Victoria Reppert makes fixing up a standard rental look like child’s play. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department at the embassies in Cairo and Tunisia. Even though Victoria loves her job, it can be difficult being so far away from family and friends, so she works particularly hard to make her residence feel as homey as possible, which is quite a challenge. The residences in the Foreign Service are almost always furnished, so Victoria has had to become an expert at disguising the utilitarian furniture. This residence is located in La Marsa, Tunisia, in the northern coastal suburbs of the capital, Tunis. La Marsa, المرسى, means “anchorage” or “marina” in Arabic, and it was the old summer capital of pre-colonial Tunisia. According to Victoria, La Marsa is distinguished by many fine older houses — some dating from the time of the Ottoman beys — as well as splendid Mediterranean vistas and wonderful established gardens of bougainvillea and oleander throughout the neighborhood, which is fringed with tall cypress trees. During her previous assignment in Cairo, Victoria acquired many Middle Eastern items that she’s balanced with thrifted mid-century pieces, which have the added benefit of being lightweight. (Foreign Service Officers have a limited weight allowance for shipment between posts, so weight is always a concern.) Of course, nothing in the Foreign Service lasts forever, and just two months ago, after three years in Tunisia, Victoria packed up her furniture and put her personal items in storage as she heads to Baghdad for a year. After a year in Iraq, she’s slated to go to Paris, where she can’t wait to roam the stalls of the Clignancourt flea market! Best of luck to Victoria! Thanks so much for sharing your home with us! And thanks to her fellow Foreign Services Officer, Isabel Rioja-Scott, for the lovely photographs. — Amy Azzarito
Image above: This horsehair-stuffed chair was my first reupholstery project, under the tutelage of my 87-year-old grandmother, Dorothy, who traveled the world as a Navy wife and who has visited me three times in Tunisia. She’s an expert milliner and upholsterer, and I enjoy working late into the night with her on various sewing projects. We’ve already started on our next project, recovering a ladies’ chaise lounge with a down cushion in a cool saffron-colored linen we found at the market in downtown Tunis. The bookshelves are the only pieces of Embassy furniture I like, and I worked mightily to downsize my book collection enough to fit only two rows’ deep on the shelves. I tend to stuff interesting rocks in my pockets wherever I go, and this picture has a lot of neat rocks and fossils I found camping in the Black and White deserts in Egypt. The carpet is Tunisian; I liked its worn pile and slightly faded colors, and it’s comfortable underfoot.
Image above: The living/dining room is big and undefined, so I used my mashrebiya screen from Cairo to define the sitting area from the library. On the side of the screen is a cool metal cast-iron ring with a bunch of sharp hooks that maids in the medina would use to clean out the laundry and other debris that kids would throw down the well in the central courtyard of old Tunisian houses. It has no function other than potentially impaling you when you walk by, but I love its looks and heft. I tend to gravitate toward old metal cleats and meat hooks and such, for no reason other than that their utility and their design are so intertwined. The mashup ’50s Pharonic-style chairs are from a junk shop in Cairo and were formerly cane with big holes in the seats. I found a wonderful furniture restorer and craftsman in Tunisia, Chokri, who redid the seats and backs in tawny leather with brass tacks. They’re now really solid and comfortable. The pouf is Tunisian, and the carpets are vintage Iranian. I have a bunch of copper pots from Cairo, which are good for houseplants.
See more of Victoria’s home in Tunisia after the jump . . .
Image above: I love this carpet, which is a Turkish Kazak I found in Cairo and which has cool, stylized animals and a very graphic style. I have a lot of wood in the house, and I find that warm-toned blues help downplay all the wood tones. The couch and side tables are Embassy; the lamps are from Goodwill, and the burlap shades cast a nice light at night. I’m mad for soft lighting, so I have dimmers on everything, even the table lamps. The wooden bowl is Tunisian and was used for rolling couscous before you could buy it in a store. It’s really soft and smooth from years of use. I found the old mashrebiya screen in a pile of dirt in the Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo; I hung it off the wall a bit so you can see the patterns of light it makes on the wall at night. The coffee table is from Millennium Decorative Arts, a funky midcentury store, on U St. in Washington, DC.
Image above: The rope chair is from a yard sale and is covered with one of many sheepskins I found at the fripe (used clothing market) in Tunisia. There are lots of sheepskins to be found in Tunisia after the annual Eid Al Adha holiday, when observant Muslims sacrifice a sheep for the family in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail. I found the iron piece hanging on the bookshelf in the southwest of France; it was used to moderate the temperature of a pot cooked over an open fire. The carpet is Afghani. The stereo speaker (one of many) is from Goodwill.
Image above: I found the mock-Eames chair and ottoman from a man on Craigslist who said his grandfather had spent the past 30 years watching TV in the chair; it is that comfortable! Chokri, my Tunisian carpenter friend, restored the peeling veneer and dried-out leather (which was previously a nicotine beige), and it looks much classier than before. I found the lamp on the side of the road in Dupont Circle. The side table is an old whisky barrel that I got for 35 cents at a church yard sale. I like its iron bands and huge old cork. The small carpet on the right is a prayer rug from Iran.
Image above: The upstairs sitting room is where the TV lives. I found the chunky coffee table (which you can stand on, always a plus) at a furniture store in La Soukra, Tunisia, and I made the floor pillows with funky vintage curtains I found at the fripe used-clothing market in Ibn Khaldoun, outside Tunis. I’ve been toting around the cast-iron chandelier, which I found at a junk shop in France, since high school. The fabric wall hanging is from the tentmaker’s market, the khayameya, in Cairo; the artisans there have been sewing thousands of tiny pieces of fabric together since the days of Salah Ad-din, and it’s a dying art. I found the Danish couch on Craigslist and worked with my grandma to cover the new foam cushions in undyed linen. The brass table in the corner is from some alley of the Khan el-Khalili market.
Image above: Embassy table and chairs (I loathe the huge, wide seats!). I put a lot of vintage mirrors in the corner to compensate for the room’s general lack of light. The canvas map on the wall is a pull-down map from the ’30s, and it’s neat to go through the countries of Africa to see what has stayed the same and what has changed since it was printed. The kilim is vintage Berber, from the areas near the Algerian border with Tunisia, and the brass lamp is from Cairo.
Image above: Close-up of the dining area. I found the mirror, which probably topped a dresser, and the silver mint julep cups at Country Boy in Norfolk, VA. The bar cart is from Goodwill, and I bought the Dansk teak ice bucket on Etsy. My father brought back the candlesticks from Iran on a trip after college. My friend found the old painted tiles on a deck outside his roof in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia.
Image above: This was the table I grew up eating on; I normally use it as a desk due to the cool foot rail, but I stuck it in the kitchen here, as it can expand to seat a crowd — I love to have lots of impromptu dinner parties, which usually spill into the back patio off the kitchen. I lifted the carpet, which my dad picked up in Cairo in the ’90s, from my parents’ house (thanks, mom and dad). I found the Danish spindle chairs on Craigslist and spruced them up a bit with some steel wool and teak oil; note more sheepskins from the fripe market, enjoyed by both man and beast. I got the brass lamp on a recent trip to Fes, Morocco, and it makes a great twinkly light at night.
Image above: The kitchen is really well laid-out for Tunisia (normally people don’t socialize in the kitchen in the Arab world) and has a big island and nice Italian cabinets and appliances. The oven is tiny, but somehow I managed to squeeze in a giant Butterball turkey for the holidays in true American fashion. I put mirrors on the counter to bring a little more light into the room; this one is from Community Forklift in DC (a wonderful salvage operation), sans many layers of seafoam-colored lead paint. The hurricane lanterns are from IKEA, and I found the teak wine rack on Etsy. I am really clumsy and prone to dropping glassware, which prompts shatters on the tile floors (never again!), hence the second-tier carpets in the kitchen. They also help to save your feet from hurting while cooking; tile is less forgiving than wood floors with joists that give a bit when walking or standing.
Image above: Dining area close-up: The oak fridge in the corner was my great-aunt’s; I use the zinc-lined top part (where an ice block would have sat) as a bar, and the ceramic-lined bottom section (where foodstuffs were kept) for table linens. I found the oak chairs on Craigslist and had them cleaned up; I like the leather seats even if they are a bit cracked. The lamp is from Cairo, and the Danish teak candlesticks are from Etsy. (Note to self: Do not let candles burn down to the stub in wooden candlesticks, as they quickly turn to kindling!) I love old mirrors, especially once the silvering gets discolored and peely; the one over the chair is from a junk shop in Belfast, Maine, and was originally part of a cabinet.
Image above: My bike, which I love, lives here. Above is a huge old brass tray I got in Cairo, which has Koranic script all around it. The carpet is an old Hamadan camelhair, which I purloined from my parents’ house; I had the fringe restored and some of the more egregious holes sewn up. I love how older carpets get more richly colored as time goes on. I put a stick-on mustache by the peephole in the door for no reason other than it amuses me.
Image above: Close-up of the sitting area in the living room. This is one of a pair of funky old plant stands I found in a Cairo junk shop. The pillow is from a great store in the Khan el-Khalili in Cairo, which sells old movie posters and funky fabrics; this guy is an Egyptian film star from the ’60s, I believe.
Image above: This is the corner of my patio, with a neat leather chair from the ’30s that is insanely comfortable. I normally don’t keep it outside, but it’s really light, so it can follow you around the house.
Image above: That’s me, sitting like a pacha. I found the old red circus poster on Etsy and mounted it on posterboard; the room needed some graphic elements to contrast with all the ethnic stuff and old wood. I painted the side and back wall a particularly lovely shade of dark teal blue last winter over a weekend, and it helps to break up the space, which is dark to begin with. I like to paint and am working on a series of random ancestors (none of them mine) from a book of old daguerreotypes; this squinty fellow is hiding a mess of stereo and power converter wires.