BEIRUT: The CVs of Squad Design’s five resident designers read like a who’s who of product design companies and schools around the world.
But right now they’ve chosen to be in Lebanon to get back to their roots, hone their skills and, at the end of their stay, show the world that Lebanese designers have some stunning furniture to offer the world. Franco-Lebanese Elie Chaker dreamed of starting a design incubator here as he built his career, first outside the country as an architect in Paris and then running a furniture and interior accessories shop in Lebanon. The move to open the Wood Factory here in 1999 eventually spawned the designers’ incubator Squad Design two years ago.
The resident designers are getting ready to bring their best work to display at this month’s prestigious Design Days Dubai. At the expo, Chaker will watch as his proteges put their work on international display early in their careers – something he and many other artists of his generation didn’t have the chance to do.
“I felt like we had a lot of potential, but there weren’t the resources to execute,” Chaker says as he sits at a desk in Beirut’s industrial zone of Bashrieh – home to the Wood Factory and now Squad Design. Older designers – and still many young ones – often went abroad to pursue their careers or moved into another field if they stayed at home.
“Designers can’t afford to live as designers and pay for exhibitions. They have to play several roles – designer and advertiser – and many of them have [day] jobs they take while they’re trying to make it as a designer,” says Ray Ghafary, production manager at Squad Design. “They need to get exposed to the industry.”
Under the program, five Lebanese furniture designers – Carla Baz, Majd Bazerji, Jo Boo Abood, Joseph Kfoury and Danny Mallat – are spending the next year developing their work under Chaker’s tutelage.
Through the Wood Factory, the veteran designer is funding the production and exposure of the items, giving the designers on average a 15 percent commission of what they sell.
In addition to Dubai, they are starting with collectors in France, where Chaker is well connected. Back in Beirut, they are working on plans to have a showroom where items can be displayed to the public, as well as small pop-up exhibitions throughout the city. For now, the idea is that once the designers become more established through their skills and exposure they develop at Squad Design, they can stand on their own.
“We don’t want Squad to be known. We want the designers to be known,” says Danielle Salame, the incubator’s public relations representative, who notes that they were extremely selective in their recruitment of the five designers, making sure they had high potential.
One of the most stunning pieces that will be featured in Dubai is the floor lamp by Kfoury, who previously spent a year as an intern and master’s student designing cars for Lamborghini in Italy. His auto-design background comes through in the sleek curves and delicate balance of the wood and metal piece with touch lighting. After Dubai, he plans to develop a furniture collection based on the lamp.
“It was worth taking the chance of not having a steady paycheck,” Kfoury says as he flips through his various designs that led to the lamp. “I don’t have a budget to design on my own.”
He also appreciates the freedom he gets to do things his own way.
“They’re professional,” he says about Squad Design. “They’re not trying to fit any trend.”