July 19 2013
a house of charm in Beirut
In the heart of Beirut, Villa Clara is a racy address, a haven where antique furniture and plant murals create a timeless decor.
Its interior is orchestrated as an Art Nouveau above conjugated in the present and plus-que-parfait tense.
The royal blue facade stands out among the foliage. Completely renovated, its rounded balcony advances from its noble profile amidst the dusty buildings. Villa Clara is both delicate and assertive, adorned with atypical details and cultural references.
Past the gate, one can picture a dignitary in the private residence with his wrought iron windows open wide and exotic bouquets of flowers placed in coloured glass vases… And yet, this former depot from the 1920s had nothing of this wild allure before Marie-Hélène and Olivier Gougeon fixed it up from start to finish!
Passionate and excited, the couple multiplied approaches and resources to develop this 7 bedroom house into a small, unique Lebanese hotel: painted murals of fresco vegetation and birds of paradise, pieces acquired at auction in Drouot and muddled flea market finds creating an anachronistic setting. Even better, every ordinary object seems to have a unique character: one’s gaze continually returns to the old mosaic floor, a vanity cabinet placed at the top of the stairs and the silverware that was once in service at the Hôtel St James decorated by Andrée Putman. Upstairs, a colourful, cheerful atmosphere emerges from each room, encouraged by a chandelier composed of clusters of Syrian blown glass.
Leaning out the window, one overlooks a small bowls lawn on one side, and the other, a wooden patio scattered with red cane bistro chairs. Seduced by an old French song, we descend to the bar to order a ‘strong coffee’, grab a few slices of homemade sausage (prepared in a Lebanese monastery in the mountains) and enjoy the fish ceviche accompanied by a thick slice of bread baked on site, all under the watchful eye of the emeritus chef, who is none other than the master of the house!