Beirut is an Ugly City / Red Chair by Assem Salam

Beirut is an ugly city. Well, at least that is what architect Assem Salam says about the war-torn city he spent his life living and working in until his death in 2012. He spoke to the BBC about how there is a jungle of grey concrete that towers over his garden, hiding what used to be a spectacular sea view. It is not the loss of the sea view that he mourned. It is not the commonplace nostalgia for the old and familiar that drives his bitterness about an extraordinary pace of construction in his city.

One of Lebanon’s most prominent modernist architects, Assem was a vocal advocate for, and active in, trying to improve Beirut’s built environment — his aim was to inspire the development of a unique and new form of Beirut architecture. His impressive projects like the Ministry of Tourism and the Khashoggi Mosque still stand as proof that the public sector and civil society are more effective at changing the character of the city. As a member of the Council for Development and Reconstruction during the visionary years, he brought his knowledge of post-War European reconstruction to bear on the processes of large projects. Like many architects of his time, he also excelled in reflecting the spirit of the times through contemporary furniture design.

“Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman. Take London, for example” he says. “It has changed immensely since I first visited in 1942, but I can still take the same bus route as I did then, or walk the same streets. Beirut, on the other hand, has changed beyond recognition.”

[ref: BBC]

Up until the late 1950s, there were few architects in Lebanon and the region. Those who designed buildings were architectural engineers. Along with Raymond Ghosn, Assem Salam, who graduated from Cambridge in 1950, founded the School of Architecture [today, Department of Architecture and Design] in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB.

It was this generation of mainly European-trained architects that would help the region start differentiating between engineering and architecture. “In the early 1960s we started the School of Architecture at AUB and local architects began to emerge,” Salam had said.

Assem Salam was a major actor in creating a generation of architecture graduates between 1954 to 1979. Any graduate of that period will remember his remarkable sense of criticism during juries. In one glance, he would find the strengths and weaknesses of any project. His opinion was revered by other jurors as well as students.

[ref: American University of Beirut]

Assem Salam and the Red Chair

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

So, it may seem flippant to celebrate his life work by looking closely at a red leather chair that Salam designed. His continuous fight to make Beirut, and more widely, Lebanon a better-designed country through architecture and interior design down to details of furniture. What interests me is how few creatives can move between these disciplines so freely and excel at so many of them. It was almost revolutionary to see this modern design aesthetic in Beirut, yet Salam and his peers were striving to move forward and creating an identity for Lebanon to proudly boast.

This red chair may be a simple red leather chair designed in 1955, but it embodies ideas that Beirut has been generating for as long as other modernists have been, yet in Europe we so rarely recognise their work and are not familiar with the names that hold so much importance to change in the Middle East. It is discoveries like this that make me realise how there is so much we are not aware of when we are led by the design press to feed our knowledge. When there is no marketing machine behind a design, we can often find little information about these.

How we find the long-lost icons of design in our past will forever be a challenge, so I encourage my fellow bloggers to help discover and share this work in the hope that we can mark a point on time for all great designers and architects who have, in some way, shaped our built environment and our interior designs.

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Designer: Assem Salam
Manufacturer: Unknown
Year: 1955
Price: Unknown

Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin for Umbra Shift

It was just over seven years ago that I first saw the Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin, and have never completely forgotten about it. It was when I first began really reading blogs, and considering starting my own. I used to be an avid reader of Treehugger post some really interesting design articles.

Philippe’s chair was one of those posts. Although I was never sold on the idea that I would hang my clothes over the chair but I did like that it could hang in a hallway as an object until required for use.



I went looking for this chair to buy when I was in the market for folding chairs, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Fast forward to ICFF 2015 and the Hanger Chair is now available through Umbra Shift, an extension of Umbra that focuses on contemporary influences in the design community.

One thing that originally caught my eye about the chair was how the storing of the chair was built in to the design, and something which I would be keen to display at home. It was a clever idea that I hadn’t seen in a folding chair before and still haven’t.

When the Umbra press team dropped this release in to my inbox over the weekend I immediately spotted the chair, recognised Malouin’s name and thought, at last it is available. The only downside for me is the price…£230 puts it out of my reach and many others for a chair that could become a default for the new affordable folding chair. Even so, it’s a great chair and I’m sure it will do well.


Canadian-born Philippe Malouin holds a bachelor’s degree in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven. He set up his London studio in 2009 and is also the director of Post-Office, the architectural and interiors design practice. His diverse portfolio includes tables, rugs, chairs, lights, art objects and installations. Philippe has won the W Hotels ‘Designer of the Future’ Award and Wallpaper Magazine’s ‘Best Use of Material’ Award.


Designer: Philippe Malouin
Manufacturer: Umbra Shift
Year: 2015
Price: £230.00

David Irwin’s TOR chair for Dare Studio

There are certain characteristics in design which help us to place when and where a chair, table or lamp was designed. As our knowledge and experience of design develops the global influences filter in to design like a big melting pot of style.



When David Irwin first presented the designs for TOR, a new chair for British design house Dare Studio, I was struck by its sophisticated lines, the understated glamour and clean silhouette he designed in to this stacking chair. Dare Studio are well known for producing products with hand-crafted heritage and for using contemporary manufacturing methods.

This chair, the first design by David Irwin for Dare Studio, would not be out of place in cultured surrounds of Claridges Suite or the Orient Express. Yet it has the modernist charm and graceful curves of contemporary Danish design that transcends it to an avant-garde building in the City.


As with all David Irwin products, there is a practical element to the design to allow it to move beyond a single application. With an inset seat, you can stack the chair making it ideal for contract use in restaurants or conference seating, and home use where space may be at a premium. Where most practical stacking chairs may suit that purpose, TOR’s simple clean lines put it alongside the likes of Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair, yet as practical as Robin Day’s Polyprop chair.

Now for the science bit; a refined solid wood frame wraps around a formed seat. Slender in form, the TOR chair is ideal for modern residential and commercial spaces. The solid timber frame is available in colour lacquered beech or in oiled American black walnut / white oak. The chair is available with and without arms. An optional upholstered seat, with beautiful fabrics or your own material.




Designer: David Irwin
Manufacturer: Dare Studio
Year: 2015
Price: £TBC

Cardboard furniture. An affordable way to furnish your home.

In 1972 (yes, it’s going to be one of those stories), there was a little revolution in furniture when the architect Frank O. Gehry created a side chair made from sixty layers of corrugated cardboard held together by hidden screws with fibreboard edging.

I’m sure there were examples of cardboard furniture before 1972, but this chair reached the public domain like no other and continues to sell today.


The sculptural form of the Wiggle Side Chair makes it stand out. Although surprisingly simple in appearance, it is constructed with the consummate skill of an architect, making it not only very comfortable but also durable and robust. It’s said that it can hold thousands of pounds, which is testament to the strength of corrugated cardboard.


NewspaperWood was the unique collaboration between Dutch supercyclers Mieke Meijer and ViJ5, who put together the first NewspaperWood collection. The collection was presented in the AutoOfficina courtyard in Ventura Lambrate during Milan Design Week 2011.

I saw these pieces again at 19 Greek Street in London, where they were part of a sustainable collection of furniture and artistic pieces. The NewspaperWood is created when newspaper is pressed with glue to form a solid object. After slicing through the paper, the newspaper created a grain reminiscent of the wood they originally came from.


But wait a minute, this post is about affordable furniture and both of these are terrible examples of affordability within cardboard design. Of course, which leads me on to some great examples of where the same cardboard and paper construction have been considered for an affordable market, which so rarely sees the results of innovation.

Karton, who designed the cardboard bed above created an affordable and very practical design for bedroom furniture. The Paperpedic Bed is a system of cleverly folded paper panels which connect to form an incredibly strong and beautiful cardboard bed base.


A favourite desk of mine happens to cost just £149, and yes that is one of the main reasons why I like it, because this sturdy desk is no poor substitute for a metal or wood desk, but a genuinely strong and well designed product, with the attention to detail I expect from a more expensive product.

A cardboard desk that is contemporary, attractive, easy to lift and move about, and will do a good five years of hard labour, after which you can take it to the recycling centre. That’s the thinking behind Flute Office’s FlutePRO desk, which has won a FIRA Innovation Award.

If you are furnishing an office and dash to Ikea to see what you can pick up, it would be worth considering how desks such as Flute can fit into your environment, making it easier to move offices around, customisable to brand colours and recyclable when they have lived a good life.


It might have struck you that this blog is about ‘made to last’ products and cardboard furniture is hardly made for this purpose. You would be correct, many of the products have a lifespan less than their usual competitors, however there are times when this furniture may be used for temporary periods of time, or indeed that you foresee an end to their life so choose inexpensive, poor-quality furniture that you “don’t mind throwing away” because it costs little.

Which brings me back round to ‘made to last’, where by recyclable furniture can continue it’s life later after it has served its purpose to you, without harm to the earth’s resources and without the intense production methods. I would advocate considering the lifespan of the product you will buy, and whether you can reduce your impact on the planet by choosing to buy a great-quality cardboard product over a poor-quality metal or wood product.

Where to buy:
Desks from £149, Storage from £79 at Flute Office
Wiggle Side Chair, £655 at Aram
Cardboard Bed, AUD $299 at Karton
Newspaper Wood, available from various stores via Vij5

Further resources:
EcoFloots Cardboard Furniture
Smart Deco Furniture