Designer Living One of Lebanon's most fêted contemporary architects, responsible for Beirut's super-club Sky Bar, talks us round his highly personal space.
Each item must have significance in Sari el Khazen's apartment
"I think of my living space as an accumulation of my experiences," explains the preternaturally charming Sari el Khazen, the architect responsible for Beirut's iconic Sky Bar and soon-to-open The One, which he promises will redefine the city's nightlife. Surprisingly for someone famed for 'wow' spaces - his first residential commission in the city featured a Miami-style rooftop pool and lounge - the Achrafieh apartment he shares with his partner is decidedly low-key. "It's the second place I've lived in Beirut. I saw what felt like hundreds of places before I found this - it's a pretty uninspiring building but the view is stunning and, because it's built on a cliff, it feels like the 15th floor when it's actually only the fifth."
He claims that the fact that the apartment is organised around this stunning vista is subconscious. "When you do any work for so long, those sorts of connections come naturally. You think of it as an impulse but it is actually a very fast thought process." It's certainly a very personal space. "Many pieces here have travelled with me from Los Angeles and New York, the cities where I studied. It's important that things mean something to me - some I picked up walking down the street in Paris, some have been given to me by friends. One of my favourite things is a painting on denim of Obama that I bought in the States from a street artist just before the election."
The walls are hung with favourite photographs - many, as el Khazen readily admits, of himself. Well, he is a remarkably good-looking chap, after all. "I guess it looks like kind of an ego trip, but they are all by friends - Joe Kesserwani, Cara Gebran and my sister. Like my furniture, they are part of my history - me at each stage in my life. I keep meaning to hang some of my own work on the walls too." He takes out a sheaf of pen-and-ink drawings that prove he is as talented a draughtsman as he is an architect.
This jack-of-all-trades attitude is also apparent in the furniture he designed and had made for the apartment. He points to the large circular dining table "This is mine - as are the dogs' beds and the bookcases. Not everything in the apartment is expensive - probably my biggest purchase was my giant Anglepoise lamp, but it adds humour and it is a design classic." One of the most surprising things about the apartment is that it is rented. "People ask why I don't design my own place. A table, I don't think too much about and it takes a minute. But a whole house? I would change my mind every day - I'd have to make it out of Lego. I would rather it was imposed. If I feel good in that space, I'll take it."
Although he hasn't made any structural changes, he has replaced the stone flooring with hardwood, painted the walls and covered up the "horrible" cornicing. "Some might question the sense in spending money on a rented apartment but those same people are happy to spend $500 a night on a hotel room to feel comfortable. I don't see that there's any difference." Hotels are in fact something el Khazen knows well - he is currently working on a boutique B&B in Ghana, as well as a spa in the south of France and restaurants in Qatar, among other things.
"Having said that [about this apartment], they are building across the street and blocking the view so I'll probably move. Maybe I'll move to an old house in the mountains where I can have room for my dogs to run around." Originally a three-bedroom space, the apartment now has just one all-white master bedroom and two dressing rooms, one each for el Khazen and his partner. The living area, with wrap-around windows and a small balcony, has a TV corner stuffed with books and a large dining space with that huge marble table and four Philippe Starck King Costes chairs. "We rarely eat here, though - I mostly use it as a desk."
"Design is my business so I would hope the way I put things together ends up being pleasing to the eye. But that's not the purpose - it is for me. I don't necessarily want anyone else to think they could live here. It's the same when I design someone else's apartment - I don't design it for me to live there. "When I was younger I thought form should be defined by the function. Now, I feel architecture and interior design can be art - it's experience, it's emotional, it's so many more things than function."