Iraqi by birth, British by upbringing, eccentric interior designer Broosk Saib speaks exclusively to Enigma’s Aysem Monaco about his dazzling and daring designs.
If the old English phrase ‘A man’s home is his castle’ were to be applied in South West London, then surely Broosk Saib would be its resident King. Located in a residential cul-de-sac of a leafy suburb is the showroom-cum-Lord of the Manor abode of the Iraqi-Kurdish Interior designer and – and as modest as he is, he would hesitate to admit – one of the world’s leading interior design geniuses. The sun is shining on this glorious mid-spring afternoon in London when I venture to meet with Saib. His choice of postcode is not a standard ‘look-at-me’ location that screams of exhibitionism, but more akin to a quiet haven; a world away from the gleaming veneer of the ‘moneyed’ jet set. One would imagine that much quiet reflection takes place within this residential sanctuary, spurring some of the world’s most creative design concepts. This is only partly the case, as what lies behind closed doors of this piece of Putney peace is a feast for the senses.
It soon becomes clear that his home is a veritable museum of history: bursts of colours, materials, antique furnishings and sartorial gems that include a framed 18th century French waistcoat that would reduce a Savile Row tailor to tears for sheer authenticity. To a novice like me, it is an explosion of stimuli and a testament to past times – Versailles, Old England, English Manor – and a spectacular feat of theatrical design.
Saib has mastered the ultimate trickery of cognition – he views homes not merely as functional entities but as “live theatre” and behind the curtain of his own theatre is where he has the most fun. “When my English friends come here,” he explains jokingly, “they say it’s more English than any of the homes they have been into… It’s a cartoon English home. This is how I see an English room and if you asked who lives here, you would say an English nobleman but instead it’s a Kurdish refugee!”
Saib’s vision is much more than a one-dimensional means to an end and thus challenges preconceived notions of design aesthetic. “Every room I work with is seen as a stage set that needs to be given a story,” he explains. “A room is like a blank canvas and the furniture and fabrics are my medium. I work with the space itself and with the needs of the space. For example, I factor in the light that is coming into a room, the positioning of the walls and the doors, and if I am lucky, I work with the original features. All of this also has to fit in with the needs and the preferences of the client.”
The individual needs and, most importantly, the psychology and personal preferences of the client are tantamount to his creative process. Such is his dedication that he will ask for input in every element of the client’s home, from the bedding and sheets to the shampoo and – for one particular holiday home in Saint Tropez – the choice of children’s sweets for a client’s grandchildren! He does not think twice of baking a loaf of bread in order to cover the smell of varnish and paint that often accompanies interior works and will become personally involved with flower arrangements, choice of candles and all the elements that produce a tailored ‘experience’ for the individual. His approach is almost anthropological, like a historian or antiquarian who trails through archives or dusty markets to find his treasure or pièce de résistance. And it’s a skill that he appears to have honed from a young age.
Saib was born in Baghdad and early on developed a keen interest in space; he would experiment by reorganising his own bedroom, sometimes rearranging all the furniture in the house! As an adolescent he would trawl through markets with his best friend who, he jests, quickly turned him into a ‘collector of rubbish’ (though some of the ‘rubbish’ in question was later discovered to be of considerable more value – around the 14 carat mark!) The family moved from Iraq to London when Saib was 13 and he later studied interior design, covering topics from vision to colour and psychology. At the time such subjects appeared to him “useless” but now resound in his design aesthetic. As he explains: “Some clients are very territorial and particular about where they sit.”
Saib himself is not the sort to sit still for too long. His curious mind and adventurous spirit radiate. He is fiercely intelligent and able to effortlessly reel off the names of historic figures, artists and academics, making him a deeply fascinating interlocutor and no doubt a favourite guest at any dinner party. He “loves colourful people with deep and strong thoughts” and this is certainly reflected in his designs. He recalls one project for an Egyptian family’s London home where he based one room on a Cardinal’s robe, using reds, silks, velvet and lace to reflect his vision.
Saib is definitely one to push boundaries rather than sit on the fence, and throughout his career he has prioritised creating spaces to house beautiful objects rather than follow what was ‘in’ or fashionable at the time. He credits his Iraqi-Kurdish culture for endowing him with a unique perception of space and emphasises that he is heavily influenced by his childhood and the historic sites in which he grew up. He recalls that the Iraq of his childhood was imbued with colonial charm and was “very English”. So it is no surprise that he felt very much at home in England, embraced the English way of life and was welcomed into the establishment with open arms; he even worked for the Conservative party in his early 20s and 30s. “I am very proud of being Iraqi-Kurdish… but I also feel British,” he says, a sentiment shared by many Londoners of mixed ethnic backgrounds. He is friends with the close-knit group of London based interior designers including Kelly Hoppen, Tara Barnard and Nina Campbell. He also counts legendary Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid among his great friends. They all count among those “colourful people with strong and deep thoughts” he most prefers.
He is currently working on projects that vary from a country house in Sweden for a young family in traditional English style, to a property in Morocco, to a large Middle Eastern family home in Central London. Potential future engagements could take him to Istanbul, Cyprus and the Middle East. Meanwhile, having stepped into Broosk Saib’s own home, I have been taken on a myriad of journeys and traversed different eras and historic references. Thanks to its most noted inhabitant, South West London will never be the same again.