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Contemporary Designers Reimagine Iconic Rooms

1st Jul 2020

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Virtual reality has become all too much of a reality in our world today, so much so that many industries and brands have had to reimagine a world presented online. Although that goes the same for the realm of interior design and architecture, that hasn’t necessasrily meant that the sheer existence of design and creativity is dead. If anything, isolating the design world into the comfort of our own home’s has pushed the boundaries of creating and re-thinking to new heights. Bringing together some of the most talented individuals in the industry, 1Dibs Virtual Showhouse embraced the essence of constricted work abilities by asking these creative minds to bravely redesign a room that dates from 80 B.C to the 20th Century using finds from dealers and galleries around the world. The result are some truly showstopping and exceptional virtual showrooms that took an unconventional approach and turned it into something stupendous. We chose three of our favourite re-designs to showcase them and provide them with an additional platform they without doubt deserve.

Living Room, Villa Santo Sospir, Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat

Creator: Madeleine Castaing and Jean Cocteau / Built shortly after World War II / Cocteau mural painted summer 1950 / Reimagined by Sara Bengur Interiors

Turkish-American but New York-based designer Sara Bengur took the current feelings of sadness, tension and rage felt throughout the world right now to stress the importance of needing pockets of lightness, creativity and fantasy.  Inspired by Villa Santo Sospir, which was originally designed by Madeleine Castaing and Jean Cocteau, set in the heart of the South of France and a rich space as it is, Bengur added her own bespoke touch to the re-designed space with colour, a nod to her peripatetic upbringing. Her additions of a French Art Deco rug, 1936 Gio Ponti sofa and 1950s table lamps by Marcello Fantoni all pay tribute to ‘a moment that was very relaxed and very humble in a way when a lot of artists went there [South of France] to retreat and create,’ Bengur asserts. The designer doesn’t fail to acknowledge Castaing’s original interiors through ‘a rope-framed mirror and rattan, wicker and bamboo pieces, such as a ceiling fixture, a sconce and Vivai del Sud side tables.’ Perhaps our favourite detail throughout the room has to be Geoffrey Harcourt’s mustard-yellow high chair, which as Bengur puts it, ‘brings everything into the now.’ 

What did you initially think of the idea behind the virtual showroom?

I loved the idea!  It was something that had never been done before and I was thrilled to be a part of it.  I am always up for a creative challenge. 

Why did you choose to re-design the living room in the Villa Santo Sospir?

I have long admired Villa Sospir and Cocteau’s murals-or tattoos as he calls them.  It was a period and space where they all thought outside the box and created something unique and inspiring- I wanted to be part of that and join in the fun.  Also, during this time of quarantine and unrest throughout the world, I believe a little fantasy plays an even more important role, and what better space to embody this than Villa Santo Sospir.  With Jean Cocteau’s magnificent murals depicting Greek mythic figures, you enter a space that makes every atom in your body smile! 

How did you utilise colour in your re-design?

I focused on yellow as the main colour in reverence to Apollo, the Sun God, who commands over the fireplace.  The Art Deco rug was one of the first pieces I picked for the room and the color scheme unfolded from there.  I believe that if you use the right tonalities, you can use many colours in one room and it creates a beautiful composition, like a painting.  The Mediterranean and South of France are also places that bring me great joy, so I think my color palette was also influenced by my happy memories there…

If you had to choose one favourite piece of furniture placed in your virtual room, which would that be and why?

My favourite piece in the room is the Pierre Chapo coffee table.  It seemed the perfect centrepiece for the room and echoes the eyes the Cocteau’s murals and the plate the sits on the mantel. A powerful symbol.

What other iconic space could you see yourself re-imagining in the future?

Harem at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul - ever since I was a child it has held such mystery for me…

Illustration credits John Gibson, @johngibsonny

Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona

Creator: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich / Built in 1928 / Reimagined by Solis Betancourt & Sherrill

Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, the German Pavilion served as a crucial inspiration for the Washington D.C-based firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill. Betancourt wished to turn the room into a residence whilst maintaining the contemporary yet traditional signature style of the firm. As Betancourt noted, ‘the particular blend deployed in their design for the pavilion was about making it soft. You still would be minimal, still clean-lined, still respect the space. But it would feel very comfortable.’ The final showroom exudes a sensibility through pushing the envelope of tactility. This was achieved phenomenally by choosing individual pieces which each served their specific function. From the antique Persian Sultanbad carpet which complements the surrounding onyx and alpine-green marble walls, to the Milo Baughman swivel chair, adding movement and sense of fluidity into the rigorous architectural envelope. The striking versatility that Betancourt aimed to inject into his design was essential to combat the horizontal feel of the pavilion, which creates a powerful axis of the horizon. As the designer says, ‘when you have such an amazing building, it’s not about decorating. It’s more about design. If the architecture is perfect, you don’t need very much.’ The final re-design evokes this in every carefully curated detail. Bravo.


Nelson Rockefeller Living Room, New York

Creators: Jean-Michel Frank, Henri Matisse and Ferdinand Leger / Built in 1926 / Designed in 1934 / reimagined by Suzy Hoodless

You could say that Nelson Rockefeller brought together the dream team when it came to design his 47-foot-long living room on 810 Fifth Avenue. Henri Matisse and Ferdinand Leger were brought to paint murals around the salon’s two fireplaces and Jean-Michel Frank was the furnishing mastermind behind the space. London-based designer Suzy Hoodless, whilst keeping many of the original designs and features of the living room intact, felt that the layout lacked originality and exuded an old-fashioned feel, and so she punctuated the re-design with a sense of rhythm and pace. As Hoodless notes herself, ‘rooms need to have a rhythm and pace. They’re here to provoke conversation, to be fun and lived-in and have humour.’ Hoodless brought in her love of Scandi design through the addition of a pair of 1951 Runar Engblom chairs which face the Matisse-decorated fireplace and coffee table by Paul Evans. Rockefeller’s original design showcased Picassos which Hoodles says she couldn’t simply leave out. Instead, the designer retained the works in her re-design, as well as the colourful carpet commissioned originally from Christina ‘Bebe’ Berard. Beautifully tying in a mid-century and modern flair through her pieces, including a Hans Olsen bench and Kaare Klint leather armchair, Hoodless took inspiration from Frank’s sensibility in her Scandinavian twist on the space. Hoodless’ ultimate goal was to create an approachable, comfortable and usable space which celebrates everything that it already has, and the final unforced ease that translates through her interpretation of the original living room achieves just that.