In Lebanese gallerist Nathalie Assi’s London townhouse and gallery space, design becomes life in the most beguiling way.
In the bright, peaceful sitting room of her West London home, Nathalie Assi is pointing out the daffodil-shaped mirrored lights by Pietro Russo which sparkle, like giant brooches, in the morning sunshine. An ivory woven tapestry by Soojin Kang hangs above the curvy sofa; Guglielmo Poletti’s coffee table is made of brass and acrylic. None of these striking objects would look out of place in a design museum. But in Nathalie’s robust, 19th century house they mingle with furniture and possessions as easily as friends at a birthday party.
“Design is part of our lives,” says Assi, pouring a glass of water from a jug by another favorite maker: Jochen Holz. “Everything gets used. We sit on the chairs, serve dinner on the ceramics, the children do their homework at the coffee table.” But the stucco-fronted property that the Lebanese-French gallerist shares with her husband and three children is no everyday home. It also doubles as a showroom for her gallery, SEEDS, which she set up in 2016 to “bridge the gap” between buyers and contemporary makers. “Some of this work is quite experimental but when clients see it in a domestic setting, it feels much more approachable,” she shares.
The inspiration for the business was planted when Assi, who used to work in finance, started renovating the five-storey house in 2014. “I always envisaged it as a calm, cohesive setting for work and family,” says Assi, who collaborated with the architect Carole Asfour-Lin to redesign the interior. “The last owners had lived here for 40 years, so there was work to do, but we wanted to keep any interventions minimal.” At the back, a new glass extension houses a dining room and office. Sliding pocket doors in the living areas ensure flexibility. “I can shut off the sitting room and it becomes a gallery. In the afternoon, when the children are back, I open it up. The transition happens every day.” The decoration is restrained: walls in Parma grays or soft pinks, plain velvets, and oak flooring add to the unified feel. “I didn’t want the fabrics or colors to overshadow the objects,” Assi explains.
When she began to furnish the house, the ideas behind SEEDS coalesced. “As I visited art fairs and graduation shows I realized that I wanted to fill the house with objects that have meaning. There’s so much creativity out there, waiting to be sponsored,” she says, in soft Parisian tones. The sycamore stool by Aldo Bakker was her first acquisition. After that she was hooked, commissioning lighting, furniture, and ceramics for clients and home. “Learning about a maker’s ideas and techniques creates an emotional connection you can’t have with a mass-produced object.”
She enjoys the alchemical process of turning everyday materials in to covetable pieces. The low “homework” table, by François Dumas, was inspired by 200m of extruded aluminum snapped up at a builder’s merchants. “It led to a collection of mirrors and other designs,” Assi says. Sustainability is key to SEEDS projects, “but it’s not about ticking boxes, everything has to be beautiful,” she adds, singling out James Shaw’s pastel-hued handles, made from recycled plastic. It’s fresh, inspiring stuff that looks even better set against the mid-century antiques – the Jeanneret chairs and Hansen sofa – dotted about the house. “Everything has a heritage, a story,” she reflects. “I feel that the definition of luxury is changing. We’re looking for things that make us think – and dream.” In a year that’s prompted all of us to question our values, it’s a resonant message.
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Vogue Living Arabia