When shopping for the holidays, visit the boutique Beyt by 2B Design, where people and cultures are salvaged, one handmade piece at a time.
Benedicte de Blavous Moubarak and her husband, Raja.
Maybe it was working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, or the time she was kidnapped in the Philippines, but somewhere along the line Benedicte de Blavous Moubarak committed herself to finding beauty in a flawed world.
She is humble, to say the least, about her adventures. Raja, her husband, fills in the blanks. “She won’t tell you, but I will,” he laughs. “She also helped the destitute in Manila, Asia, and Africa. She is always helping people.”
The couple is sitting on paint-splattered wooden stools in the back of Beyt by 2B Design, their home décor boutique just outside of Harvard Square. Beyt means “home” in Hebrew and Arabic, and the couple knows those languages and histories well. While they met in Paris, they raised their three daughters primarily in Beirut, after years of living in various countries, with Raja working as a corporate executive managing his region of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Algeria. Benedicte pursued her passions, including art and humanitarian efforts. “I was always trying to meet the artisans, you know, the undiscovered craftspeople,” she says. She was also struck by the history of conflict in their adopted city of Beirut. “I was shocked by the systematic destruction of heritage—beautiful heritage with French, Ottoman, and Arabic influences.”
Their home décor boutique Beyt by 2B Design (beyt means “home” in Hebrew and Arabic).
Sometimes big ideas come from a simple question: What if? What if, Benedicte asked Raja, we salvaged damaged or abandoned objects and refurbished them? What if we employed disadvantaged members of society? What if we created a new type of business? Raja quit his job.
“We use beauty as a platform,” Benedicte says, twirling the scarf that’s loosely tied around her neck, “to link broken heritage with broken people.” Raja points to an asymmetrical necklace, dramatic and fetching, that hangs in Beyt by 2B Design. “It’s made out of bullet shells from Beirut,” he says. In front of the jewelry is a row of lamps created from a discarded iron-rod gate found in Syria, pillows made from a high-end designer material discovered in abandoned homes in Beirut, and relics from Egypt transformed into bright, contemporary side tables.
There are also lamp shades scattered about—many, many lamp shades, with pops of orange, splashy hand-woven designs, and rich bouclé fabric. “I made those,” says Lorraine Carrington, a boutique employee wearing a floral purple smock and a toothy grin. She holds up the hot-pink and yellow swirled lamp shade from the counter she is working at in the back of the store. “This is by Lorraine—me!” she says. Carrington is just one of dozens of employees trained by Raja and Benedicte here in Boston as well as in Beirut to create objects to sell from the salvaged items Benedicte has found all over the world. The couple say they specifically recruit disadvantaged folks with a range of ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds to promote reconciliation. “I was homeless for two years,” Carrington says. “I was a heavy, heavy alcoholic. I was incarcerated for six months.” But that was then, this is now. “I am sober. I work here three days a week,” she says. “A couple of times I almost packed up and said this isn’t for me, because I ran away from situations in life. But I’m a spiritual person and believe this was a calling. This is my calling, to make lamps, lamp shades, and pillowcases.”
Lorraine Carrington, a formerly homeless woman who has found her calling at Beyt by 2B Design.
The aim of Beyt by 2B Design's business plan is to turn this into a social enterprise that inspires others, with vendors all over the world and boutiques in a few key cities. If that happens, it would be the first of its kind. “What we want to communicate,” Raja says, “is that brokenness is not something to be discarded. We want to restore the unseen beauty in the broken. You have people who are broken in their dignity, spirit, and body, and you have a heritage that is broken as well. We want to bring all of this together and transform it into beauty.”
Beauty as simple as a lamp shade. “I have lamp shades that are sitting in someone’s home right now,” says Carrington. “Well, they were made with my hands. This is Lorraine Carrington today.” 185 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-401-8415