Living

Cinema House Furniture, vintage revisited

BEIRUT: When graphic designers Maya Moumne and husband Hatem Imam moved into their Beirut apartment last year, they had trouble finding affordable, stylish furniture. Unwilling to shell out for expensive, traditional furniture that didn’t fit their lifestyles, they put their design knowledge to use, and began buying vintage furniture and refurbishing it.

That apartment in the Beirut neighborhood of Mala is now full of furniture, mostly from the 1960s and ’70s that they have for the past month been selling under the name Cinema House Furniture, after demand from friends encouraged them to turn their Do it Yourself-skills into an enterprise.

They stumbled upon the name on a sign outside a rundown building in Lebanon’s mountains, liking the way it sounded.

“It also has to do with the idea of seating and the fact that most cinema houses in Beirut were built in the ’50s and you don’t find any cinema houses any more, they’re part of malls or shopping centers, or whatever,” says Moumne. “So the name lends itself to that time.”

Every two weeks or so the couple scour souks across the country to find original, well-kept pieces that they can refurbish. The nearby Basta district is a particular treasure trove, says Moumne. They are also contacted by families seeking to sell off possessions after their relatives have died.

They then choose suitable fabrics, all sourced from Lebanon, to refurbish the furniture, outsourcing the labor to a local craftsman.

For Moumne, who has always been a fan of the mid-century aesthetic, it’s important that all the items suit each other, and though the apartment is full of items for sale, none looks out of place.

“Every piece of furniture we design, we design for us,” says Moumne. “If we don’t like it, we don’t sell it. Every piece of furniture we have here I would have in my house.”

The pieces fit into a growing appreciation for styles of the ’50s and ’60s, spawned by shows such as “Mad Men,” but Moumne says that their enterprise has a niche in the Lebanese market.

“There are quite a few places that sell mid-century pieces,” she says. “Some of them are ridiculously expensive. And others are not refurbished, so you have to take them to someone to have them made anyway.”

Although traditional Arab furniture remains popular, there is a market in Lebanon, Imam says, for reasonably-priced, out of the ordinary furniture.

“If you go to the regular furniture stores they have quite expensive stuff that is also very ugly,” he says. “So I think that people like us, our generation, and people around us who are design-conscious are interested in buying nice pieces of furniture that don’t cost an arm and a leg.”

If there is a new design-conscious generation then the couple are probably right in the middle of it. Both work as freelance graphic designers, with Imam teaching at the American University of Beirut, and the couple are involved with Lebanese comic Samandal.

Although they have recently expanded into designing their own fabrics, and say they would one day like to open a shop, these hectic working lives might have something to do with their decision to keep Cinema House Furniture a small enterprise, for now.

To contact Cinema House Furniture please call 03-054-498 or email maya@cinemahousefurniture.com.uk.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 22, 2012, on page 2.

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