Zig zagging through the gentrified neighborhood of Furn el Hayek under a glaring Beirut sun, Executive found itself on a quest for furniture design nirvana, and maybe a cold glass of water. Searching out the gallery of Georges Amatoury was the mission of the day and, after sneaking a peek at his collection of furniture from past decades, we met Amatoury in his showroom.
“By collecting, refurbishing, buying and selling iconic pieces from the 20th century, my DNA has been transformed and fashioned by these famous styles. I decided to start my [furniture] line to pay tributes to these aesthetics, but with contemporary techniques and knowhow,” said Amatoury, describing his design philosophy to Executive.
Amatoury is amongst a talented class of Lebanese designers that proud compatriots point to when asked for examples of local innovators. In his own words he is a second generation designer – his father being a professional architect. During Amatoury’s formative years, the family collected art deco pieces – a decorative art style from the 1920’s – and this mixed influence of architecture and art collection dominates his approach to design.
In many instances Amatoury’s furniture is driven by the ideas of his clients who commission him to design furniture for their villas, penthouses and modern offices. Pieces from past collections now furnish the Qasr al Sanawbar, the French ambassador’s residence at the Beirut hippodrome. Amatoury is also the exclusive producer of Hugues Chevalier – a French furniture designer – in Lebanon.
Producing his furniture is not a one man show – he employs between 8 and 12 workmen, depending on the amount of projects, at his artisanal workshop in Adonis, with two designers contributing to the creative vision for each piece. He also delegates management of his Achrafieh gallery, freeing himself from the more tedious administrative tasks. All told, Amatoury employs 15 full time and contractual employees in Lebanon to design, produce and sell his furniture.
As with most Lebanese businesses, the past several years have been challenging for Amatoury. “When we can end up with a 20 percent net profit we are happy but that’s not always the case. If the market is performing well we’re doing 20-plus [percent] net margin. But if the market is slow and overhead is almost the same, then we drop to between 5 and 10 percent.” According to him, previous years had seen record highs in requests before a more recent lull in commissions – “2008 through 2011 were just perfect [but] for us the two bad years were 2013 and 2014,” in which Amatoury says his revenues declined, with 2012 being only an average year. He says the slowdown of the past few years came at a somewhat convenient time as it refocused his attention on designing new furniture for his current collection, which was introduced at the end of 2013. In addition to showing this collection in his Beirut galleries, Amatoury’s pieces are shown in Dubai and Paris, with plans to showcase his collection in London and New York in the next year.