“I grew up in Beirut during the war, and there was a saying I often heard that translated to ‘If you wake up and your car is bombed, then be grateful that only the car is destroyed.’ You consider yourself lucky to be alive.”
Tony Salamé—the founder of the 34-year-old Lebanese luxury department-store chain Aïshti; a collector of contemporary art since 2000; and more recently the sponsor of a breathtaking department store and a mixed-use complex, both designed for Beirut, respectively, by Zaha Hadid and David Adjaye—is reflecting on the experiences that molded him into an arbiter of culture. The entrepreneur and philanthropist admits that not everyone who came of age during the Lebanese Civil War emerged from the conflict with a zest for human endeavor. But thanks to his hard-earned joviality, combined with lifelong travel and a desire to give back, “I liked the idea of bringing new, outside concepts to the rebuilding and the restoring of Lebanon.”
As his influence has grown beyond hometown and even national borders, so Salamé has remade his relationships with the people whom he champions, increasingly pushing makers’ creative limits. “It’s good to engage in dialogue—it’s energizing for me,” he says of his shift toward patronage, noting a special fondness for tussling with architects. Nowhere is that more true than in Batroun, the coastal Lebanese city where Salamé and his family have settled into a getaway in the Marea community. Known as Villa Papillon, it is the first single-family residence to be completed by the AD100 firm WORKac.
“Our first house had to be our best house,” says Dan Wood, who cofounded WORKac with Amale Andraos two decades ago, of the opportunity. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to incorporate all the thinking we’ve done about houses since we became architects.”