Ahen the first of two explosions shook Beirut’s port area at 6:08 p.m. on August 4, 2020, Georges Mohaseb was still sitting at the desk of his studio, which is located on one of the upper floors of an old workshop in Beirut’s industrial area. The product and interior designer stepped through the room-deep sliding door onto the terrace, followed by an employee. Luckily, although about seven kilometers as the crow flies separate Mohaseb’s “Studio Manda” from the port area, the mushroom-shaped pressure wave created by the second explosion shattered panes of glass up to ten kilometers away. The windows of Mohaseb’s office also burst, and a cupboard under which his employee was sitting shortly before collapsed.
Around 300,000 residents of Beirut were made homeless that day, 6,000 people were injured, and at least 216 lost their lives due to the catastrophic chain reaction: When a fire broke out during welding work in a storage room in the port and spread to fireworks stored there, the fireworks brought large amounts of ammonium nitrate to light Explode. The highly explosive chemical was stored in the port of Beirut without any protective measures. Experts had warned the Lebanese government of the dangers months in advance.
For eleven years, Georges Mohasseb has been renting the premises of a former film factory in Jabal Lubnan, not far from the Beirut River, where he designs and produces large wooden dining tables, bronze stools with legs reminiscent of Meret Oppenheim’s design, sculptural coffee tables in colored resin . Mohaseb’s creative language is playful but elegant, the word luxurious alone would not do his designs justice, because he not only relies on traditional materials such as bronze, marble or glass, but also constantly experiments with new materials, such as the organically shaped console “erosion”. consists of gypsum and hemp fiber.
The designer designs almost exclusively to measure, in other words what is known in English bespoke pieces is called and moves on the border between collectible design and art. Because Mohaseb appreciates being close to the artisans who, like him, have their bronze and epoxy resin foundries in the industrial district, he has never opened a showroom and gallery in popular and lively areas such as Saifi or Mar Mikhael, which are almost completely destroyed by their proximity to the port became.
“A strong feeling of not leaving my country”
Despite all the crises plaguing the country, Lebanon is known for its thriving design scene – one that values craftsmanship and shines on the international stage. Many of their protagonists, such as the “David /Nicolas” studio or Khaled el Mayss, who exhibits furniture at Nilufar in Milan and designed a chair for Dior, have long since had branches or at least gallery representation in other countries. Designer Nada Debs has rebuilt her showroom in downtown Beirut, but has also opened a location in Dubai. Aside from broken glass and broken objects, the destruction of Georges Mohaseb’s studio was manageable. Perhaps it was also because of the feeling of having gotten away with a black eye that “that day I had a strong feeling of perseverance not to leave my country.”
Mohasseb is now in his early 50s, he studied architecture in Washington, DC and Paris, lived in the French capital for a long time and founded his “Studio Manda” there in 2008. He has a Schengen visa, so he could have left Beirut at least for a while, or he could have started somewhere else. But he stayed. Repaired the window panes and bought a generator to always have electricity in the office (in Beirut to this day only those who have their own generator have electricity all day). “Ultimately, this is where my roots are. Beirut is my home.”
Its clientele is mostly based in America; the appreciation for interior design and the willingness to invest in contemporary design are greater here than in Europe, for example, but he also exhibits in London, St. Moritz and Monaco and sells via the 1stDibs platform. “The Lebanese market was also doing very well until the crisis hit Lebanon in 2019. But my Lebanese clientele is slowly approaching 30 percent again – collectibles are very much appreciated here.”