With Qatar National Day fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to write about one of my favorite home-grown crafts – the Qatari wooden bench. Found everywhere all over town, but particularly in Souq Waqif, the main shopping and eating artery where we recently devoured the cheapest most delicious meal with some of our very best friends visiting from Japan (all while sitting on some of these benches)…
…and Katara, the stunning cultural village out towards The Pearl. The benches are charming, surprisingly comfortable and visually arresting.
It was a wonderful surprise to discover that they are readily available, customizable and very inexpensive to have made by local carpenters tucked behind Al Rayyan Road along Al Shagab Street – I’ll call it the “bench souq”. This is definitely a spot you’ll be hearing about in my “Doha Design & Decor Directory” that will be added to the blog in the new year, but more about that another time. With an empty back patio to fill and gorgeous weather for sitting outside, I have been desperate to furnish my garden space but didn’t want to spend a lot of money (nothing lasts in the summer sun for long) nor choose something out of context. The space is square, with lots of fuchsia Bougainvillea hanging over it.
Looking back towards the house I have started to find plants for my blue and white hibachi and planters (post on those coming in the new year as well). As this brick patio lines up directly with the living room/dining room, the view of what is out here is quite important.
On my first visit to the bench souq I saw numerous varieties of this traditional seating of varying style and quality. Most of the benches are designed to be painted and there is a large roster of bright colors. I am super tempted to go with a color, but worry that it will be too distracting from inside the house. Instagram friends have suggested going with blue or green for the benches, and even coral, all of which sound appealing, but I’m not sure I want to pull that much attention from the interior.
I left that first visit full of ideas while a friend here went ahead and ordered the simple benches above. They were finished within the week and when we went back today they were loaded up on a truck and delivered to her house.
Another carpenter had a few more unusual choices including this bench with finials similar to the green one I love in the top photo from Souq Waqif. This blue is also dreamy color!
But I fell in love with a more finished (and thus more expensive) bench featuring a traditional dowel musharrabieh (or moucharabieh or mashrabiya, the myriad of spellings is endless) the latticework so often used for window coverings in Arab architecture. It’s often said they are used to allow women to see out, but keep others from seeing in. I’m not sure that this is really true but I loved it as a decorative feature in these benches.
The carpenters are looking into getting me a white stain, instead of paint, as I think it is the paint that has trouble holding up against the extremities of the elements here. I have been planning on a lush blue and white backyard oasis for a while now, which was utterly confirmed when Vogue published Rebecca de Ravenel’s gorgeous NYC terrace recently. Ticking, Indian block prints from Brigitte Singh and blue and white porcelain. Need I say more? I keep finding inspiring things in her apartment (as in this post) and I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of it.
White with a bit of wood grain peeking through will be soft against the white garden walls and it gives me the perfect backdrop to mix blue and white with the bright pinks, greens and yellows found elsewhere in the garden flowers. It is pretty standard to get long cushions made to soften the hard seat of the benches, usually in a traditional red Arabic fabric. I decided to buck the trend and look for something a little more western for contrast. I think the cushions will only last a year or so, so budget was key. I could not have been happier to find this new IKEA fabric called Angsrutta for about $5 a meter. It works on so many levels!
Not to forget to mention that I am having a giant coffee table made to sit between them, much like this one, perfect for casual dining and hors d’oeuvres. This also gives you a peek at how bright the paint colors can be and the traditional red fabric used for the seat cushions.
So I bit the bullet and placed my order today. We will have to see what gets lost in translation – surely something will – but I can always have them repainted if necessary. Here’s to cocktails in the garden in the new year!