Beirut-based design duo, David/Nicolas are making the things that matter.
Words by Meryl Fontek
“Anything can happen in an elevator,” David Raffoul declares, a hint of mischief in his voice. “You can meet the love of your life, a person you hate can walk in, or it could be the only moment you have alone during the day.”
David and his business partner/longtime friend Nicolas Moussallem are interior architects but in their own words, “just designers.” Propelled by the potential emotional resonance of a given project, the Lebanese duo add life to the functional.
During Mitsulift, a project in 2019, the two were tasked with reimagining elevators for Mitsubishi in Beirut. They wanted to manifest the nostalgia associated with being in limbo, of experiencing the area between two places and inhabiting the space between before and after. We think about experiences in relation to what happened while we were on our way to the next thing on our to do list. Elevators are a romantic’s answer to elevate the mundane. Raffoul describes the undertaking as honing in on “an instance of disconnecting while briefly being immersed and transported in a capsule specifically built for your senses.”
When did you realize that design would be your career path?
David Raffoul: As a child, I was very drawn to design. Nicolas was interested in problem solving. He would obsess over finding a holder for a broom. I was born in Paris and my family moved to Lebanon in 1996 when I was seven. During that time, Lebanon was almost completely destroyed by war and I saw ugliness all around me. I remember wishing I could make things beautiful. It sounds naive and stupid. But, I really have an appreciation for beautiful things. I daydream about making things perfect to fit within their respective environments. I believe anything can be beautiful in the correct context.
How do you complement each other?
DR: We complement each other. I’ll work on the general shape of something and then Nicolas will focus on the details. He is very structured and has both feet firmly on the ground. I’m much more interested in the ideas.
How did growing up in Lebanon influence your aesthetic?
DR: I’m heavily inspired by the Levant. Everything from this region does it for me. If you look back at ancient Egypt and Assyria, that’s the basis of the aesthetic of the culture here. In 2020, we can keep that aesthetic alive with the right composition. Our 2018 Supernova project and Constellation series displayed at Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery in New York City and Paris is an attempt to recreate these lost civilizations.
The death of a star results in either a black hole or a supernova. Here, death is only a transformation. It outshines everything else and evolves into a new life. It reminds us of Beirut, this city that was reborn over and over again, where beauty resides in the small things or even in the memories of them.
The Constellation series finds inspiration in the new life of a star and the explosion phenomenon. These pieces revolve around the relativity of perception and how such a phenomenon can be interpreted into palpable matter. Low tables rendered in travertine stone feature clean lines, and undisturbed surfaces represent the new beginnings of a celestial body.
How did you and Nicolas begin working together?
DR: Nicolas and I met in an architecture class at The Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA) in 2006. I had been studying Architecture and Interior Design and Nicolas was studying Physics. At the time we were both trying to understand our identity. There isn’t really a Lebanese identity, so we had to do a lot of research. In 2014, we had our first solo show in Lebanon. Loulou/Hoda at Art Factum Gallery in Beirut. The show was a visual reconstruction of the Lebanese grandmother’s furniture.
Grandparents’ houses are like museums. Can you share more about this?
DR: Sure. Nothing ever matched, yet everything was always perfectly in place. There was, of course, that one antique object or piece of furniture famous for having been handed down from one generation to the next and which had miraculously survived wars. A Lebanese grandmother’s house will almost entirely consist of Western and/or Oriental furnishings; nothing will ever be 100% Lebanese. But, through combinations with other traditional items, the result was always in line with Lebanese identity. When you think about it, Lebanese identity is a fusion of French, Ottoman, Roman, and Hellenistic cultures, with a dab of ancient Phoenician pride. What once was, however, is now lost, and a grandmother’s house is now presented as a symbol of a long forgotten way of living. Modern Lebanese urban homes lack the sense of tradition and identity. They are instead strewn with cold generic designs that go hand in hand with a long lost culture.
Loulou/Hoda started as a collection of certain items we chose from our grandmothers’ houses. Things that made an impact on us growing up, were reconstructed in order to fit a contemporary lifestyle. But they still harness the intimate feel of a traditional urban Lebanese household – a local house made from global elements.
What are you working on now?
DR: We were approached by A&S Chronora, the exclusive Lebanese authorized retailer for Rolex, who wanted to create the first certified contemporary and vintage watch store in the region. Lebanon is home to a great number of watch collectors so the need to create an experiential space makes perfect sense as it would target both the connoisseurs and the curious.
What designers influence your style?
DR: We love the French designers of the 20th century. Like the architect, Pierre Chareau. We also appreciate industrial designer Marc Newson’s very futuristic aesthetic. And then there’s of course Daft Punk.
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