Egyptian-born Ines Elgamal has filled her home with art, carpets and furniture both old and new.
Ines Elgamal is 44 but looks 10 years younger. Born and raised in Egypt, she was married at 16 and has two children in their 20s. She lost her father when she was young and, she explains, for most of her adult years she has been looking after her family, her siblings and her husband.
When in her early 20s, she continued her education with a home tutor and during that period she met author Shahirah Mehrez, a university lecturer and expert on traditional Egyptian textiles and art. Mehrez became Elgamal’s mentor and set her on a new path — decorating houses and buildings belonging to her husband, a businessman.
In 2007, the couple came to Canada seeking a new life. They lived at first on the West Island, where they had Egyptian friends, but they eventually ended up in Westmount where the children went to school. Unfortunately, Elgamal’s husband decided he didn’t want to stay in Montreal. Three years ago, the couple separated and he headed back to Egypt.
Elgamal, on the other hand, opted for staying in Montreal with their son, Youssef. (Her daughter now lives in London, where she runs her own online furnishings business, House Babylon.) She had embraced the open-mindedness of Montrealers and she was being exposed to a more independent way of thinking — a process, Elgamal says, that was distancing her from her religious, conventional upbringing.
The time had come, she decided, to follow her passions and to “live for herself.” She came to realize that Canadian women could care for their families and hold down a job at the same time, if that’s what they wanted to do — something that in some circles of Egyptian society was still frowned upon. To that end, this energetic, creative woman is currently taking a number of courses to upgrade her skills — one on home staging (partnering with a real estate friend) and one on cooking, which she thoroughly enjoys.
Elgamal has remained in the home she had shared with her husband — a 5½ condo on the 10th floor of a mid-century building in Lower Westmount. The condo unit is on a corner and it has floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views in every direction. During the time they lived there as a couple, Elgamal decorated and modernized the interior —an open plan layout with an all-in-one kitchen, dining area and living room.
Question: I gather you made some further changes when your husband moved out?
Answer: Well, it wasn’t just my husband who went back to Egypt. Most of our furniture went as well!
Q: So did you have to buy new stuff?
A: I did. Most of the furniture is new, to celebrate my new life!
Q: Where did you buy your things?
A: A lot of the contemporary furniture, like the dining table and the white leather chairs, came from Maison Corbeil.
Q: And the white leather sectional sofa?
A: That too. But not all my furnishings are modern. I like old things as well.
(We walk over to the hallway where she shows me three small woven pieces of fabric — each hanging above the other.)
These came from Afghanistan but I didn’t get them there. I pick things up wherever I find them. The little chair in the hallway, for example, came from a neighbour in this building and I’ve found several interesting pieces at estate sales, which I see advertised in The Gazette. I’ve also bought a number of items from an antique store near the Atwater Market. These candlesticks came from a Russian lady who had a little shop.
(She indicates a couple of silver candlesticks on her glass-topped coffee table. They stand beside a blue and white porcelain bowl of fresh, pink roses. Nearby, is a large, ornamental key.)
Q: I presume that isn’t a real key?
A: No. It’s silver and it’s designed around the Egyptian cross — the Coptic cross.
(As we walk around, she points out a number of black and white abstract pictures that she herself has painted or sketched. We stop in front of the portrait of a young man clad in traditional Egyptian headgear.)
Q: That’s a very striking photograph. Is that one of yours as well?
A: No it isn’t. The person is a nomad, a Bedouin, and it was taken by a young Egyptian photographer called Ali Zaraay. He took the photo in the region that lies between Egypt and Libya. Ali isn’t a professional but he’s very good. I have several of his pictures and I had them framed here because I want to help him, to promote him, on sites like Instagram (@alizaraay).
Q: So you’re still trying to help other people?
A: (Smiles.) I love helping others but I love everything to do with the home as well — food, decorating, artwork, the way a place looks. … I can happily cook for hours. My friends tease me and say that I’m ‘old school’ but I don’t mind!
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Occupants: Ines Elgamal, 44, and son Youssef, 24
Location: Lower Westmount
Been there: Since 2009