in? “The way we buy is through an understanding of a time and place in which the piece was created,” says Nancy. “The other end of the spectrum is following our intuition. We know why the piece is beautiful and we feel it and so we buy it. You just have a feeling. I think this feeling comes from the more you are out there and the more you develop your taste. You are constantly evolving.” Guillaume laughs again as he states that they don’t necessarily always have the same tastes but they do agree on one thing: what is ugly. “But sometimes ugly, when it is put in a certain situation, is not ugly,” says Nancy. “When put in the right setting and right mood it can tell a story. What bothers me more than ugly is what is ordinary. Ordinary for me is something I don’t like.” It really comes down to proportions; the proportions as both underline, must be “right.”
While there were moments of question along way, ultimately Nancy and Guillaume work well together. “From the start we had a very good feeling,” says Guillaume. “I was also excited about coming to Beirut.” Both smile and Nancy remembers a time when Guillaume wondered if he could work with her. “When I am in the middle of a production I am very focused and so I am very tough,” says Nancy. Her attitude was the opposite from Guillaume’s relaxed and smiley nature. But perhaps it’s this juxtaposition of approaches and styles with a common focus on what is an object’s beauty. That’s what has united them in their vision.
After their first showing in Beirut, Nancy and Guillaume, who became Gabriel et Guillaume aka G&G, because of the name’s fun and accessible vibe, took a year to put together a beautiful collection. In 2014 they showed in a 300-square-meter place in Saifi Village in Downtown Beirut. “We had beautiful pieces by Gabriella Crespi, Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé, Felix AGOSTINI, Line Vautrin, Angelo Lelii and the list goes all,” recalls Nancy. “All collectibles and 90 percent of the pieces sold.” The following year, in Fall 2015, they showed with Christofle in a stunning 200-square-meter 18th century salon in Paris on Rue Royale. The brand had followed Nancy and Guillaume and invited them for a month to do the exhibition during FIAC art fair. An abundance of international press flocked to the show to cover their work. “We had over 70 articles in 26 countries,” exclaims Nancy. It was the exhibition that gave G&G their international standing.
While the duo consistently show their eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary furniture to audiences in particular markets, their exhibitions are never catered to a particular region. “We have always considered ourselves to be an international gallery because we source furniture from all around the world – from Mexico to the US to Brazil and Europe,” says Nancy. “And the way we gather the pieces has nothing to do with the style of one country or another; there are no taboos here,” says Guillaume. “We always want to bring a fresh look and a fresh taste to the market.” Whether showing in Beirut, Paris or elsewhere – the mix is always of rare collectibles and beautiful pieces presented together with an eclectic spirit.
“I am obsessed with design – I need it for my sanity,” exclaims Nancy as her daughter walks in. It’s an incredible apartment for children - a wonderful opportunity to grow up in such a fantasyland of art and vintage furniture. “We love beauty, we love art and we love exceptional things,” adds Guillaume. “And we love retail and communication as well.” And that’s the beauty of G&G’s pop up gallery– an element that they always wish to keep – this sense of building a design community and bringing people together through beautiful objects. Here’s to more connections and inspirations that unite the past with the future through furniture.
For more information visit gabrieletguillaume.com