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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
The LOFT Gallery: Orientalist’s Dream
Shops like the LOFT Gallery are the reason why we love Cairo. Where else can you walk off the street and enter a world frozen in time, both elegant in its age and striking in its presentation? As soon as you’re inside, you’re hit by how special the place is, where beautifully detailed antiques and curiosities hang from every corner and substantial pieces of furniture look as if they’ve been standing for centuries.
The brainchild of Hani Gamil, an Upper Egyptian interior decorator, and Pierre, a French-Canadian romantic, the shop was opened in November 2002 to fulfil Gamil’s dream of starting his own business. Gamil used to manage a similar shop and worked for many years as a decorator on some well-known avant-garde designs. When the shop closed, he saw the opportunity to branch out on his own.
The pair first began collecting interesting old items, and used to rent workshops. They purposely sought an apartment, not a store, and they found the perfect home in a large charming flat inside a 1930s mansion in Zamalek. The high ceilings and spacious rooms were the perfect venue to display their beautiful light fixtures, including some amazingly grandiose chandeliers– one of their specialties– along with curiosities and some rare antique pieces.
Now people come to them, attempting to sell anything and everything. They have made a few finds, and they recycle a lot. Old ironwork, once part of a staircase and window frames are now incorporated into coffee tables. Chandeliers have elements of old and new, such as an old ornamented ring placed around a newer light fixture. And they’re not against experimentation– pieces should be creative and functional.
Their team now consists of about twelve to fifteen people, including painters, artists, craftsmen, electricians, and of course, salespeople spread out over three workshops in Cairo where items are painted and refurbished. Expats thirsting for oriental charm represent about 65% of their clientele, while Egyptians seeking something different from the Louis Farouk style and the odd tourist round out the mix.
Considering this place exists for a niche market, one would expect their prices to reflect this, and they do. Turkish style trays go for about 950LE, tables can cost1700LE, one bookshelf was listed at 10,000LE, and a very stylish art deco bedroom set was around 50,000LE. They do have some cheaper consignment items as well, and those looking for some a keepsake will find something for 20LE.
Not everything is for sale, however; one of their most prized discoveries is a 110-year-old European baby bassinet that has now become a conversation piece. Many have tried to purchase it, and at a pretty penny too; but considering there’s a similar one currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s highly doubtful they’ll be parting with it anytime soon.
The common notion in the Egyptian market that the word ‘Imported’ stands for good quality has lead many business owners to neglect Egyptian-made products and even take pride in offering the costumer the imported ones. Now that almost everything we buy has been manufactured abroad, one can’t help but be impressed when finding quality products with the label ‘Made in Egypt’.
Among the local brands that are swimming against the tide, Inca & Co. offers a variety of furniture textiles and fabrics, which are designed by Egyptian artists and mostly manufactured in Egypt. Located on 26th of July Street next to Drinkies in Zamalek, the spacious shop well-organised and efficiently set-out. On the left, is a collection of fabrics is displayed on wall-mounted metal tubes, while other products, like cushions, are shelved on the other side. At the centre of the shop, a number of swatch books are displayed on a rectangular island.
One of the collections that can be found in the swatch books is ‘The Road to Marrakesh’, whose relatively light fabrics can be perfect for beach house furniture. From this collection, we liked a white fabric embroidered in black with a simple floral design (340LE per metre).
With a more complex design of flowers and birds, ‘Mexico Passion’ (460LE per metre) boasts a heavier material, durable for daily-use furniture. Not as heavy is the curtain-suitable ‘Winter Dust’ (325LE per metre), whose geometrical patterns come in various colours, including beige and light blue.
Besides fabrics, Inca & Co. has a versatile collection of products, including cushions (medium 325LE / Large 375LE), poufs (1150LE) and mattresses of different shapes and size. From the latter we liked the over-sized squared mattress (1980LE), which can comfortably take two persons, as well as a more firm mattress for a single person (890LE).
And like any Textile shop, none of the displayed items are available for instant purchasing; while the fabrics are received four days after placing the order, other products take to 10 days, which you can customise by choosing the fabric and adding tassels for an extra fee of 65LE.
In the textiles business, both durability and design are of great importance. And while Inca & Co. designs mainly cater to modern settings, the diverse collection promises good quality and taste – but at a price.