I believed it would be the Soho of Beirut. I was the third or fourth business to open next to the mechanics,” Lina el-Khoury says of the time she scouted around Mar Mkhayel looking for a convenient space to open a design concept store. “I had a vision that this area was going to grow and it did. I took a space, which is not too small, nor too big: I have 135 square meters. I fell in love with the open space,” says Khoury, who personally chose every single element of the store and oversaw its layout and transformation.
After years of living in Paris where she obtained a Masters in marketing and sales, Khoury decided to open a concept store for furniture and home design objects in Beirut named Blak & Co. It opened its doors in December 2010, with the aim of transforming Middle Eastern homes with modern design.
“Our mission is to introduce functional and reachable design furniture with beautiful and useful home objects and accessories from the United States and Europe to the Middle Eastern market,” she explains.
“I wanted my store to feel like home and [having] books, a library, feels like home,” Khoury says. “It’s a concept store for interior decoration. Libraries here have a small section for interior and art, I wanted to have a large selection with many coffee table books,” she says of the bookshelf, which is filled with inspiring and practical books on interior design, home décor, and all the major architects and styles. “Lots of architects come here, who might be on a project to build a school, need a book on club design, event design, or malls. It works very well to have these books.”
Blak & Co’s criteria are funky, fresh, simple and functional objects. “We have all modern materials, including stainless steel, leather, copper, walnut wood, white oak, and metal, and home objects by British designer Nick Munro, whose small tea pot and elegant stainless steel French press stand out both by their functionality and form.” Blak & Co also stocks the American brand Blu Dot, Nuance designs from Denmark and Jule Pansu from France.
“I [first] discovered Blu Dot in the States about 10 years ago,” Khoury says. “I was attending the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York two years ago and looking for new brands at the time and there they were again and it took one email and it was love at first sight.” Khoury is now Blu Dot’s exclusive distributor in the Middle East and Gulf.
The Minneapolis-based company was launched by three young designers in 1997 with the aim to create design products that would be within reach. Their style, retro revisited with an industrial touch, has become a global brand.
Their designs are a crossbreed of modern materials, using copper, wood, brass, stainless steel and other materials to combine elegant abstraction with functionality at reachable prices.
“I didn’t need to have an event — social media and word of mouth did it,” Khoury says in reference to last year’s reception of Blu Dot in Beirut.
“The customer feedback to Blu Dot’s collection has been extremely positive. We had a great Christmas and New Year season and I am looking forward to having equally strong seasons during the summer, and Eid el Fitr and Adha,” she continues.
“Our client base ranges from individuals to architects — looking to do something different for the customers’ homes — and to corporate office clients as well as the hospitality industry; lounges, specialty hotels and restaurants,” Khoury says.
“Recently people in Lebanon are starting to get sensitive to the influence of design furniture. Our aim is to have reachable items. We’re in an era where people want design but it can’t be super expensive. Our motto is great design, functionality, and within reach. Our price tag ranges from $50 [for e.g., home objects] to $5,000 for a piece of furniture.”
Khoury has to pay for shipping, customs and transport of all her stock. To deal with the store and logistics, including delivering orders and managing the warehouse in Dbayeh, she currently employs 8 to 10 people.
As of 2014, Khoury is expanding in the Middle East region, targeting the Gulf in particular, where she will be participating in several fairs and exhibitions this year, as well as working with distributors, architects and showrooms.
“My aim is to expand Blak & Co and Blu Dot and also to keep an eye out for rising brands to offer our customers. Our target [in the Gulf] is to double the volume of what we turn over here in Beirut, as they have security there and are financially strong and stable, compared to Lebanon.” In addition to launching a website soon, she will be exhibiting in Dubai for the first time in September.
Looking back, Khoury acknowledges that after a certain time, you adjust to the style demands of the Lebanese clients. “There are some products that I thought would rock but they were not moving. I think my biggest success was Blu Dot. It was the right product at the right time!”