Code8's Self-Made Stories | Danielle Moudaber
s a small, start-up brand, we are always on the hunt for the opportunity to champion other hardworking individuals, both within the fashion and beauty industries and beyond. With this in mind, we are delighted to introduce Code8’s Self-Made Stories, a collection of stories showcasing influential individuals who have created a name for themselves in their respective fields, all while spreading kindness, motivation and encouragement along the way. Let us introduce interior and furniture designer Danielle Moudaber.
Tell us about yourself and how you got started in interior and furniture design.
(photo by Sebastian Boettcher)
My first passions in life were books, dance and romance.
I wanted to read all day and dance all night. Hang out with family friends, my boyfriend and just inhabit my world of stories poems and mythologies, and try to not engage in anything I didn’t want to be around as much as I could.
I have the most vivid and galloping imagination since my childhood. After discovering a few years ago, the books of Leonora Carrington - only then did I understand that I was probably one of those who were born with surreal eyes on life and another imaginary world always superimposed itself unto reality.
None of my flights of fancy occurred, no bookstore for me nor show dancing. As it happens I come from a solid traditional Lebanese family with grounded values despite all the various eccentric characters members of my family. I never considered being an interior designer or anything of that sort. I studied Journalism and reporting at university. It just happened by chance—by the age of 24 I finalised my divorce, so I started all young an adult life but I was far from being one.
Tell us about the women in your life who have inspired you and helped shape you both professionally and personally.
My sister-in-law was a very keen collector and avid art lover. She took me daily with her to Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams. I was a young girl who recently moved to London and I didn’t have many friends, so she was really my only friend. I spent most of my free time with her, I am still in contact with her regularly now that she lives in Madrid. She was my first mentor.
She was the first person that could sense I have a taste for interior and art—I didn’t even realise it and it wasn’t my main interest. She had a fantastic flat in Cadogan Square with superb volumes of mouldings and plasterwork. All of the furniture was edgy, contemporary Italian design mixed with Louis the 15th Baroque pieces. Fabulous lighting, music and scents wafting around, flowers, candles and she hosted at least two dinner parties a week. The whole flat has an exquisite ambience which made my heart skip a beat.
The atmosphere, the alchemy and the transmutation—what we see now being done in Venice but 25 years ago, or more.
She would unleash me in the viewing rooms at auctions houses and ask me to look at all the silverware, paintings, sculptures, furniture and jewellery, etc. At the end of each auction session, I had to pick three of my favourite items and explain to her why I had chosen them. She was very intrigued by what I liked and how I would use it.
After her encouragement, I enrolled in a modern art course unconvincingly at Christie’s. I was young and all my friends were at university, so I felt odd being married and not studying like them. After that, I met a property developer who eventually became my boyfriend for a very long time. He wanted assistant with his work, so I offered to step in and help him, which I did for many years. I was on the building sites daily and I learnt a great deal.
I was there every day, observed and asked questions to understand how things are made of, and how they work, and the materials involved. Slowly, it started to make sense to me and soon after, I understood the whole process of building, transforming and enhancing rooms and spaces.
Then one day, I come across this flat in London and I had a total coup de foudre. It was a spectacular ballroom with massive windows, a fabulous Robert Adam ceiling and just one bedroom. Drenched with natural light—it was just glorious. I persuaded my then-boyfriend to buy the flat and I did it up. By then, I had gained confidence and skills during my years of having spent so much time doing up other flats. The result was just incredible, the ballroom ended up being in silver and antiqued pink. It had perfect volumes and I worked around the beauty of the space, and not in style it with furniture.
The modern palatial style was going to be my signature style. By then, I was completely hooked on interior design, designing furniture, decorative arts and more. I became so addicted, I could not stop thinking about it and the excitement of seeing the physical manifestation of my design. In tangibility, that helped me being immersed in the decorative set design I needed to have because I like uninterrupted dreams.
I found a way to combine my love for stories and fiction that I found in books into making them lifestyle stories, interiors stories or functional art stories.
You’ve had a really diverse background that spans across Nigeria, Lebanon and now the UK. All of these places are so unique, how has this influenced your style and aesthetic, both personally and as a designer?
My mother loves beautiful and delicate things, she has an innate sense of proportion and finesse and is also very skilled manually. My late father liked to make things happen. He was an industrialist and entrepreneur in Nigeria. The combination of practicality and aesthetics are in my DNA!
When I used to live in my parents’ home, I was very interested in all the meetings my parents had with their interior designer. I just loved it and came to admire her so much—I still do. She was a French Italian lady married to a Lebanese architect. She was gorgeous, stylish, fun and was part of the house when I was growing up. Not like a family member but it felt as if she was the one who knew everything and everyone. This is very normal as there is a certain intimacy that prevails when making homes.
I was born in Nigeria and moved to Lebanon at the age of 10 or so, I love Lagos as much Beirut, maybe even more. I feel at home in Nigeria, I love the style of Nigerians, their swagger, their joyfulness and the women look glorious in their traditional outfits, the men are also so dapper.
The bright colours, the patterns and shapes, along with their incredible music; my childhood and up till now is very coloured by Africa and its culture. You can even see it in my work even if it is applied in such an obvious manner. From my Lebanese heritage, I can make things happen. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and take on things, it comes naturally to me to take charge and I love working with a team. I am capable of infusing enthusiasm and excitement, so everyone is ready for a new adventure.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women who are entering adulthood and shaping their careers?
My advice to men and women is to definitely follow your passion in life, however don’t discard what you are good at even if it’s not your initial passion. Sometimes it happens that you are good at something you have never thought was your passion from the start. But maybe luck and success come easier this way, with less arduousness than your initial passion (that you can keep of course). Be aware of where the doors will open easier for you, don’t force it.
While doing flats with my boyfriend in London, I studied photography and fine printing. I loved it and I still do, yet it was all so hard for me. The darkroom that I installed in the house— I didn’t have a kitchen as it’s not good to mix the chemicals with edibles. I could not get jobs in photography. Between my natural reserve and shyness—then at least was so exacerbated—it didn’t suit my personality to pitch for a job.
I suffered the expenses of all the photography materials: the framing, the darkroom materials and the fact that I had no kitchen! The whole thing wasn’t easy. Coupled with the love of photographing architecture and artistic images was not going to really offset the expenses I was incurring, it was all an uphill struggle.
As for women, my advice is to just try out things and then decide if you like it or not.
Once you made up your choice/s—practice them regardless of good or bad reasons. Just practice and hone your skills daily.
What is the best piece of advice or wisdom that you’ve received from a role model or elder?
My martial arts Master is another mentor of mine. (He has no idea about design or its existence, another kind of mentor.) He keeps on saying to me this, and uncannily it involves two materials I use a lot: “Be like cotton outside and steel inside. Flexible and strong equally.”