x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Designer Vick Vanlian opens the doors to his Beirut apartment

Interiors expert Vick Vanlian tells Selina Denman why is his apartment is home, his passion and his life.

The main living area. Courtesy Vick Vanlian
The main living area. Courtesy Vick Vanlian

Vick Vanlian fell in love with his apartment the moment he walked through the door. "It has great positive energy, plenty of sunlight, a view of the sea on one side and preserved Roman ruins on the other. What more could one ask for?" he says.

The apartment is located in downtown Beirut, within walking distance of "great cuisine, trendy bars, amazing boutique hotels and all the shopping you could imagine". But for Vanlian, the highlight of his location is the fact that there's a Ladurée cake and pastry shop on his doorstep.

As an interior and product designer, Vanlian prides himself on pushing boundaries, and his own home is a testament to his eccentric design sensibilities. Bold use of colour creates a different mood in each room. The main living area is a relaxing white, interspersed with bright pops of colour, the guest bedroom is decked out in a soothing blue, while in the main bedroom, more purplish tones have been used to create a "dreamy" effect.

Throughout the space, Vanlian's own furniture designs mingle with pieces by his favourite designers. While the main furniture items have been kept relatively simple, quirky accessories, from the vintage Coca Cola wall hanging and Union Jack cushions to the dinosaur figurines and Greco-Roman sculptures, introduce hints of drama and humour. Every item makes a statement and demands closer attention.

"My home tells of presents I have received and items from my travels around the world. There are hints of what my favourite cities might have been, my favourite television shows, my childhood fantasies, my taste in art and books. My home tells the story of my life. It's a blueprint of me." His interior can be summed up in five simple words, he says: "That is so Vick Vanlian".

It is this highly personal approach that shapes Vanlian's work as a designer, whether he is creating products or places. "Everything I do reflects a part of my personality. My designs are a part of me - and trust me there is only one me! I never design just to design. I design to innovate and inspire. Making things different and pushing boundaries is what defines me as a designer."

Vanlian counts Philippe Starck and Charles and Ray Eames among his favourite designers - Starck because of the way he plays with scale, borrows from different periods and "never forgets to have fun", and the Eames because he believes they were so ahead of their time. Anyone who is familiar with Vanlian's work will also be unsurprised to hear that his favourite artists are Salvador Dali and Takashi Murakami, who "epitomises Japanese pop culture".

Although Vanlian has lived in his apartment for just over a year, it is constantly evolving, he says. "I change things around every once in a while, but that's just because of my need to change things. The furniture pieces mainly stay in the same place. However, I often find pieces of furniture I love and must have, and then design a whole room around them. The accessories in my home continuously move rooms and corners to create different moods, fur throws change to cashmere throws, dark chocolate colours fade into brighter lights and artwork dances around walls."

In fact, his only wish is that his apartment was larger and located on the sixth, rather than the first, floor so he had more space to play around with. "And it would also include a full spa and 24-hour staff," he laughs.

For Vanlian, home is "family, friends, dogs, retreat, surrender, safe, comfortable, reflection, meditation and love", and one of his greatest pleasures is creating homes for others. Born in Lebanon of Armenian descent, Vanlian grew up immersed in the design world. His father has spent 50 years working in the furniture industry and established the family-run Vanlian furniture business. "I went to my first design show in Milan at the age of seven and worked in my father's factory during my summer holidays," Vanlian recalls. "I don't think you can just become a designer. It's a passion. I consider it to be who I am. My family instilled this skill in me since I was born."

Vanlian, 35, was educated in Beirut, New York and Montreal, and went on to study interior architecture at the Lebanese American University. Soon after he graduated, he was commissioned to design an 800-square-metre palace in Jeddah for a member of the Saudi royal family. He has since worked on a range of residential and commercial projects, and even has a pop star on his client list. His success, one imagines, can be linked back to his tireless quest to create things that are both original and personal.

"As I am not a mind reader, my biggest challenge is getting clients to show their true selves and their personal tastes, and not try to follow trends or what their friends are doing," he says. "Now they come to me because they believe in what I do and that I will make to effort to give them a very original product and not a 'copy and paste'."

His first furniture collection was launched at this year's Milan Furniture Fair and is, rather fittingly, called V World. "It was just what a glimpse into what's inside my head looks like. There were lots of colours, different fabrics and materials, there was glamour, a bit of fashion, items from the past, revamped, and concepts of the future. I create items that I adore and hope that others will appreciate them."

The collection is now on show in the Vick Vanlian boutique, which opened in September in Beirut's Saifi Village. The 170-square-metre space is also home to the Black Room, a space dedicated to some of Vanlian's favourite artists and design brands, including Lladró and Rossana Orlandi. Like Vanlian's apartment, the showroom is a fun, utterly original and a larger-than-life reflection of his quirky tastes. It's "so Vick Vanlian".