At her renovated McLean Manse, art dealer Sylvia Van VlietRagheb showcases noteworthy works from a host of Middle Eastern stars.
Sylvia van VlietRagheb is at home among the stunning works she has acquired, including a painting by artist EssamMarouf and sculptures in bronze by ArmenAgop.
When art and jewelry dealer Sylvia van VlietRagheb first set eyes on the McLean, Virginia, property she was to call her home in 1998, she was visiting friends who lived across the street. She and her husband, TarekRagheb—the founding chairman of the African Business Aviation Association and former vice president of Gulfstream sales—had been stationed in Cairo, Egypt, and were in the market for a residence in the States. They loved the idea of making a home away from home in McLean in proximity to good friends. Plus, “It’s right across from the Potomac,” notes van VlietRagheb. The only problem was the house itself: She disliked nearly everything about it. “There was wood paneling inside—it had been built in the ’70s—and it was really rundown.”
It took 13 years, two renovations, and a revolution for van VlietRagheb to bring the residence up to her standards. The violent Egyptian uprising of 2011 motivated the Raghebs to make their American investment property a haven for themselves as well as a showplace for the Middle Eastern art that van VlietRagheb represents with business partner RandaFahmy.
Works such as School by GalilaNawar and First FlyerLesson by Adel el Siwi clad dining room walls.
“On regular trips to DC over the years I’d been noticing that there was no emphasis on Middle Eastern art here,” says the Netherlands native, who studied in Paris before meeting her husband and moving to Germany, Saudi Arabia, then Egypt. “Since I had been living in Egypt for 19 years and was involved in the cultural and local art scenes there, I felt obliged to give back to the country where I had lived for so long.”
Launching Syra Arts in 2012 with Fahmy to raise awareness of artists from Egypt and the Middle East, van VlietRagheb has elevated the public profile of an eclectic roster that includes sculptor ArmenAgop, visual artist NermineHammam, and painter Helen Zughaib. The Egyptian artists’ works were first shipped to an art fair in Palm Beach, then put on display at the Washington Design Center for six months, then sent to the Egyptian Embassy for three months, and finally landed in van VlietRagheb’s McLean home, where they are casually displayed. “On occasion I open my house to a select group to view the art,” she says.
Carefully selected creative works surround van VlietRagheb. Canvases of light-filled, seemingly transparent figures by EssamMarouf are displayed on her soaring living room walls that were extended to 25 feet after a 2006 renovation that added a third floor. The art changes frequently, and it can do so because of the neutral, minimal palette van VlietRagheb has established. Among the few works that make the cut are organic sculptures by ArmenAgop in the living room and kitchen and a cherished piece of petrified wood from Bali. Curved, low furnishings by Baker anchor the space, while walnut floorboards are set sideways to give an impression of more space.
“This house is so Zen,” she says. “I don’t like clutter at all. I cannot have knickknacks or little details. I like things really straightforward and easy. I’m very pragmatic—and very no-nonsense.” Instead of stockpiling art, van VlietRagheb lives with favorites until they find owners, a process that can be tricky when it comes to letting pieces go. At the moment, she feels torn about the two Marouf canvases in her living room. “They totally fit in my home,” she says. “They’re so serene and mystical. I almost consider them mine. I think I should keep them.”