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.
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.
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.
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.
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.