Beauty From The Broken
March 27, 2015
Text by Regina Cole
Beyt’s chic furnishings are fashioned from shattered building parts. In the process, the company salvages lives, too.
In the back room of Beyt, a shop on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lorraine Carrington stitches together the edges of an ovoid tweed lampshade. She carefully lines up the weave of chunky gray-and-fuchsia wool. Reminiscent of a Chanel suit, the fabric is a remnant from the French supplier of the famous tweeds. It will crown a curvaceous wrought-iron base that was once part of a building in Beirut, Lebanon.
“Bénédicte does the art, and I’m the completer,” Carrington says. “She taught me how to sew when I still lived at the Pine Street Inn,” she adds, referring to the Boston nonprofit that works to end homelessness.
“Bénédicte” is French designer Bénédicte de Blavous Moubarak, who, with her husband, Lebanese businessman Raja Moubarak, created Beyt, which means “house” or “home” in Hebrew and Arabic. The couple was living in Lebanon in 2006, when Bénédicte fell in love with the local vernacular architecture. “I was drawn to the unique style of traditional Levantine houses,” she explains. “Inspired by Venetian, French, and Ottoman architecture, they date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I love the nobility of their materials and the elegance, yet simplicity, of their architectural forms.”
She began to collect wrought-iron railings, balustrades, screens, and window frames from old buildings ravaged by war. “These things were going to be melted down for car parts,” she says. “We wanted to keep alive a dying architectural heritage.”
Bénédicte and Raja formed a company, 2b Design, the name inspired by the fact that her first and his last name both mean “blessed.”
The couple had two missions: to use the endangered architectural elements of historic buildings in conflict zones to create beautiful new home furnishings, and to employ and train homeless, disabled, and otherwise marginalized people. “Growing up as a Christian in Lebanon, I knew what it was like to be part of a discriminated-against minority,” Raja says.
With an MBA from New York University, he developed the business end of the enterprise, certifying 2b Design as a B Corporation, a for-profit company that pledges to achieve social as well as business goals. A B Corporation’s social and environmental performance must be regularly certified. More than 1,000 American companies are B Corporations (including Ben & Jerry’s, Etsy, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation), but, says Raja proudly, “We are the only B Corporation based in the Middle East.”
Bénédicte finds wrought-iron pieces, shutters, doors, copper vessels, tiles, and textiles in the war-torn cities and towns of Lebanon. In a Beirut workshop and here in Cambridge, these disparate old house parts become the elements of lamps, sconces, tables, and other home furnishings. She likes to make use of old monogrammed linens, which she dyes, and she commissions mother-of-pearl inlay work from Damascus refugees.
In 2011, the couple rented a booth at the New York International Gift Fair (now rebranded as NY NOW), where they won three prizes and attracted the attention of the Harvard Business Review, which used 2b Design for a case study.
They moved to the U.S. and opened their Cambridge storefront in November of that year. “We realized that the only way to grow this business was to move to a country where people appreciate what we do, where they care about the story that’s behind every one of these pieces,” Raja says. They also sell their products online and in several shops in France, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong.
Lorraine Carrington has worked here since May 2013, stitching lampshades and cushions. “It took me some time to learn,” she says, “but I kept with it.” She talks about the transformation in her life, and the important part her job at Beyt plays in it. She runs her hand over a stack of fabric, explaining how the individual pieces are to be used.
“Everything in this store is handmade,” she says wonderingly, “and I’m a part of it. This is home now.”
Editor’s note that the Cambridge shop has closed, but you can still shop Beyt at 2bdesign.biz