Sotheby’s Magazine

Rabih Hage's Indulgent Interiors Mix Architecture and Luxury

By Edward Behrens
Interior designer and architect Rabih Hage is a master of easy luxury. He speaks to Edward Behrens about the narratives of objects and why art should be intimate.

R abih Hage is an interior designer based in London. Having trained as an architect at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he moved into creating residential spaces where his interest in beauty and pragmatism led to a new style of interiors – one that layers dramatic pieces of design with a luxurious mode of living. He is renowned for delivering a level of comfort that belies the intelligence behind his rooms.

Rabih Hage. Photo by Richard Powers.

How did you begin?
I was always interested in the relationship between the brain and the hand – drawing was a real pleasure for me. I thought it’s interesting to have the image in your head and to be able to express it, but then maybe it’s interesting to add a useful function, and not create something completely subjective by becoming an artist or a sculptor. It’s like when you compose music or write lyrics, you’ve done your job once but it lives on forever; doing a building, your work lives on and has its own life. I find it very rewarding.

How did you shift from the outside of buildings to the inside?
By accident – it was a mix of opportunities that arose and a change of perspective. I was drawn to the inside of the building because the outside, for me, is an expressive envelope that has more to do with urban planning and the fabric of a neighbourhood than the scale of living. I was more interested in giving my attention to the volumes that you live in.

The Old Rectory in Oxfordshire, England, featuring a Piet Hein Eek scrap wood table. Photo by Marcus Peel.

Is that what makes a project interesting to you, the way it’s used?
Yes definitely, it’s the element of time that you have in a project – the way you circulate and move in a building is related to time. You discover angles, you see things, you experience the space but also the building itself. It is the functionality that makes it a living building.
The intervention that you are doing on the building is what drew me, little by little, to the interior. And then, I find that all this 20th-century indoctrination of “form follows function” is a little passé.

When you had your gallery in Sloane Avenue you were a champion of very sculptural design. What attracted you to this type of work?
One reason is that I was attracted by the adaptive use of old materials. [Dutch designer] Piet Hein Eek, for instance, uses scrap wood to make amazingly beautiful tables. But the real reason I got into it is because I am interested in the narrative behind the process. When you put that in an object, you create a real reason for the existence of that object. It’s a mix of imagination and creativity with the pragmatism, craftsmanship and skill to build the piece. I think if you are adjudging beauty on these two values, you’ll have an amazing piece that you want to cherish.

An apartment in West Kensington, London. Photo by Marcus Peel.

How do you use art in your interiors?
Art has a functionality and I don’t think its historical importance or financial value should put it above the rest of the living environment. The more valuable, I would say, the more casually you should exhibit and install a piece. You should not build a massive room for a tiny painting. It’s something to live with. The relationship with art should be intimate and personal and something you share with your friends.

In 2008 you worked on a hotel called Rough Luxe in London. What is luxury to you?
It was interesting to see that, at that time, leaders of taste were already sensitive to recycled materials, which I was also interested in aesthetically. It all crystalised into “rough luxe” as a definition of luxury in rebellion against the bling, accumulation just for accumulation, and the extortionate price tags on items that were supposed to be luxury, but were just a pastiche of luxury. It was about revealing the truth of the building and the functionality of places.

A house in the Luberon, France. Photo by Vincent Leroux.

What are you working on now?
We are working on a challenging project in Finland, a new-build hotel. It’s integrated with nature, with mindfulness areas and a spa. It’s also about making things: writing poetry, painting, sculpting. It’s a retreat for people who want to reflect and produce.

Is there a dream project?
The next project.

Edward Behrens is a writer and editor based in London.

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