BRAND-NEW luxury apartments in Beirut tend to look predictably interchangeable. The typical formula: white walls, trophy art by trophy artists, and contemporary furniture from high-end brands that boasts little in the way of originality. That may satisfy some but not Lebanese-born decorator Claudia Skaff, who’s based in London. “I prefer interiors to have more character,” she said. When she and her Dutch financier husband acquired this new 5,800-square-foot second home in the Gemmayzeh district to the east of the city, she was intent on one thing—that it be endowed with personality and soul.
Collaborating with Michèle Chaya of local architecture firm Mariagroup, she injected a cozy conviviality into the blank-slate space by relying on patinated vintage furnishings, appreciably handmade light fixtures and wallpaper, and natural materials that warmed up the wan, by-the-numbers rooms.
“It’s a juxtaposition of things that don’t necessarily go together,” noted Ms. Chaya. Indeed, not everyone would pair a raw concrete wall with velvet tufted upholstery. Or decide that a reflective bubblegum-pink steel wardrobe should share quarters with a 19th-century Chinese altar table.
To give the space a grounding sense of place, meanwhile, the duo turned to traditional Lebanese touches, such as the handmade encaustic floor tiles. “I didn’t want the impression I was in Hong Kong or Paris,” insisted Ms. Skaff. Here, five of the rooms that convey homeyness in adventurous ways.
A Vertibule That Welcomes Contrasts
In a newly constructed building just outside Beirut, homeowner Claudia Skaff, a decorator by trade, enlisted Michèle Chaya, of local architecture firm Mariagroup, to give a standard luxury apartment individuality. The entry hall encapsulates the decorative principles by which they achieved this—originality and daring. Flanking the door (on the right wall) are a chillingly modern free-standing closet of pink steel and a weathered antique Chinese altar table topped with a 1975 spherical sculpture by French ceramist Suzanne Tison—one of the home’s many feisty dialogues between old and new. Handmade wicker pendants from Thailand offer an earthy contrast to Mariagroup’s cool steel bookcase.
Heritage Turned On Its Head
Time-honored materials add a note of tradition in the kitchen. Ms. Skaff chose classic Carrara marble but fashioned it into sleek, straight forms. Ditto the cabinetry of solid oak, another well-established kitchen material, set in unconventional strips—no raised-panel doors here. Handmade cement tiles from Beirut firm BlattChaya dazzle with motifs borrowed from historical documents. “They bring an authentic touch and immediately animate the floor,” noted Ms. Skaff. Still, their palette of blue, greys and white is an update of the red-orange-ocher tile combos found in old Lebanese houses. Contemporary black accents—Revolving Stools by Hay, a 1960s pendant lamp and the base of the table by Yew—also thoughtfully undermine classicism.
“I wanted to give the terrace more of a living-room atmosphere,” said Ms. Skaff. Continuing the tile floor from the kitchen to the balcony links the inside and outside, while curvy forms help create a relaxed mood: The roundness of the stone-topped stainless-steel table echoes the circular motifs of the floor tiles; the contours of the iconic Eames fiberglass armchairs invite guests to kick back and linger.
The pair of design pros gave the cookie-cutter apartment energy and originality, mostly through unpredictable combinations. In the sitting room, the raw concrete wall offers an interesting backdrop for an adroit mix of the rough and refined. With its slightly prickly fibers, the abaca rug from Belgian firm Limited Edition adds another note of coarseness, while the custom velvet sofa and bronze coffee table ooze sensual luxury. Counteracting newness: midcentury finds, both well-known pieces (the Pierre Jeanneret armchairs and Vladimir Kagan sofa) and the more obscure daybed from Holland’s Dick Cordemeijer.
Nothing gives a naked wall personality like wallpaper, and London maker Marthe Armitage’s Angelica pattern provides a double dose of charm because it’s hand printed for “a very artistic look,” said Ms. Skaff. The busy botanical motif is so strong that it more than keeps up with the potentially focus-stealing Jimken pendant from German industrial designer Ingo Maurer, which whimsically resembles a droopy cloth. Happily playing supporting roles: the clean-lined Roll & Hill Modo lamp and conspicuously unpatterned headboard, curtains and subtle Society Limonta bed linens.