The house is set in the wooded surroundings of Kent, a small town in Connecticut about two hours’ drive fromManhattan. It rises up like a group of interlocking building volumes at the end of a driveway, where a substantial herd of deer usually awaits the caller. It is the home of Louise and George Beylerian, situated on a hillside with panoramic views of the surrounding gardens and woods beyond. That in itself is a charming sight, but the interior is what is really exceptional: a medley of items of major design furniture and objects from recent decades, a large array of modern art and several other special collections. Hardly surprising, since George Beylerian played a pivotal role in bringing Italian design to the American market. Today he is acclaimed for his Material ConneXion - an advanced library of the most high-tech, futuristic and environmentally-sound materials, with branches world wide.
George Beylerian hates doing nothing. That, at least, is clear. He divides his time between his work at his Material ConneXion office in Manhattan and his house in the country. But he doesn’t sit still, even when he’s in Kent - he has an office there too where he sits until the early hours checking through the most important magazines, newspapers and, in particular, catalogues of international art auctions. Louise and George’s home was built in 1983 by an English architect who clearly liked the traditional country-house style. When the couple acquired it in 1987 it did not look the way it does today.
George: “In the beginning we used it as a weekend house. It only became our permanent home in 2006, when we left our place inManhattan. Since then we have divided our time between weekends here and three days of work in the city, where we stay in a hotel. When we moved here permanently we realised we needed an extension. In 2008 we completed an addition that has almost doubled the floor area to 800 square metres. The form of the extension was largely our own idea.We were assisted by our friend, the architect David Ling, who provided valuable input with his ideas. For instance, he was the one who advised us to concentrate the windows in the large living area in one corner, leavingmorewall space to hang art.”
The original house can best be described as a number of shapes inspired by seemingly interlaced local sheds. The complex is built on a hillside and follows the contours of the slope. The different levels that now occur inside mean that there is more space indoors that would appear from the outside. And yet there is still not enough room for all the design objects and artworks. That would be expecting too much! Even after the substantial extension, much of the collection has to be kept in special climate-controlled storage space. The addition comprised a large rectangular volume at the back of the house. Part of it, under the sloping roof, is open to the ridge, and a mezzanine floor has been built to house, in succession, the master bedroom, bathroom and Louise’s study. The spacious ground floor contains an open plan sitting room with various seating areas around the central fireplace. The windows are placed to leave maximum wall space for showing artworks. A substantial series of window elements is concentrated in the corner where an outdoor balcony has been set against the façade like a drawbridge. The house also has three guestrooms plus a small additional bedroom, a dining room, an art gallery, media room and George’s office. Two patios at the back overlook the downhill sloping grounds and gardens, the swimming pool in natural hues, a large, grassy meadow and the woods beyond. An interesting aspect of the collection is that every piece of furniture, every artwork and every item of fabric tells a story. In fact, you will find the entire history of furniture design of recent decades here. As he walks through his house, George keeps going off at a tangent: every single important name in furniture design crops up. He talks about his experiences with Jo Colombo and Verner Panton, Philip Starck and Ingo Maurer. Many of the designers have become their friends. The collection not only includes design furniture, on the contrary, there is a great deal of modern art, as well as an important collection of Coptic textiles, miniature chairs and decorative boxes. But there’s more: auction catalogues are not safe when George is around. He thoroughly enjoys regaling his friends with information on everything that appeals to him. “The collection has come about over the years. The furniture dates from the days when I was in the chair business. Little by little, we purchased and collected the rest in the time-honoured way. Our art also determines the interior design of our house: entirely non referential. That’s what Louise and I like. Not a style or a period, but an eclectic totality - a real ‘house-house’. They’ve been married for 45 years. Both were born in Egypt, of Armenian descent. When the various family businesses in Egypt were nationalised, they moved to America at the end of the ’fifties. George graduated in marketing and business studies with distinction from the University of New York, after which he threw himself into interior design. As a champion of modern Italian design, he began spreading the gospel early on from his store, Scarabaeus, which he opened in 1964. It was the first high-concept store in the heart ofManhattan and, as such, admired by many, including Susan Grant Lewin (today an esteemed colleague at OBJEKT©International) who was the first to write about it. The focus at Scarabaeus was on modern, cutting-edge products in which the distinction between art and design was blurred. Pop Art was hung alongsideMexican handwork, and Art Nouveau objects rubbed shoulders with the creative products of emergent Italian designers. There was no other place in America combining such a range of cultures. And George’s strong personal conviction was the basis for its success. Beylerian’s ‘Something Else’ collection altered the interiors landscape of the United States instantly. The ‘shop-in-shop’ formula turned it into a major high-end accessories collection. It was nothing less than a revolution in modern design retailing. The next milestone was his Casa Idea - a store-in-store at Bloomingdales. According to Beylerian it was a world premiere, soon followed by his introduction of Kartell plastic furniture, introducing colour in the American interior with that furniture manufacturer: Primrose colours became a major trend.
He then entered the contract market, bombarding it with his Contract Collection: relatively high-priced design products by prestigious designers. It appealed to leading players in that market and Steelcase made Beylerian an offer he couldn’t refuse. His involvement was to set off a veritable upgrading of the Steelcase image and business. As Vice President and Creative Director, he altered the company’s course in keeping with his own, unique approach and perspective. He organised a number of trail-blazing exhibitions to elevate Steelcase’s identity to a higher plane. They included ‘Life, Work, Tools’ featuring the tools of artists, performers and innovative entrepreneurs, and ‘Mondo Materialis’ in which he asked 150 of the world’s top architects and designers for their ideas on the materials of the future. It led to an exhibition in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. George Beylerian continued to be consumed by the theme of materials for the future, which ultimately resulted inMaterial ConneXion - in his opinion, the missing link between the world of high-tech materials and that of design professionals. Material ConneXion recently moved to new premises on Madison Avenue, from where it steers its branches world wide.
The conglomerate has a separate section that represents a number of top designers, including Yves Behar, Dror Benshetrit,Milton Glaser, Sami Hayek, Piero Lissoni, MIO, Paola Navone, Philippe Starck and MarcelWanders. George knows them each and every one - all the influential designers of the last fifty years. Had - still has - close friendships with many of them and can recount his adventures with creative celebrities for hours on end. “The first Italian designers were usually out-of-work architects. They laid the foundations for what is now called Italian design”, as George Beylerian explained. Meanwhile Louise has covered the distance between Kent and the heart ofManhattan in record time. The excitement of New York awaits.