Design Store(y) visits new lands this month to tour Platform 39 in Beirut. Proprietress Rana Yazigi curates items created by designers from the Middle East and Africa in her gorgeous shop, styled to resemble a train station. All aboard!
Where did you get the name for the store?
Our stock is dedicated to design items from the Middle East and Africa. There was a train that once linked some of these countries, and all names I could think of were related to railway stations and systems. A platform also has so many connotations, of which a few seemed appropriate. As for the 39, it comes from a personal superstition.
Why did you pick this city, neighborhood, and storefront?
I sometimes see myself as a product of Beirut and couldn’t envision the store in another city. As for the neighborhood and storefront I did not choose them, they chose me. I was actually looking for a space in a different, trendier area. When my real estate agent first mentioned the store’s location in a residential area that is currently being gentrified, I thought he was crazy. Fortunately he insisted on my seeing it. Needless to say that when I visited the space and saw what it could potentially become I automatically knew that was it.
Has it changed much since then? How?
Oh yes, I wanted the store to feel as much like a train station as possible, so the space witnessed a drastic change in its internal architecture. The basic white tile floor has been replaced by a molding of cement and small stones; the foundation posts have been brought back to their initial cement look, windows have been widened; some others have been created and designed as if looking out of a train; a small coffee bar and a brick wall have been constructed, and last but not least, all the walls on the outdoor backyard have been replaced by large glass doors framed in iron.
What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?
The store opened in January 2013 and the retail business is very new to me. So everything is a challenge. Choosing the items to showcase, dealing with designers and clients, being aware of custom procedures, deciding upon the right marketing and communication strategy, making sure the display is appealing, etc., I am constantly learning!
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
That is my first experience in retail. I have worked in advertising production houses and in cultural management agencies for 10 years before deciding to go for the one thing I really love: discovering and sharing beautiful items.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
That’s a very difficult question. I am fond of every item on display. However, I recently instantly fell in love with the Limoges porcelain coffee pots by Santimetre, a Turkish porcelain studio run by Tulya Madra and Fırat aykaç. Their lively colors, thinness and olive tree handles are so poetic. I see myself in a calm garden just by looking at them.
What is this season’s story?
It is more about a long-term story than a seasonal theme. Though, I constantly display new designers and items, the focus is only on designers from the Middle East and Africa.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
The Fireworks and Explosions lighting installation by young Lebanese designer Ghassan Salameh. This is Ghassan’s first product and I love its internal mechanisms allowing you to shuffle the circular modules around the center. Its ’70s look enhances any wall.
The upcycled Side by Side armchair by Lebanese brand Karassi Co. They use old ties to upholster a vintage chair, giving it a totally new, urban dimension. Whoever stands in front of that chair cannot help but speculate about the people who once owned those ties.
I also love items edited by Egyptian brand &Cairo, such as the Utchat Barstool. This stool encompasses the whole idea behind this brand: getting inspired from Cairo’s culture and lifestyle. Items designed by Emirati designers Khalid Shafar as well as products created for Dar en Art. I better stop now because I can go on forever.
What’s been a consistent best seller?
The Cross Bulbs designed by Mitri Hourani for Boboboom and their recycled stands in iron, porcelain, or ceramic are very popular. I have had clients coming in the store specifically for this item after seeing it displayed in a friend’s place. They are mainly bought by pair or in a set of three. I was once at an art exhibition and mentioned Platform 39 in front of a group of people; one of them automatically asked me if I still have these bulbs!
Does the store have its own line?
I am working on it. When I first envisioned Platform 39, I thought that after a couple of years I would start cooperating with local and regional designers to develop our own line. Well, it seems that this is happening much faster than initially planned. The hand-painted Spin Tops by White sur White—a Lebanese multi-disciplinary design agency—are one of Platform 39’s first collaborations. These spin tops represent some of the emblematic figures of our local folklore, such as the spinning dervish, are a perfect mixture of ancient and modern.
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
I have a few La Fileuse (The Spinner) Vases by Nathalie Harb displayed on my dining table. I love these single flower vases and the new dimension they give to familiar objects. I would love to have the entire store at home. Visiting fairs and meeting designers to widen the store’s collection is always risky for me; I constantly have to resist temptation. The good part is that since I spend most of my days in the store, it is as if they were home.
Visit Platform 39 at Ashrafieh, Mgr. Ghophrael Street, Fassouh Area, Beirut, Lebanon.