What makes me so happy as a writer at Design*Sponge 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 Lena Späth, first-time author and publisher, whose book Behind Closed Curtains 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.”
Image above: Earthy tones, stunning architectural details and colorful textiles make up Vida Kalantari’s living room in Kashan, Iran.
Image above: Lena Späth’s book, Behind Closed Curtains – Interior Design in Iran.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
Image above: Another guest bedroom in Sufi Shahidzadeh Falsafi’s home.
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.
Image above: Lena Späth’s book Behind Closed Curtains – Interior Design in Iran.