At the Table

A Garden Grows at ilili DC

Imagine feasting on a spread of Mediterranean fare in a fructuous Lebanese courtyard surrounded by lush trees and a flowing fountain. Executive chef and owner Philippe Massoud made this scene a reality in Washington, DC’s recently developed waterfront neighborhood the Wharf with ilili DC, the second iteration of New York City’s ilili. 

To bring the space to life, Massoud worked with lifelong friend and architect Nasser Nakib. The pair’s vision for the restaurant pulls from their shared homeland of Beirut, Lebanon, as well as a history in hospitality going back three generations to the historic Coral Beach Hotel—the site where they played backgammon as young boys and watched a civil war unfold. 

Wanting to support those back home, Nakib tapped all types of Lebanese artisans for ilili DC. White doves were a muse for the architect, not only as a symbol of peace and love, but also as an homage to his stepfather’s farm in Lebanon where the birds flutter amongst the orange trees. To set the stage for this inspiration, a seven-by-fourteen-foot picture of this idyllic landscape greets guests as they enter the dramatic space, where imported citrus trees and hanging foliage frame spectacular views of the Potomac River. 

Rattan bird cage chandeliers suspended from twenty-five-foot ceilings are adorned with luminescent steel doves in flight. They were painstakingly arranged by Nakib with the cage doors open, allowing the white birds to symbolically fly free. 

The orange leather dining chairs are embroidered with motifs of garden-fresh produce and flora. They were hand-crafted by Bokja, a Lebanese textile company. Much of the furniture was fabricated by popular Beirut-based designer Karim Chaya, including the mirror-top tables and custom daisy tile. At the center of this vibrant tableau is a flowing, nineteenth-century limestone fountain. It connects Nakib to the warm hospitality of the Levantine culture, where, as he puts it, “water is life.” 

Get the ilili DC Look

Encaustic Daisy Tile The blue-and-yellow daisy tile at ilili was one of Nakib’s personal touches, inspired by the wallpaper in his mother’s home. This custom encaustic version was made by Blatt Chaya, a company behind the revival of traditional colored cement tiles in Lebanon led by Edgard Chaya, father of furniture designer Karim Chaya. Customize your own pattern or try one of Blatt Chaya’s designs for a vibrant backdrop to a Mediterranean-inspired courtyard. Priced by size, blattchaya.com 

Bird Cage Chandeliers While the one-of-a-kind rattan bird cages at ilili were designed by Nakib and fabricated by artisan Maher Barbour in Lebanon (sized up to hang from high ceilings), a smaller brass structure with a black shade from Tudò & Co offers a sleek look. Or check out Industry West’s whimsical multi-colored aviary style. $418, industrywest.com; $985, tudoandco.com 

Wicker and Metal Dining Chairs A perfect mix of wicker and geometric metal, these Lisdale slat-back chairs come in sets of two for laidback dining inside or out. $376, for a set of two; wayfair.com 

Citrus Trees Abundant greenery is a must to achieve a lush garden look reminiscent of the Levantine terroir. Allspice trees, olive trees, and the fruitful citrus tree can give you an enchanted garden all your own, especially when potted in structural planters by Brighter Blooms. $120, brighterblooms.com

Mirror-Top Tables To add an element of reflective shine, the restaurant’s mirror-top gold tables were made by Karim Chaya, a Lebanese artisan and the principal furniture maker for the restaurant. For a similar look, try Safavieh’s gold leaf mirror-top table. $120, safavieh.com

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