Today, despite holding a BA in English literature, a Diploma in IT and Systems Analyses and having trained and worked in international companies in Egypt, this mother of two young children now imports the same from Egypt. She is enthusiastic about the place of period furniture in the contemporary home.
“With good advice and clever planning these beautifully carved, ornate pieces can fit comfortably within the modern home, enhancing straight and often minimalistic lines that presently abound,” says Gigi.
“There is a subtle return to more opulent furnishings. People are tiring of the plain, square look, so, with greater emphasis on texture and shape, a French chair, table, mirror or bench seat can provide the sort of character, beauty and versatility many contemporary homes lack.”
Born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, Gigi is passionate about her birth city which sits at the edge of the Mediterranean.
“My father was a keen art lover and antique collector and my grandfather was an antique dealer,” she says.
“His love of period furniture sprang from an earlier real estate career during which he bought and sold some of the most beautiful homes of Alexandria.
“In that time he developed a keen eye and a fierce passion for classic French furniture as well as European artworks.
“As a result, I grew up in a world influenced by the Louis kings of France and other significant furniture styles of that era.
“By the time I was 10 I could easily recognise any timber used in furniture-making — oak, beech, mahogany, rosewood, teak and more. Those timeless pieces from grand homes were just a normal part of life.”
However, it wasn’t until Gigi and her husband came to New Zealand seven years ago that she saw a niche in the local market.
The Ibrahims settled in Auckland and when their son was born Gigi began to seriously consider importing classic furniture so she could spend as much time with her children as possible.
“That’s how Mon Palais Classic Furniture was born,” she says. “I started my business solely as a wholesaler selling to antique dealers and then to high end department stores such as Smith and Caughey.
“Importantly, emphasis is on quality construction as well as comfort. Height, shape, support and configuration are all about sitting ‘in’ a chair rather than ‘on’ it.”
As well as genuine antiques, Gigi also imports handcrafted reproduction pieces in which every carving and every stud is faithful to the original tradition.
Gigi says the reason why Egyptians have become some of the best French furniture makers in the world goes back to the French invasion of Egypt under the rule of Bonaparte.
“Napoleon was mesmerised by Egyptian culture and sent not only scientists to Egypt but also architects and designers such as Percier and Fontaine, the inventors and major proponents of the rich and grand Directoire and Empires styles.
“These men made intense use of Egyptian motifs such as the eagle, lion, sphinx, snakes and lotus flower.
“Just as the French were influenced by the Egyptians, Egyptian furniture took on the French designs that little by little, replaced the Othoman Arabesque designs.”
Refreshingly, Gigi’s enthusiasm for period design and Egyptian craftsmanship doesn’t colour her judgement when advising clients.
“This furniture isn’t for everyone, but how wonderful when a client sees and appreciates its virtues.