Even though I closed my Manhattan interior design shop, I’m still always on the hunt for the kind of special handcrafted items that can’t be found on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman. In that spirit I recently flew to Beirut for a visit that reconfirmed my memories of this beautiful, welcoming city as a place that’s filled with some of the world’s most unique and stylish shops. There are the international luxury brands, of course, located next to the seaside Corniche, but the local home-design stores are quite nearby. And the small and highly walkable Saifi Village, a newly developed area in the Central District, is Beirut’s equivalent of Manhattan’s NoLIta, best for art galleries, handmade jewelry, high-end fashion and vintage home decor. A few things to keep in mind: The U.S. dollar is the currency of choice; English is replacing French as the lingua franca (after Arabic, that is); and traffic is horrendous, so begin shopping right at 10 a.m., when most shops open.
With its well-edited selection of womenswear, this is the go-to for high-end Lebanese fashion. The silk cocktail dresses, cotton t-shirts with lace and chiffon embellishments and small collection of trousers, tops and jackets are pricey (from $270 to $725), but they’re usually one of a kind, and the craftsmanship is superb. At Saifi Village 1051, Block D; 961-1/990-336; miliam.com.
Le Balcon des Createurs
This gracious atelier, located in an old townhouse steps away from Saifi Village, offers a variety of Lebanese fashion collections from gently priced designers. The sales staff is friendly and helps browsers select from party dresses, cool street fashion, bags and lingerie. At Gouraud St., Falais Bldg.; 961-1/565-636.
Gold, pearls, diamonds and semiprecious stones adorn much of the contemporary artisanal jewelry here, not least of all the pieces by Rania Farsoun, one of my favorites. There are also delicate silk-string-cord bracelets—a current Beirut trend—which can be customized with a large selection of gold or pavé-diamond charms. At Lot 1062 OC2, Said Akl St., Saifi Village; 961-1/974-475.
This small, charming shop sells a variety of knitting yarns as well as a few hand-knit pieces: sweaters, tops and dresses, mostly. (I bought a cool tank dress for $230, one tenth the price of a similar Missoni creation.) At 162 Mukhallassiya St., Saifi Village; 961-1/992-211.
The best art gallery in the district exhibits contemporary Lebanese artists (including my friend, painter Nabil Nahas) and mounts a new show every three months or so, which keeps its inventory fresh and exciting. At Mukhallassiya St., Saifi Village; 961-1/991-212; maqamart.com.
An ideal source for those seeking gifts to bring back to the States, Orient 499 sells all sorts of well-made local artisanal products: embroidered caftans, iron and copper tableware, children’s clothes, lanterns, blown glass, lovely leather shoes with an ethnic twist and jewelry, both real and costume. Its hand-beaded key rings are particularly appealing ($13). At 499 Omar Daouk St.; 961-1/369-499; orient499.com.
Popular with in-the-know locals for hand towels, bed covers, kurtas and gifts, this store’s interesting and offbeat assortment is modern in design and different from the mainstream. It’s best for lots of small things to take home. At 56 Madrid St.; 961-1/444-141; liwan.org.
Owner Debs has two stores across the street from each other, one offering furniture inspired by the fifties, sixties and seventies or by Japanese minimalism, the other with reasonably priced contemporary wooden trays, tissue boxes, candleholders, coasters, bowls and boxes veneered with mother-of-pearl and Lucite. At 1064 Mukhallassiya St., Bldg. E, Saifi Village; 961-1/999-002; nadadebs.com.
Very special and old-world, Tourath stocks a small and elegant range of handmade linens (tablecloths, cocktail napkins, place mats), lacework and crocheted items, plus embroidered linen and cotton blouses, all of which can be customized and are priced based on the intricacy of the work. At Mukhallassiya St., Souk El Najjarine, Saifi Village; 961-1/993-636.
Artisans du Liban et D’Orient
This somewhat hidden but beautifully stocked and perfectly curated shop is a favorite for first-rate Lebanese crafts and chic items for the home—pieces you just won’t see anywhere else, including handblown glass, linen towels, caftans with a somewhat fashion-forward aesthetic, beautiful artisanal jewelry and embroidered tote bags. At Sea Shore Ain Mreisseh; 961-1/362-610; ohmycraft.com.
One of the city’s iconic design destinations and frequented by top international interior decorators, Bokja repurposes midcentury modern sofas, chairs and poufs, covering them with vibrant fabrics from all over the world—Uzbeki souzanis, say—to create eclectic, unique pieces. At Mukhallassiya St., Bldg. 332, Saifi Village; 961-1/975-576.