Last month, Cairo hosted two leading exhibitions for furniture and home décor accessories. Le Marche and El-Bazar were held consecutively as of the second week of March into the very last day of the spring month. Despite the worry over and economic impact of COVID-19, both events saw a considerably high attendance.
Clients frequenting the two events said that the attractions featured big discounts offered in both fairs and the presence of a wide range of stores and designers in one place.
Some clients spoke of the timing, given that the spring editions of Le Marche and El-Bazar happened at a time when some people are considering some interior refurbishing either for their Cairo or summer houses, ahead of Ramadan and the subsequent holidays — with Coptic Easter, Sham El-Nessim, and Eid El-Fitr coming within the span of 10 days this year.
“Clearly this is a high season, especially ahead of the summer, when traditionally there are lots of weddings and people are looking for interesting items for their new houses,” said Meriem Eissa, a young furniture designer and owner of a furniture business.
According to Eissa, even those who do not end up doing their shopping during the fairs, they get ideas and decide on potential purchases or simply decide on the line they wish to have — either for their new houses or their redecorated houses.
In both cases, Eissa argued, the growing trend of this year seems to be a mix and match. “Many of the people who have purchased new houses — what we call the second house, which is usually a bigger house, are not planning a whole new set of furniture as the case would have been 10 or 15 years ago; mostly, people would want to keep most of their furniture and add in a few new items or redo some items,” she said.
Having been in the business for slightly over a decade, Eissa is seeing a certain reconceptualisation of what makes an appealing interior, especially for couples or individuals who are planning a second house.
“People may look for a more relaxed setting with fewer items perhaps, a unified palate of colour that could accommodate potential future newer items and a touch of 18th to 19th centuries French style,” Eissa said.
According to Eissa, the aversion against what is commonly called “style” — a generic reference to all the range of French furniture — that had prevailed sicne the late 1990s into the first decade of the 2000 “is somehow receding”.
“I think people have come to revisit and consequently re-appreciate this line of furniture in the sense that people do not feel obliged to have it all over the house, but just to incorporate a selection of items that give a certain touch to the house, especially to the living/dinning space,” Eissa said.
At Le Marche, Sahar was looking for a mirror with a golden frame and a Louis XVI banquette to decorate a relatively spacious entrance of her new house. She had decided to “keep everything she has had” and to introduce some changes onto some pieces and to get a few extra items.
“With the way the prices have become and with the current economic situation, it is both atrociously expensive and unwise to think of having everything new,” she said.
Having married in the late 1990s, Sahar had opted for what could be called ‘American style’ furniture. Today she does not mind a few French items to “touch up” the overall interiors of the living/dinning area.
According to Eissa, this new taste for limited items of the 18th and 19th centuries French style furniture and the “equally growing taste for vintage furniture” is allowing for the craftsmanship to survive at least in some parts.
An equally thriving business, as demonstrated during Le Marche and El-Bazar, is the one of traditional Egyptian furniture selections. Nader and Hoda, a young couple shopping for their new house at El-Bazar were impressed by the selection of kilims and mirrors framed with coloured mosaics for their living area.
“I think they would blend well with and give a delightful touch to the American style living room,” Hoda said. The couple was also considering a selection of sofa cushions covered in fabrics made in Sohag.
“We don’t need to be very monolithic; we are buying things that we like, and we are blending and connecting them,” she added.
According to Hussein Ahmed, an owner of a kilim making workshop, the business has picked up firmly during the past ten years after it had receded for so long.
“They went out of fashion as they became considered ‘too local’, and people were looking for more modern things — even if they were of a lesser quality and lesser beauty, unfortunately,” he said.
Ahmed is attributing the resurgence to the growing number of “beach houses” on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. “For these houses, people are looking for simplicity and comfort; kilims fall in well with the kind of simple and plain furniture most people have for their summer houses, and this has consequently allowed us to expand the business and give a chance for more women weavers to find jobs,” he added.
According to Eissa, however, kilims have found their way into Cairo houses side by side with modern sofas, just as the chinois carpets, which are making a come back with the Aubusson chairs.
“The one thing that I had noted during my participation in Le Marche this year, in the spring edition, and last year, in the autumn edition, is that people in general are in the mood to go eclectic and to redo their old items,” she added.