x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace interior designer knows how to do luxury

Wilson Associates, which has set up shop in Dubai, is working on the palace which is 'two buildings of 90,000 square feet, each with the most luxurious interior design you can imagine'.

Construction continues on a new presidential palace complex in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
Construction continues on a new presidential palace complex in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

If you work outside the interior design industry, you may not have heard of Wilson Associates. For the uninitiated, it is the world’s fastest growing interior design company, it is currently designing the interiors of the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace and it has just opened an office in Dubai.

The US-based company has also just invested 10 per cent of its gross annual earnings in building a corporate image to ensure people associate with Wilson as a brand.

The firm has designed the interiors of more than 3,000 of the world’s most iconic hotels, the Burj Al Arab and The One & Only Royal Mirage to name but two, and cites 20 of the world’s top billionaires as clients. So when it comes to luxury this company knows what’s what.

Olivier Chavy, the firm’s garrulous French chief executive, explains the feel they are currently creating for Abu Dhabi’s Presidential Palace.

“We are very proud to work on the Presidential Palace, it is a place where a head of state feels like a head of state. It will be more than iconic, it will be a signature,” says Mr Chavy. “It is two buildings of 90,000 square feet, each with the most luxurious interior design you can imagine.

“There is different positioning and aspects for both buildings. It’s the best of the best in terms of technology – technology of materials, technology of physical space [and it features] the highest-end pieces of furniture and materials. The quality of construction cannot be bettered.”

Mr Chavy says there are about 6,000 workers toiling through the day on the project and another 4,000 at night.

“It will be such a strong statement for us,” he adds. “We obviously have a lot of nondisclosure agreements, but it is slated for 2015 when all the heads of state come to the palace, and that will be a special time for Wilson Associates.”

Headquartered in Dallas, the firm first set up in 1971 and has since blossomed into a global player with offices in Singapore, India and Shanghai. Mr Chavy says that 55 per cent of the work done out of his three offices in the United States comes from this region (of 21 hotels being built in Saudi Arabia right now Wilson Associates are designing 19 of the interiors), making it hugely important to his business and creating a need to be in the hot spot: Dubai.

“Dubai and the Gulf area is the only place on earth I know where you have such a global clientele and all those clients have different backgrounds, different cultures, different levels of expectation,“ says Mr Chavy. “Dubai is the only destination on earth that can speak to all those people. Luxury can mean many different things to many people, and Dubai meets all expectations. Europe is old in many ways, especially in the way it treats the hospitality business. The Gulf, and Dubai in particular, has reached a new level. They understand globalisation and the clients. They know that Russians like to show off and shine, but the Japanese like a low-key environment, the Chinese travel all together and are noisy. Dubai understands all the cultural differences and has an offering for all.”

He sees Dubai, in regard to hotel design, three to five years ahead of the curve, with The Royal Mirage, which opened in 2001, being five to 10 years ahead. He adds that Dubai will continue to feature more and more iconic buildings rather than the cut-and-paste models that have sprung up as the booming hospitality industry rushes to keep up with demand.

“Some of the hotels have become bland and the new generation of operators are pushing boundaries in taste and delivery,” says Mr Chavy. “The essence will be open space, wet and dry areas in the bathrooms, more compromise and flexibility on privacy with screens inside and outside. More and more sophistication in technology of lighting – no aggressive lighting. The five senses will be fully utilised – smell, touch, sound, with sound systems following you, so that music can follow you up to your room.”

The new branding exercise the company has embarked upon comes at a time when it has partnered with one of the biggest architectural firms in the world.

At the beginning of the month, it joined forces with East China Architectural Design & Research Institute (Ecadi). The partnership hopes to fuse the expertise of two leading designers creating a dominant new force in the architectural design industry. Ecadi, the No 1 architectural firm in China, has completed more than 30,000 landmark design and consulting projects, including five of the world’s tallest buildings. It shows that Wilson Associates are reaching for the stars in more ways than one.

ascott@thenational.ae

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