Over the past 17 years, I have been lucky to have made many trips to Lebanon, where my partner is originally from. During these visits, I’ve gained several close friends, including Sarah Trad, a Beirut psychologist who cofounded Skoun, an outpatient center for addiction. She is also the owner of one of my favorite getaways, the Beit Trad guesthouse in the mountains near Kfour, a village about 45 minutes north of Beirut. “We Lebanese are incredibly resilient,” Trad recently told me, explaining how she copes with life in a nation that regularly undergoes periods of political unrest. “We love our heritage and country.”
Beit Trad began as her family’s home. In the early 1980s, when Sarah was a child, the Trads were living in Saudi Arabia. Her mother, Danielle, missed her native Lebanon and dreamed of owning a traditional stone home there in the mountains. An aunt was sent on a mission to find the family a very special house; she came across a stunning two-acre property with a stone main residence, a private chapel, several small cottages, and a view of the Mediterranean. The oldest part of the stone house—which has vaulted ceilings, arches, and arcades—was a nunnery dating back to the end of the 18th century.
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For a time, Trad stopped visiting. “The house will wait for me,” she assured her friends. But when one of them warned that “houses die, they lose their vibe,” she realized she couldn’t wait any longer. She decided to convert the house into a guest home that would double as her personal retreat. “It’s a house that likes guests,” she notes. “That’s how it is most happy.”
She hired a Lebanese team—architect Fadlo Dagher and interior designer Maria Ousseimi—to undertake a respectful restoration. The elegant results maintain the integrity and history of the original architecture while adding such modern conveniences as oversize bathrooms and air-conditioning. There are nine bedrooms for rent between the main house and the two cottages; for large groups, Trad also makes available her own house, a loftlike space converted from the doorman’s cottage.
The public rooms are comfortable and slouchy, filled with books and flowers from the garden and furnished with vintage pieces, colorful textiles, and accessories sourced both locally and abroad. Ousseimi tapped several Lebanese artisans to design new pieces especially for Beit Trad. Nothing in the decor is to be taken too seriously, least of all the divinely quirky papier-mâché hippopotamus head that rules over the living room.
The property’s mature gardens, laden with jasmine and honeysuckle, were tenderly enhanced with native plants and flowers by the Beirut-based landscape designer Gaby Khalife. A variety of trees, from fig to pomegranate to mulberry, thrive on the property, and a cutting garden is filled with roses in a mélange of colors. The latest addition to the landscape is the sleek and modern pool that was added two years ago.
Because Trad’s mother hated being served at a table, meals are offered buffet-style. Guests fill their plates with delicious, seasonal cuisine prepared by the house chef and gather at a long dining table set with vintage linens, dinnerware, and glasses. Every meal begins with cocktails served on the vine-covered porch, in full view of the Mediterranean and its extraordinary sunsets. For dessert, there are French pastries and mouhallabieh, a milk-based Lebanese flan made with orange-blossom water.
For Trad, Lebanon’s latest turmoil, which began late last year with nationwide protests against corruption, is about economic change and creating a bright future for the country’s children. A single parent with a two-year-old daughter, Lilah, she retains her sense of optimism. Certainly, five years after she restored it, Trad’s mountain home is beyond “happy”—it’s overjoyed. The moment you walk through the rose-covered entrance, you are immediately welcomed and become part of the history of this very special place, sharing in the Lebanese tradition of family and hospitality.
This story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE