Buying this one-level, 325sqm condominium was quite a gamble for Mona Hajj. The interior designer made the decision without having visited the space nor seeing any photographs of it – she’d only eyed the floor plan. What convinced her? The 1928 Beaux-Arts building that houses it, in Baltimore’s old, charming Guilford neighborhood. “Once I got the place, I did a complete gut renovation – a blank canvas with a few structural limitations,” Hajj says. She removed one of the apartment’s original three bedrooms to create a spacious master suite with a walk-in closet. In addition to modifying the size of several rooms, Hajj rebuilt everything to fit her needs and align with her vision. She designed new moldings, casings, and baseboards, bringing charm to the home, where one of her sons also lived before leaving the nest for college.
Born in West Africa, Hajj was raised in Lebanon and moved to Europe and the US for higher education. The sum of her diverse experiences is reflected through her design style. “My sources of inspiration for my home were a mix of East and West, the depth and beauty of the Oriental interior with the Western/American sensibility,” she comments. In all her projects, rugs are the starting point – and her home was no exception. From there, she chooses furniture, art, and textiles. “I always start with a neutral base, offwhite with a tint of cream, and then each room has a different feel and color combination,” Hajj says. “For example, the study has deep and dark majestic tones that relate to the Middle East, mixed with a European aesthetic.”
Fascinated by the history of the East and the modernity of the West, Hajj combines these influences in everything that she does. When she wants to buy old textiles, she goes to Beirut; for pottery, she’s traveled to Syria. The Istanbul bazaar and Jaipur are some of her favorite places to source unique objects, and she purchases according to one condition: loving them. Then, it’s a matter of finding the right spot for each item. Despite belonging to a vast range of periods and styles, they all seem to come together. In Hajj’s home, pieces by contemporary brands such as Poltrona Frau, Waterworks, Rose Tarlow, and A. Rudin are mixed with artworks by German photographer Elger Esser and Helen Frankenthaler and George Inness. Historic pieces including a gilt baroque mirror, Turkish blankets turned into curtains, a 1920s-era crystal chandelier, French chairs from the 19th century, and a Persian saddle cover complement the eclectic decor. Almost every room showcases her collections of Persian, Syrian, and Turkish ceramics, dishes, and books.
Some elements were made to measure by the interior designer. “When I designed my kitchen, I wanted it to be a series of interesting cabinetry that feels more like pieces of furniture, but still practical enough for function,” she says. “The builtin cabinet was designed to span the entire length of the kitchen; it’s one of my favorite pieces that I have designed.”
Describing her elegant home as “warm, inviting, and quiet,” Hajj considers her fashion style as similar to her home: comfortable yet elegant. “I travel more often now and I don’t get to spend as much time as I like here,” she adds. “I’m always happy to come home; it’s so calming to be in a place that is exactly the way you like it.”
Constantly inspired by Lebanon – where she visits once a year to be with family – and the Middle East in general for “the creative culture and the most beautiful art and architecture” Hajj wanted to pay tribute with her new book, A Romance of East and West. Through the pages of this luxury volume, she visually demonstrates how different cultures can live together harmoniously. “Beautiful. Exotic. Serene. Complex. Romantic. Instinctive. Learned. These words describe the world I come from, and the way I want the homes (al byout in Arabic) I designed to feel,” Hajj writes in the book’s opening pages. “I grew up in Beirut, in rooms made lush, warm, and sumptuous with layers of rugs and textiles and a mix of furnishings, art, and decorative objects from all different eras. Many of the pieces we lived with had been handed down through the family over generations. There were no formulas for the way these rooms came together, which may explain why I am so averse to any sort of design formula now.”
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia