Dispatch from Cairo: Omar Chakil Transforms Ancient Materials into Modern Marvels
Pop singer turned interior designer Omar Chakil descends from an ancient Egyptian family, but is Beirut born and Paris raised. As an adult, he began visiting his ancestral home more regularly, however, and it was on one such trip that he came across on an overlooked onyx endemic to the nation. Egyptian or Pharaonic alabaster was once used by the pharaohs in their tombs as they believed it’s translucency would lead them into the afterlife. (Indeed, you can still find remnants of the stone on the floors of the temples guarding the Sphinx in Giza, today.) But when Gamal Abdel Nasser came into power in the early seventies and the country was nationalized, luxury was rejected. The alabaster became difficult to access and was gradually replaced by resin from China. Today, the stone is considered the stuff of knickknacks at Khan el-Khalili, Cairo’s famous souk that dates to the 14th century. “It’s seen as a bit cheap and not really special, even though it is,” Chakil notes. “For the past 40 years it has been completely ignored in the Egyptian culture of craft.”
Not so anymore. Chakil reclaims the material’s innate beauty with his collection Suite Anima (after Animism, the belief that objects possess a distinct spiritual essence). It’s a sculptural and deeply soulful furniture series comprising seating, lighting, tabletop accessories, and more—all carved by hand bar Naughty Cleopatra, a CNC-cut tub that emerged from a single piece of stone, and Thebes, a dining table. “I want to set an example that if you want to work with your local things, you can,” he explains. “The idea was to find an emblematic Egyptian mineral and use it to create contemporary objects that would build bridges between the past and present, craft and design, earthly and ethereal, East and West.”
“The stone has a soothing, healing quality,” Chakil continues. “It transmits light beautifully through its wax-like texture.” Highlights include two neotenic floor lamps that glow from bulbs within, and the Thebes infinity-loop–shape table with twin holes in the top—resembling spiral coin wishing wells—that represent energy moving continuously and endlessly. There are also honed, matte-finish stools, oil diffusers, globular sconces, organically shaped seating, and more. The 22 pieces debuted at Cairo’s collectible design gallery Le Lab this Spring, commissioned by Le Lab founder Rasheed Kamel. Since the opening of Le Lab’s doors to in October 2021, Kamel has collaborated with myriad Middle Eastern talents from furniture designer Georges Mohasseb to the sculptor Khaled Zaki.
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