A true pioneer of Lebanese design, Nada Debs has paved the way for a new generation of talent and has redefined Arab style at a time when homegrown design was a relatively new concept
Blending rich Middle-Eastern craft with Far-Eastern ideals of purity, Nada Debs is the creator of the East & East concept, designing and manufacturing her own furniture line. The concept represents the cool minimalism and restraint of Japan where she grew up, combined with the lavish warmth of Arab expression, where she returned to Lebanon after a forty-year absence. She studied interior architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States and started her own custom furniture company in the UK.
Returning to her roots in Lebanon, Debs found modern Middle Eastern furniture almost non-existent and discovered unwillingness among Lebanese galleries and shops to feature local furniture. This motivated her to combine her multi-cultural background to create a furniture line, that would appeal to a global market.
The company has a retail outlet based in Beirut, which displays furniture and home accessories. Her products are sold around the world in New York, Paris, Dubai, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Nada Debs shares with Lebanon Traveler the inspiration for her furniture, which couples nostalgic references to the past with modern techniques and materials
How does your Lebanese heritage inspire you?
It’s about craft – something that I feel is undervalued. Contemporary craft takes an old idea and gives it a new perspective. What we are trying to do is to give people pride in their traditional handicrafts because a product that is made by hand is very different than one made by a machine. When a craftsman works with love, the energy seeps into the product. That human element and positive energy is what Lebanon is all about. It is that unexplainable factor that draws you into this country: the multiculturalism, the old and new… We are a nation of contrasts and my work is a mirror of that.
What is your design process?
I continuously experiment with contrasting materials. I create samples using different techniques and live with them for a while. I mostly use geometric patterns because everyone can relate to them. It draws people together combining worlds and collective understanding. When clients purchase my products to give as gifts abroad, someone in Europe might say it is exotic, someone in the States might call it functional, and someone in Japan might refer to it as minimalist. These are all contrasting opinions brought together by a single design process.
How do you think the design scene in Lebanon is evolving?
When I first moved here from London due to personal circumstances, the design scene was very different from what it is today. Storeowners would tell me that they only like imported furniture or that they didn’t believe in local production. So, I decided to meet the challenge head on by being persistent, focusing on export and creating products that would best represent Lebanon abroad. The Lebanese are now very proud to buy local products and give them as gifts and I think in some way, I was able to pave the way for upcoming designers to do that.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to new designers?
Be inspired but don’t copy. Each designer has something unique inside them that should be expressed. Don’t give up when things take a turn for the worse because your persistence is what will grab people’s attention. Talk to people, find out what they’re looking for and then put your personal touch on it.