His flat, a spacious affair on the second floor of a 1930s building in Zamalek, has the typical high windows of the period. It came with a lot of doors linking the middle room with the surrounding corridors and spaces, but the doors are gone now. Labib has removed them all, leaving only the one in his bedroom, situated at the end of a corridor, hidden behind a curtain from the tent makers of al-Khyamia.
The result is an interesting expanse, which is visually open and yet retains the intimate seclusion of its original layout. What you may have called rooms, when they had doors, are now mere alcoves, with the kitchen integrated further into the centre.
The central room, which is traditionally used as a reception or dining area, was bathed in sunlight when Labib invited us to his place. The peaceful ambiance was enhanced by the sound of birds singing, streaming in from the quiet garden at the back.
The main room is multi-purpose, although what that purpose is didn’t leap immediately to mind. The most visible two pieces in the room were Indonesian-made couches bought in Egypt, of a size that would make them practical for both sitting and sleeping. In the middle of the room, there is a coffee table, which can also turn into a dining table through a mechanism that alters its size and height.
On the walls, the boisterous artwork of Lara Baladi brings vivacity and energy to the room. Another picture is more of a contemporary commentary on how the country is changing. The work, by Nermine Hammad, is titled “Egyptians on the Beach”, shows the unusual swimsuits that have become fashionable of late.
Islamic, Christian, and Jewish memorabilia provide cultural nourishment for the evolved perception of monotheism to which Labib subscribes. In the dining room, he keeps a stone from the now-demolished Jewish cemeteries in Basatin. He says that the cemeteries were part of Egypt’s architectural heritage and should have been preserved.
In the dining room, Labib keeps a table that he bought from used-furniture dealers in America. The table is made by Dutch protestants and is as durable as it is uncomfortable.
Then there is the Coptic room, where Labib keeps crosses bought from upper Egypt. The Orthodox crosses, especially the Ethiopian ones, can be quite artistic in their woodwork, he tells me. In the same room, there is a painting by Hosein Bikar, depicting the journey of the holy family to Egypt.