Recently, I found myself at Dubai Mall with time to spare and decided to sit in a cafe to sketch the details of its traditional millwork decor. The two women at the next table asked what I was drawing, and I explained that I was appreciating the surroundings and documenting them in my notebook.
They introduced themselves and asked if I was an artist or architect. I explained my position as a professor at the American University of Sharjah, and they responded, "Oh, you're that Professor Robert from The National newspaper. We read your column every week. Why couldn't you have started it earlier, when we needed you most?"
They kindly said how easy I made it to understand the importance of a formal design process, but really it can be overwhelming to consider all of the elements that go into a residential interior, let alone manage all of the people, suppliers, fabricators, deliveries and installation. One of the women had moved with her family into a large house in Emirates Hills last year and described the challenge she faced trying to make an empty shell into a home. She naively started the project thinking, "how hard could this be?", and assumed she would find everything she needed in a month, have it delivered and then simply enjoy. Almost two years later, the project is still only half done. Her children joke that they are camping in the house and her husband believes they will have moved to another country long before the house in Dubai is ever finished.
"Without an experienced person knowing what they are doing and managing the process, my house has become a showcase to the individual style ideas of each salesperson who had an opinion. I lost count of the multiple personalities that live there," she laughed.
We chatted for about an hour about planning, sourcing in the UAE, coordinating scale, colour and styles. At a certain pause in the conversation, the woman with the unfinished house threw up her hands and exclaimed, "This proves one of the first points you wrote about, the importance of planning, goals and focus." She described how my suggestion to start with an initial concept helped her to regroup and get back on track. Although numerous expensive purchases became life lessons, she sees a happy end in sight.
Her advice? "Learn from someone else's mistakes, and if you're unsure where to begin, wisely invest a few thousand dirhams in expert advice from a professional to guarantee that you start off on the right foot."
Robert Reid is a professor of architecture, art and design at the American University of Sharjah.