Beirut used to be beautiful. Only little of its architectural heritage remains and much of that is at threat, given the incredible returns on real estate. This is an article I wrote about a house that was saved and lovingly renovated and and artist, Tom Young who used it for his site-specific exhibition Carousel.
Start reading here and then click on the link further below:
Walking home in the early hours of New Year’s Day with his wife Noor, British artist, musician, and teacher, Tom Young, spotted a grand, beautiful old house under renovation in Gemmayze. In front of it was a big sign, covered in cement: “for rent and investment.”
A few days later Young dialled the number on the sign and was answered by Remi Feghali’s, the architect son of the family who now own the house. What neither knew then was that this day would mark the beginning of the fabulous, and rather rapid, transformation of an old family house into Villa Paradiso, a cultural center.
Since settling down in Beirut, Young had been thinking and talking a lot about loss of heritage. Eventually, he wanted to try to use art to save or regenerate abandoned houses.
This particular derelict building had been the home of the Baloumian family, a wealthy Armenian-Lebanese trading family who lived in the house until 1975, when they fled because of the war. When Young made the call, the Feghalis, had been renovating the building on and off for four years. “Late last year,” Remi Feghali explains, “I took the decision to restart the restoration because we all felt in the family that the house needed to come back to life and to be useful again.” Remi is in charge of renovations and, together with his sister Rita, will be central to running the cultural center that Villa Paradiso will shortly become.
“We had no clear idea of what to convert it to, until Tom Young showed up and asked to use it as a space to exhibit his works. We immediately accepted and gave shape to a dream we all had for years: to have a home where we can celebrate life in our country, in all its forms, the arts, cultural events, social events… hence the choice of the name: Villa Paradiso.”