With 2014 almost upon us, Selina Denman looks back at the highlights in UAE design from the past 12 months.
A stylish year: 2013 in interior design
With a revamped website, a stunning new showroom on Jumeirah Beach Road and a brand new presence in Abu Dhabi’s Tourist Club Area, this has been a busy year for D.Tales, the brand founded by Lars Narfeldt to promote Scandinavian design in the UAE. The company offers a flawless mix of products created by leading names in Scandinavian design, including Muuto, &tradition, Design House Stockholm, One Nordic and Black + Blum. The portfolio is constantly evolving and this year has been expanded to include beds by Bedcraft, bedding by Mille Notti and lighting by Örsjö, among others. There’s something at D.Tales for everyone (and every room in the house), but getting the UAE market to accept and embrace the simple, pared-back Scandi aesthetic has not been an easy task, Narfeldt admits. “People like it; I’m surprised by how much they have welcomed it and are attracted by the lines, shapes and materials, and by that scaled-down design. But in terms of sales, we are still in the educational period. We have to make our customers more comfortable with it,” he says.
Nonetheless, Narfeldt is forging ahead with plans to expand (“What I do is driven by passion,” he says) and recently celebrated the official launch of the new store in Abu Dhabi, which was opened in partnership with Fanan Flowers. “We have taken the Fanan Flowers shop and redone it as a D.Tales shop, but some of the flowers will be retained. And so we are introducing the Scandinavian style in Abu Dhabi.”
Narfeldt is also “flirting with the idea” of creating his own line of D.Tales-branded products. “It would be interesting to get that idea going, working with established Swedish designers and architects, but using local materials so you get a mixture of Scandinavian and Middle Eastern. And possibly look at producing them here. That would be phenomenal – Scandinavian products born in the Middle East.”
We fell in love with The Urban Yogi’s selection of vibrant, sustainable, ethnic-inspired accessories when we first came across them on a tiny stand at the 12th Women’s Exhibition at the Dubai Ladies Club back in 2012. Since then, the brand has expanded, with the launch of a permanent presence in Mercato Mall and a tie-up with the online webstore Wysada. This year marked the launch of The Urban Yogi’s stunning furniture range – sumptuous patchwork armchairs, sofas and footstools made from traditional vintage fabrics.
This month, the brand has launched a new range of furniture made from handmade fabrics, ranging from Suzani to Samarkhand, some of which are between 50 and 80 years old. “The Urban Yogi is all about statement furniture and we adore vintage fabrics. So we travel far and wide in the search for the most luxe and authentic handmade fabrics,” says Nisha Varman Shetty, founder of The Urban Yogi. “One of our valued customers recently described our furniture as ‘soulful’ and we kind of agree, as our handmade fabric has seen life, love, gossip and the laughter shared by the women who spent hours making these beautiful tapestries – unlike the mass-produced fare found in most furniture stores.”
The company will also be selling its wares in a pop-up shop in Dubai Marina Mall until January 20.
This was the year when it became easy to buy cool, unusual items for the home from UAE-based webstores. While there was a smattering of interiors-focused online retailers in the UAE before, home-grown sites such as Desado.com, Wysada.com and Wamli.com were launched and grew from strength to strength this year, meaning that for the first time, you could shop for your home – from the comfort of your home – and securely and efficiently buy original, well-priced items that would be delivered quickly and smoothly.
Wamli emerged as a particular favourite, with its “crazy-funky-cool” collection of accessories, lighting, furniture and general knick-knacks. “Wamli is for anybody who loves design, who’s a bit of a geek and who loves gaming,” said the Wamli founder and CEO Rabih Ghandour when we met him and the team in April. Since then, the site has added a steady stream of new products to its portfolio – including furniture by the uber cool Suck UK brand. Our only gripe is that the site is now so popular that when we visited it to do all our last-minute Christmas shopping, half of the things we wanted were already sold out.
In 2013, events such as Downtown Design and Design Days highlighted the UAE’s growing prominence as a hub for the global design industry – as did the visits of high-profile, internationally recognised industry figures, from architect Jean Nouvel and designer Roberto Palomba to the founder of Andrew Martin, Martin Waller and the CEO of Baccarat, Daniela Riccardi. We met Giulio Capellini, art director of the iconic Capellini brand – and the man credited with discovering some of the best-known designers of our time – when he visited Dubai to mark the opening of the new PF Emirates showroom in Downtown Dubai in February, and then again at Downtown Design at the end of October. On both occasions he waxed lyrical about Dubai’s future as a centre for design, highlighting the emirate’s growing standing on a global level. “Coming from depressed Italy, we see that here in Dubai there is a lot of energy,” he says. ”I think it is the right moment here in Dubai to promote international design.”
Finding original, inexpensive art has always been a struggle in the UAE. On one end of the scale are the generic Ikea prints that you see in every other household; at the other are the original works that you come across in the UAE’s growing number of art galleries, which are great if you can afford to splurge but not ideal if you’re on a budget.
The middle of the market has traditionally been underserved, which is why we were excited about the launch of Muse Artz in Dubai’s Times Square Centre in March. Created to address demand for well-priced but interesting, non-generic art, Muse Artz stocks a range of prints, photographs and original works, and also offers a framing service. “We are trying to make art less intimidating. Dubai has plenty of lovely art galleries but, generally, when people walk into those galleries, it can be intimidating – from the price tags to the atmosphere,” says Yasmine Al Alami, the company’s founder.
One of the most notable trends of the past year was the launch of a growing number of smaller, independent design shops. While the market had long been dominated by a handful of recognised names, mainly to be found selling their wares in the UAE’s mega-malls, which as a result meant that most homes in the UAE looked almost identical, 2013 saw the launch of a raft of more niche operations, founded by savvy, creative individuals with a real eye for design.
This started in January with the launch of Comptoir 102, a charming concept store and cafe combo on Jumeirah Beach Road. Established by the stylish French duo Emmanuelle Sawko and Alexandra de Montaudouin, the store is brimming with interesting items by small, boutique brands from around the world, including the adorable La Volière lamps by the Paris-based designer Matheiu Challières, which look like intricate aviaries housing families of colourful birds and have retained a steady presence at the top of our most-wanted list.
The end of the year saw the launch of The Odd Piece, the brainchild of Saudi-born design aficionado Arwa Hafiz, who spent the best part of 2012 trawling through antique markets, souqs and exhibitions around the globe, handpicking unique vintage and contemporary furniture pieces, many of which were in a state of disrepair and were subsequently redesigned and revamped. The fruits of her labours are there for all to see in The Odd Piece store in Dubai’s Al Wasl Square.
What the experts say
Industry experts share their 2013 design highlights
Pallavi Dean, interior designer and The National contributor
My key design highlight of this year was Downtown Design. It was a real delight to see local talent share the stage with big international brands at this design fair. There was something for everyone; I discovered a local tannery that produces camel leather for upholstery – a great find for design projects that are looking to stay true to their context. The show also had a big emphasis on craftsmanship, with workshops where visitors watched artisans make iconic pieces of furniture from scratch. Much like the fair’s focus, in my view this year has been all about craftsmanship in interior design. Even a fast-growing trend like 3D printing falls under this category – customisation and mastering technology: digital craftsmanship.
Khalid Shafar, designer
During a recent trip to the Netherlands as part of a soft diplomacy programme organised by the Netherlands embassy, I had the chance to visit the Textile Museum in the city of Tilburg. It was the highlight of my 12-day discovery trip of the Netherlands’ creative industry. A main museum attraction was an exhibition curated by Lidewij Edelkoort titled Talking Textiles where amazing works by international designers were on display. Many of these designers I have had the pleasure to meet personally or had been introduced to their work before, such as the Campana Brothers, Bokja, Nacho Carbonell and Marcel Wanders. Another attraction was the Textile Lab where production processes and techniques were showcased in an open factory environment making you just a step away from the process. The lab showed numerous collaborative works between the museum and various designers and design companies, which encourage any emerging designer like myself to get in touch in the hope that a new collaboration could be initiated.
Cyril Zammit, fair director, Design Days Dubai
The past nine months have been a whirlwind for Design Days Dubai. After wrapping up the second edition, travelling and hearing the positive reputation about Design Days Dubai, preparing for the third edition has been a challenge. A challenge, because I like to outdo myself, and I try to find unique galleries that haven’t been represented. A highlight for the next show definitely includes having Yves Gastou, a Parisian gallery that rarely exhibits at fairs, choosing Design Days Dubai for its MENA and South Asia debut, in addition to having seven new countries represented, all with their personal identities, from a design studio from Pakistan that is making its first international debut to a Portuguese gallery that has never exhibited before in the MENA region. There is also an exclusive collaboration between international and Dubai-based galleries on the cards. This really is an exciting moment, creating links and projects and premiering them at Design Days Dubai.
Tini Meyer, managing partner, Interior 360
Two of the design highlights for Interior 360 in 2013 were presenting the work of Vito Selma and Signature Prints. I love the furniture by Vito because he fuses natural materials and contemporary designs. All of his pieces are unique and strong conversational pieces, so people tend to stop in their tracks and try out his creations. Since he is still a young designer, his work is still accessibly priced, so I see his pieces as an investment and I am confident that the value will increase over time.
Signature Prints is hand-printed wallpaper from Australia, based on the artwork of Florence Broadhurst, who travelled around Asia in the 1920s. The combination of Asian aesthetic, bold prints and bright colours makes Signature Prints a real hidden gem. They have also added to the range by introducing homewares such as cushions, placemats, napkins, journals, candles and more, so we can all enjoy statement pieces in our everyday lifestyle.
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