x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

East meets West in the furniture of the Lebanese designer Lola Beuyukian

Pallavi Dean meets the Lebanese designer Lola Beuyukian, whose portfolio includes everything from interiors in the Alps to furniture crafted in Beirut.

Lola B creates limited edition or one-off furniture pieces such as the Agadir stools. All items are handcrafted by carpenters in Lebanon. Courtesy Lola B Design
Lola B creates limited edition or one-off furniture pieces such as the Agadir stools. All items are handcrafted by carpenters in Lebanon. Courtesy Lola B Design

Few people are better qualified than Lola Beuyukian to grasp the subtle difference between designing in the Middle East and designing in the West. The 53-year-old has spent her life shuttling between Arabia and Europe, and her interior-design projects range from a luxury home in London and a ski chalet in the French Alps to high-end apartments in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

“The difference is collectivist versus individuals,” she explains. “In the Middle East, the family plays a role. The opinion of each member matters. The families are bigger. People live in extended family systems, which means decisions are often made with the approval of the elders.” By contrast, in London or France either one person or a couple normally call the shots.

Both present challenges – Beuyukian recalls a flagship project in the UK where the two partners had very different ideas. “The duplex apartment in Chelsea was a challenging one. The couple had different tastes and I had to somehow find a balance to come to a very harmonious outcome.” But, by and large, it’s the Middle Eastern families that demand diplomatic as well as design skills.

Building a bridge between East and West is in the DNA of her company, Lola B Design, whether it’s creating a line of furniture or transforming an upmarket residence. Beuyukian was born in Beirut into an Armenian family who moved to Kuwait and then Paris in her youth.

She graduated in business administration from the American University in Paris before moving to London, where she lived for 14 years, studying for a second degree in interior design at KLC School of Design. Having returned to her Lebanese roots and taken up residence in Beirut, her company also has offices in London and the UAE. Beuyukian’s passport? Belgian.

The subtle, cultural contrasts fascinate her. “The climate plays a role,” she explains, particularly when it comes to colour schemes. “The sun being present in the Middle East, we use stronger colours, whereas in Europe, we use a lot of white and beige and earthy colours.”

Size also matters. “Often in Europe, the apartments are smaller; which makes it much easier to decorate and come up with a harmonious design. Whereas in the Middle East, people tend to live in a bigger space due to the size of the family. To come up with a harmonious design, it takes longer.”

Despite these differences, Beuyukian’s design philosophy remains constant. “I believe that each project is an expression of the owner’s unique personality.”

But understanding that and translating it into a practical, workable design takes time. “Listening to my clients’ values and artistic preferences is essential to creating personalised interior designs and furniture that are comfortable for my clients’ home lifestyle or business environment,” she says.

Beuyukian adds that this calls on research and analytical skills as much as design ability, which brings her business degree into play. It also comes in handy when planning the global expansion of Lola B. Her focus this year is exploring new horizons, with plans to establish a presence in Dubai in the very near future, while in five years, she plans to be “worldwide”. But, at heart, Beuyukian is a designer first and a businesswoman second.

“I did not choose to be a designer – I was born with it,” she insists. “Since childhood, I wanted to be an interior designer, as my father was one. He was a furniture manufacturer and carpenter, so I grew up in that environment.”

This goes a long way to explaining why furniture is so central to Lola B Design. Many interior designers trot out a line of sofas and tables after they’ve become famous, lending their name to mass-produced stock in the same way that an actress endorses a perfume. Not Beuyukian.

Each furniture design is limited to five pieces and handcrafted by carpenters in Lebanon. While the colours are simple, the fabrics and materials are diverse and eclectic, combining glass and leather or metal and Plexiglas. It’s painstaking work, but the effect is stunning. Her pieces can currently be ordered online at ­ www.lolab-design.com.

When hiring young talent, Lola looks for the kind of drive and passion that she and her father share. “I look for commitment, flexibility and the ability to communicate openly.”

Aside from her father, Lola credits the British designer Kelly Hoppen as her inspiration. When asked which designers she would most like to have dinner with – and where – she picks Hoppen and the French designer Didier Gomez, whose credits include the global headquarters for Yves St Laurent and a private residence for the actor Harrison Ford. The venue? The Four Seasons Hotel in Brussels: “It’s absolutely ­breathtaking.”

Her dream project, she says, would be to design a range of furniture for a property such as the Four Seasons. “Not only to design the bed but everything else that comes with it: chairs, sofas, secretaries, cabinets. It’s like a family of furniture.”

Despite her success, Beuyukian remains grounded. She describes her home as far from glamorous, living what she calls a “down-to-earth” life with her family. For her, success is not measured in money or fame, but in getting things done – making a plan and achieving it.

“I don’t see myself as unique. I see myself as part of the big picture. But I see myself as successful, because I am following my dream and making it happen. I am where I want to be. That is success.”

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