One of Lebanon’s most exciting young designers talks to BONADEA about the life experiences that have shaped and inspired her work.
The small nation of Lebanon is a fascinating land of contrasts, a fusion of the Arabic World to the East and Europe to the West across the glittering Mediterranean Sea. With a troubled history at times, the country has endured long periods of instability so it would be understandable for its people to have been constrained. Yet instead in many ways it is thriving, not least in the flourishing design scene that is poised to start receiving the international recognition it deserves with the likes of Elie Saab, Bokja, Carlo Massoud, Noor Fares and David and Nicolas amongst those already making a mark.
Carla Baz is a French-Lebanese designer at the top of her game, known for adding an elegant modern touch to the traditional craftsmanship she grew up alongside. Despite her young age, Carla already has an impressive resumé. Winner of the Boghossian Foundation’s 2013 Design Prize, she has worked alongside international designers including Ronan Bouroullec, Barber Osgerby, Marti Guixé, Pierre Charpin and Umberto and Fernando Campana. On top of this, Carla has also worked for Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Zaha Hadid whilst her designs have been displayed in galleries across the globe from Beirut and Dubai to Paris and London. She specialises in creating luxury, functional homeware pieces for her clients, from exquisite lighting objects like the Maiko and Oyster series below, to mirrors, coffee tables, unique art pieces and more.
MAIKO applique light in brushed brass and glass
BONADEA have collaborated with Carla Baz in an exclusive project to create a lighting series ahead of their launch in September last year. The collaboration consists of two interchangeable candelabra rings that work from day to night, both as art pieces and functional objects.
Having initially been presented at a private viewing during BONADEA’s VIP launch show in London, each piece in the ‘Borgia series’ is entirely hand crafted in solid brass and comes in two sizes. The Borgia candelabras are named after the illustrious family that exerted great influence during the Renaissance and the beginning of the Age of Discovery, an era of magnificence when many artists, writers and rulers influenced and predefined the modern age. Each piece is unique and a testament to a time-consuming and centuries old process, symbolising the bridge between ancient decadence and modern purity. Holding long candles, they convey exuberance while the crisp lines and bare material give a holistic uniqueness.
We caught up with the designer ahead of the launch of the 'Borgia Candelabras' for BONADEA.
When we first spot Carla, she’s busy putting the finishing touches on a ‘Borgia Candelabra’. It’s a fascinating sight to watch; strategically placed candles are adjusted one by one to make sure the piece looks its finest – too many and the beauty of the work gets overlooked, too few and its functionality isn’t shown at its best. When she’s finished, Carla steps back, claps her hands together and gasps "I love it! These candles are amazing”, before using her phone to take plenty of photos, presumably to share with her growing Instagram audience, all the time with a beaming look on her face.
They say you can tell a lot from a smile, and Carla’s is the embodiment of somebody who’s so passionate about what they do, they can’t help but show it. As we sit down to talk Carla can’t help but light up as she tells me about what she does, and more importantly, why she does it. We start from the beginning, talking through Carla’s journey as a designer and how her Lebanese-French background has influenced her work. I’m keen to know where she draws her inspiration from most, and what effects her experiences have had on the piece I’m looking at today.
“Growing up in Lebanon, it’s almost impossible not to be inspired by the craftsmanship around you. We have a long tradition of incredible craft, it’s in our DNA, it’s our heritage. But whilst Lebanese art is becoming more and more appreciated in countries like the UK, there are still so many misconceptions about our country that we need to break down, and as a designer I believe I’m part of the solution. Lebanon suffers from the conflict and distress happening around it, but it truly is a peaceful place, where Eastern and Western European traditions meet.”
I’m intrigued. How can art help break down the barriers people have towards Lebanon? Carla’s answer is simple.
“The world needs more beauty. There are too many tragic things happening in the world today, and people need a place to escape, or a reminder that there is something else happening out there. I believe that by showing the wonderful crafts of Lebanon, I can inspire people to start thinking differently about this part of the world. If you can make just one person incredibly happy with your art, the world is already in a better place than before. On top of that, craftsmanship and the design industry also has an ability to help Lebanon’s internal struggle.”
This is a salient point, given that Lebanon’s population of six million people includes over two million refugees. Carla tells me “the design industry can not only create jobs for those in need of them, but will allow us to bridge the gap between people and cultures. Design is a language everyone can understand”. Hearing this, I start to see just how passionate Carla is, not just about creating good design and possibilities, but about the wider importance of what she does. Hers is an enduring passion and interest in preserving and pushing the boundaries of the traditional craftsmanship and skills of her country.
I ask how she shows the beauty of Lebanon in her designs and what links them to traditional Lebanese craftsmanship. Another simple answer: it’s all about the materials. Carla loves experimenting with the traditional rough materials that Lebanese designers have been using for centuries, such as glass, metal and wood. What makes Carla unique, however, is the way she links these traditional, noble materials to her innovative, modern designs, creating a synergy between past and present, adding elegance and heritage to functional modern design. Carla expands on this last point, explaining how a large part of her role as a designer is to find the balance between beauty and functionality.
BISHOP side table in marble and oak wood
“For me, good design is functional. That’s why I use traditional materials. Yes, we are creating beauty, but we’re not just artists. The best designs are practical, they listen to people’s needs, and are made from materials that last, that can be passed on from one generation to another. If it’s trendy, it’s obsolete”.
The idea of design being part of something bigger than a phase in somebody’s life is a unique perspective but one that makes complete sense. After all, why take the time to craft something incredible, if it only lasts for one specific period of time? And how does the application of timeless, functional design then become part of the craftsmanship process?
“The key to a positive and successful commission is making the entire process a collaborative one. It’s about working with your audience and your artisans, to turn an idea into a timeless piece of work. It’s part of my job to listen to my client, and to guide the process so that it sits in line with all of our values. There are plenty of people out there churning out work without thinking about whether it will stand the test of time, but that’s not me. I educate my audience, and in turn my clients teach me more and more about my work, my passion and my creativity every day. That’s how we create something unique that everyone involved can look back on with pride in years to come.”
Despite teaching design at her local university, Carla doesn’t ever give the impression that she knows everything there is to know, or that she has her work and life mapped out already. In fact, she tells me constantly learning from her clients, her students and other artisans bring her designs to life. It seems to me that she sees life as a set of stepping stones from one learning experience to another, approaching her career mindfully without a finite start and end.
OYSTER light in brass
With that in mind, it’s time to talk about the next stepping stone, which turns out is the ‘Design Days’ exhibition in Dubai, where Carla spends a lot of her time when she’s not at her home in Beirut. But outside of shows and exhibitions, what else does the future hold for Carla Baz?
“I’m not thinking so much about the future, because I live in the now. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’m intuitive, not strategic. I’m doing what I love and I’m learning what that means all the time. It’s a great place to be.”
Carla certainly has a bright future, and is surely destined for even greater success ahead.
See the exclusive pieces designed for BONADEA on our website here
Borgia Candelabras for BONADEA