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Q&A: Interior Design in Iran — Peeking Behind Closed Curtains with Lena Späth

by Sofia Tuovinen

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
What makes me so happy as a writer at Design*Droits-Humains is our constant effort to share with you a variety of homes and homeowners from all over the country (and even the world!). There will always be room to widen both our views and understanding of interiors and design and what they mean to people in different cultures and societies. Today I’m so thrilled to introduce you to , first-time author and publisher, whose book offers a peek into some of the most beautifully decorated private homes in Iran.

Lena, who grew up in Germany and currently resides in Spain, first became acquainted with Iranian interiors during her Middle Eastern Studies exchange in Tehran. She was instantly drawn to the deep heritage and architectural mastery of the buildings that surrounded her — the contrast between grandeur and simplicity along with the natural materials, earthy colors and elaborate designs made a big and long-lasting impression. When Lena decided to leave her full-time job in Barcelona two years ago, she knew her path would lead her back to Iranian culture and design. “It was important for me to tell the stories of Iranians — the people behind these houses — and explain Iranian culture along with the design elements,” she says. “A book on beautiful, private places would also draw attention away from politics and onto design and architecture — it would illustrate a positive and especially human face of Iran.”

To embrace herself with Iranian interiors and to be invited behind those closed curtains, Lena spent several months traveling around Iran, getting to know locals and receiving plenty of help from friends and strangers alike. “It was great to see how [my] own passion can inspire others and how much my friends and family, as well as people who did not know me, supported me and the project,” she shares. On top of allowing others to see the beauty of Iranian homes, writing and publishing the book has also been a personal victory and milestone for Lena. “Making it to the end, printing this book and receiving so much positive feedback opened my eyes to what I am truly capable of.”

Lena’s book  is available to order through , and other well-equipped bookstores. —

Photography by Hamed Farhangi

Image above: Earthy tones, stunning architectural details and colorful textiles make up Vida Kalantari’s living room in Kashan, Iran.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
Image above: Lena Späth’s book, .

What initially drew you to Iranian design in particular?

Lena: My journey started with handicrafts. I always had a huge interest in everything made by hand. Iran is, after India, the country with the biggest variety of handicrafts. When you travel the country you always stumble [on] a carpenter’s workshop or a tile maker’s studio. I fell in love with these ancient detail-orientated skills.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains

Image above: An ayvan (veranda) in Sufi Shahidzadeh Falsafi’s house in Esfahan, Iran. 

What is your favorite aspect of Iranian interiors?

My favorite aspect of Iranian interior design is my favorite aspect of Iranian culture — it’s the social and collective character. Traditional Iranian homes are focused on people who enjoy nothing more than spending time with friends and family. So, houses and interior design have to be functional and serve the Iranian hospitality. That is why you find huge living and dining rooms and outdoor daybeds [that seat] six or more persons.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains

Image above: The living room in Amir Morteza Besharat’s home in Esfahan features strikingly decorative floor tiles. Traditional stained glass doors and windows bring in daylight. 

It was important for me to tell the stories of Iranians — the people behind these houses — and explain Iranian culture along with the design elements.

Please tell us more about Iranian interiors and homes — what makes them special?

It would be the level of architectural mastery, the diversity of high-quality handicrafts and the warm feeling [that] the earthy colors and materials give a spectator. Iranian architecture [combines] grandeur and simplicity. Traditional Iranian houses [are built] of mud and clay or wood. Earthy colors and natural materials like wood, stone [and] reed [are used] for finishings and furniture. This, together with the common floor plan and motifs referencing nature and wildlife, creates a warm and calm atmosphere and a special connection to Mother Earth.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains

Image above: Vida Kalantari’s house in Kashan, Iran is one of the homes featured in Lena’s book. 

What do you feel we can learn from Iranian interiors?

Iranian interior design shows us how architecture itself can be interior design. From the honeycomb [vaults] called Mugarnas to the Persian garden, Iranian design [is all about] abstraction. Western interior design [is usually about] the opposite, [as we] add things to rather empty [spaces].

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains

Lena Späth spent over three months traveling around Iran to find and capture homes that represent the essence of Iranian interior design.

What did the process of writing this book teach you about yourself?

Producing this book taught me a lot about myself. Finishing the book without a big publisher and only [with] my own [financial] investment, [and] working with some great and enthusiastic people made me gain some self-confidence related to my professional work. Still, I realized that freedom [goes hand in hand] with lots of responsibilities and fears. Before this project I never faced existential fear, but when you invest so much money, it’s not easy to not let [it] affect your mood and sleep. That is why it is so important to support each other when doing projects like mine, [and have] an affirmative rather than critical attitude.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains

The guest bedroom in Amir Morteza Besharat’s house in Esfahan, Iran. 

What are you most thankful for when it comes to this book and the process of producing it?

The “Thank you” part of my book became two pages long! It is a book not only done by me, but hundreds of helpers along the way. There are some friends who had to endure my self-doubts and fears, there are others who gave valuable input, and there’s my family who still helps a lot with shipments and so on. It would not have been such a great book and experience without the people and the team.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
Image above: Bold turquoise walls with arched built-ins make a statement in Sufi Shahidzadeh Falsafi’s guest room. 

What's the most significant takeaway you absorbed from the homes that were featured in your book?

The most important takeaway was how much variety in interior styles we find in Iran. We are still at the outset of our search for the Iranian interior style, but I see that some people are leaving their marks. It will be interesting to see where the future takes us.

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
Image above: Another guest bedroom in Sufi Shahidzadeh Falsafi’s home. 

 

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
Image above: Geometric shapes have been mixed with soft curves in the facade of Ali Ravanpak’s holiday villa by the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran.

 

Q&A: Peeking Behind Closed Curtains in Lena Späth’s Book on Iranian Interiors | Design*Droits-Humains
Image above: Lena Späth’s book

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Comments

  • Thank you so much for this! I lived in Iraq and there was that same emphasis on the public space. When you were welcomed into someone’s home you were an honored guest. It’s wonderful to see these homes.

  • These interiors are SO GOOD. What a great way to promote cross cultural connections seeing how people live in other less explored countries. Sport (in particular the Olympics) is often held up as a way of engaging with other countries but lifestyle, art, film and culture are equally if not more effective ways of engaging with the world in my humble opinion. I would also love to see interiors from other middle eastern countries, central Asia, India, China, Japan, South East Asia, South America, Mexico and Africa (anywhere at all really including the more frequently seen houses in Europe which I also love) if at all possible. (I know this blog has featured homes from South America and Asia as well as Europe in the past but more would be great). And I am definitely buying this book!

    • Margot

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this. We agree that interiors, and any discussion about “home”, is always a great way to connect with people in different parts of the world.

      Grace

  • Thank you, DesignDroits-Humains. As always, it’s the humanity and focus toward connectivity that makes this so much more than a design blog. You have so much heart.

  • Bravo Lena! This looks like a beautiful treasure of a book. I love all the colors and design elements in the architecture.

  • Thank you for sharing this. It is great to see Iran’s culture portrayed in the U.S., instead of its politics. I would love to visit Iran, and this is a great peak into a design style so different from the Western one.

  • Thank you so much for this! I living in Australia and there is that same emphasis on the public space. When you were welcomed into someone’s home you were an honored guest. It’s wonderful to see these homes.

  • Thank you Lena for writing this book and Design Droits-Humains and Sofia for featuring it. I visited Iran a couple of years ago and fell in love with the warm, hospitable people. I stayed in small hotels that had been converted from beautiful, old homes and visited many bazaars where I saw artisans making traditional handicrafts. With this book, I can now have a look into how Iranians decorate their homes and experience a bit more of my favorite place.

  • Such a great read. Thank you for sharing this.

    It’s fascinating to peek into other cultures, and I always like those “day in the life” series that portay life in different parts of the world.

    It’s not often that we get to look from non Euro-centric or US-centric points of view.

  • My favorite part of this interview is the concept of empty space and architecture as decoration vs. adding objects to decorate. That leaves these rooms looking so calm and airy!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this profile on Lena’s book! You unfortunately don’t often see the beauty of Iran depicted in popular culture and you for sure miss it in discussion regarding design. Persian rugs get referenced a lot but people oftentimes disassociate it from the beautiful county it originates from. We have a shop where we sell Persian rugs and Persian art alongside art from around the world and we were very excited to hear about this book and look forward to carrying it in our store to share with more people. I can’t wait to read the full book. Look forward to seeing more profiles like this in the future on your blog.

  • When reading all these comments, I couldn’t help but feel happy and touched at the same time. I am grateful that there are so many like-minded people all over the world who believe that art and culture can connect people and who have a genuine interest in Iran and its design. My goal was to tell a different story of Iran and it seems me and the team succeded. I will continue that path and report more from old Persia and perhaps one day from other still undiscovered countries too.

    Sincerely,
    Your author, Lena Späth

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