With the care of creative entrepreneurs, Iran’s historic houses are being reimagined as alluring boutique hotels. Here, we spotlight three from Thomas Wegmann’s charming book, Persian Nights.
MANOUCHEHRI HOUSE, KASHAN
A beacon among Iran’s boutique hotels, Manouchehri House’s essence lies in the revival of Kashan: the former centre of Iranian textile arts. Located within a renovated 18th-century residence, the hotel was created to sustain the renewal of traditional forms of velvet, brocade and silk weaving, once practised fervently in almost every household in the region. The brainchild of Saba Manouchehri, philanthropist and owner of the establishment, Manouchehri House initiated the movement of renovating and repurposing historic structures as accommodations for tourists. Hidden behind its ancient walls, beautiful details such as coloured-glass windows, antique Iranian furnishings and intricate carpets are reminders of Iran’s striking aesthetic heritage. Apart from its restaurants and coffee shop, which serves local and garden-to-table dishes, the hotel also has a contemporary art gallery, a textile exhibition with a selection of 18th- and 19th-century tapestries and a gift shop selling crafts from master artisans.
Manouchehri began as a center for the revival of Kashan’s textile arts. What made you decide to add guestrooms?
One reason was that when I traveled to Kashan to check on the progress of the renovation, I had nowhere to stay. So, we ended up restoring the second structure that makes up the Manouchehri complex. Another reason was the realization that if you can’t bring attention to a dying art, that art will not be revived. To bring attention to the textile arts, dialogue is needed, and this can’t be achieved if people come to a city that has no accommodation. So that’s how I decided to create a hotel, so that visitors can come and stay and have conversations with the weavers, take classes and purchase the weaving material that we create. The other aspect is financial sustainability, because no philanthropic project can sustain itself. I don’t personally profit from any of Manouchehri’s financial gain, so the hotel is a mechanism that purely supports the project’s financial needs, the structure’s well-being and upkeep, and the weaving and teaching.
How has the revival of the structure changed the historic neighborhood where it is located?
The change was sporadic because cultural changes don’t happen in a few years. However, the first thing that changed was the attention given to this historical area. Kashan changed from a ‘run-down’ to a ‘historical’ area, which quickly stopped plans of demolition to make way for new housing. The second change occurred in the locals, who realized the beauty and value of their own houses. After seeing the renovation, they began to take care of their own houses instead of just focusing on the land value. People outside of Kashan have also been affected by the project, finding beauty and value in historic structures all over Iran and undertaking their own renovation projects. I know of no less than 300 structures that have been restored already. It may not be a huge revolution, but the change is small and steady.
What was your vision when it came to the interior decoration of Manouchehri?
I hired Shahnaz Nader to help me do the interior design and I’m very happy with her work, it was a wonderful collaboration. My vision was fusion, something that would bring the old and new together. I wanted very light furniture, very minimalistic as much as possible without destroying the traditions. So, we experimented with the old techniques but with subdued and subtle colors. My main vision was the fusion of East and West, old and new, because that’s my lifestyle. My lifestyle is a fusion, our food is fusion, our music is fusion. Because you have to bring new into the old to save it, otherwise it will not appeal to the young generation and nobody will want to use it. And when there is no customer, things will disappear.
The passion project of Tahereh Mokhtarpour and her partner Manouchehr Peyvand Heydari, co-founders of the Tehran-based Pishan Architects Studio, Joybar rose from the run-down remnants of a structure from the late Qajar Dynasty era to become a minimalist abode clad in pristine white and natural wood. Honest in its renovation, the new and the old are clearly discernible in this structure where things were kept as simple as possible to protect its purity and historic vestige. Some of the most striking details include the original brick domes that allow
natural light to flood the space through their openings and lights composed of repurposed old glass containers. A consistently ecological approach informs both the design and the experience: from handmade furniture and homemade organic soaps, to artisanal straw slippers from the south of Iran and a befittingly vegetarian menu that features local and homemade dishes.
SHOW & TELL
What was your vision when it came to the renovation and repurposing of the building?
We always try not to fake anything and just let the building speak for itself. There are so many elements that change during a house’s lifetime and we decided not to cover these up or change them so that they can be seen by the guests. Whenever we did make additions, they ended up being modern and completely recognizable from the old parts. We also wanted the interior design and furniture to be modern and simple, so nothing could ruin the experience of the purity of the house.
What were some the biggest challenges faced during this process?
We faced different challenges in different areas.
From a social point of view, accepting a woman as a project manager and site supervisor was an issue. Workers in cities outside Tehran don’t cope well with women as managers and even here a lot of workers left the site as soon as they saw that there was a woman there.
From an architectural point of view, since we have a very different and minimal approach to restoration than other projects in the city, we faced some problems getting our document permissions from related organizations.
From a restoration point of view, there are always surprises in old and historical buildings, you discover so many little secrets like hidden windows, doors or alleys and we discovered plenty of these in our own work.
Why did you choose to remain very minimal when it came to the design of Joybar?
Our main goal was to keep the history of the house intact and allow it to tell its own visual tale. We believe that adding furniture and design should not disturb the main story of the house. It should remain pure and intact.
What are some of your most favorite details from the original historic structure that were rescued during the renovation?
One of the common things you recognize in historical houses is the changes they have faced during their long life. Even though some think that everything should be restored exactly to its original state, we believe that the changes that occurred during the 200 years of the house’s life are all worthy and so we kept them all. One of our favorite examples is the three doors which were originally arched-shaped but were ruined and became right-angled after 100 years. We decided to keep this shape as it was.
In Tehran’s Lolagar Alley it seems as if an invisible mirror is stretching its way singularly down the street’s entirety. Every structural detail on one side is repeated in perfect symmetry on the other. Constructed in 1930 by the master builder Hassan Banna, the six buildings of Lolagar Alley are considered to constitute Tehran’s first modern residential complex and offer the first examples of outward facing architecture in the region. Now, around ninety years later, one of the structures is reflecting another reality: the city’s present zeitgeist. Purchased in 2016 and restored by Mahsa Majidi and her architecture firm Persian Design Studio, Hanna Boutique Hotel affectionately expresses all the attributes of contemporary Tehran without foregoing a respect for the past. Bringing new function and life to a once abandoned architectural treasure, Hanna is more than mere accommodation in the heart of a beautifully chaotic city. Its seven rooms are individually designed and inspired by traditional Iranian arts and crafts, yet wholly reflective of Tehran’s contemporary lifestyle and aesthetic. With traditional forms of Persian mirror work, weaving and brass, this hotel embraces minimalism and heritage with equal zeal.
What were your goals when it came to renovating this modernist structure from the 1930s?
At first, because it was going to be a boutique hotel, the building needed to be reinforced. Bringing the structure to the current standards of earthquake-resistant building codes was the hardest and most exciting part of the renovation. I also had the idea that if we’re reinforcing the structure, then everybody should be able to understand and see this process. So, there are many layers that belong to the old structure that we’ve kept and haven’t touched. For the renovated layers and the extensions however, the visual language is 100% modern. So, when you look at the building, or if you stay in a room, you visibly understand what is new and what is old.
You are also quite passionate about local designers. How did you go about choosing the unique design objects that are the essence of the hotel’s interior design?
What I wanted to show with the interior design was how contemporary Iranian arts and crafts can create harmony with a global design language. So, you have designer furniture and lights that everyone recognizes, but you put them beside a very contemporary modern Iranian rug or modern mirror work. I love to show Iranian contemporary handicrafts, for example the side tables, the ceramic and copper works, all mixed and matched it with works from Vitra, Flos and Marcel Wanders. I added the Baccarat chandeliers from my grandmother’s old house, which were popular in Tehran during the era of when this building was originally constructed. All rooms have a piece of prestigious Iranian art. I wanted to go against the idea in Iran that an old house has to have an interior representative of the same era. We are contemporary people and we relate with contemporary items. I believe that design is global and the fact that Hanna has won awards and been shortlisted in three categories expresses how we all understand each other’s design.
How does a modern accommodation in the middle of Tehran change the city’s spirit?
The hotel has really changed the spirit of people. I’m often told that Hanna is like an oasis in Tehran. You suddenly enter a place that is very modern and calm. For this to happen I had to attend to every detail, because what was available in the market was not up to my standards. Everything is specially selected or custom-designed. When you think of all these details and you try your best to keep this standard up, everything ends up working together. Because of Hanna, we now have more than seven projects in the same area.