Five minutes with Nada Debs – and the craftsmen

BEIRUT: Local craftsmen took center stage Monday night at the Saifi Village storefront for Nada Debs’ home accessories line as part of the ongoing Beirut Design Week.

Like doctors in surgery, seven men in clean white coats chiseled, lacquered, painted and finished pieces of wood and mother of pearl into the same coasters and tea trays lining the shelves in Debs’ shop.

Debs is one of the country’s leading furniture and home accessory designers. Her work reflects her roots in Lebanon and unusual upbringing in Japan. In most of her work, one can see a fusion of the clean, minimalistic aesthetic of East Asia with the handicrafts of local artisans.

Debs is among a growing cohort of local designers dedicated to preserving and enriching the region’s traditional crafts. As a kitschy tribute to her blending of new and old – and to the apparent need for tweet-ability – Debs named her living design exhibit #craftcool.

Q: How was this passion for local crafts instilled?

A: Originally, I met [the craftsmen] in Syria. I made like five trips to Syria because they are hidden, they are very discreet. It’s done behind the scenes. I brought a lot of them to Beirut, you know, we have a workshop. I was in touch with them; I just saw how proud they were of their work.

Q: Why introduce the public to the artisans?

A: Ten years down the line I wanted people to see the craftsmen and how they work and the many steps it takes to come up with something like that. It’s the energy that they put into their work that we see and feel.

When we love someone and we want to cook for them, we put a lot of love into that food and the food tastes good, so it’s a feeling. It’s the same with furniture. People don’t just see the end product, though maybe it’s a table, a chair, a box, but it’s more than the function of it, they feel the energy of the person who crafted it. I wanted people to see that and feel that.

Q: How do craftsmen influence your work?

A: I grew up in Japan so I have this way of seeing things in a very simple, minimalist [way] and this is what I attempted when I started: Let’s take this beautiful craft and put it into furniture that is quite contemporary.

Q: Tell us about your new mission statement #craftcool.

A: This is a term that I created a few months ago, which is craft is cool. I had a mission statement that was a bit long and tedious, which was “celebrating Eastern craftsmanship through contemporary design.” It was very serious and I said I need to lighten it up so that I can say that in a very simple way.

Q: To you what does cool mean?

A: A lot of people take my work very seriously and look at it as timeless, but I want the new generation to see it in a new light and see our craft in a new way, in a cool way. To me, cool means effortless. I wanted people to feel that lightness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 2.




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