x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Kuwaiti designer Nanu Al-Hamad takes a break from tradition

Kuwaiti designer Nanu Al-Hamad came to the industry by chance but is carving a niche for himself with his functional, original and always surprising furniture pieces.

The Parallel Angles chairs designed by Nanu Al-Hamad. Courtesy Nanu Al-Hamad
The Parallel Angles chairs designed by Nanu Al-Hamad. Courtesy Nanu Al-Hamad

Nanu Al-Hamad's designs are nothing if not unexpected: pendant lights are filled with cotton wool balls, easy chairs are cast in concrete, seats masquerade as side tables, and chandeliers are attached to thrones and then strung from the ceiling. Then there's Bright Idea - an imposing, solid walnut armchair topped with a light bulb that can be activated by pushing a button that is built into the chair's armrest. Perfect for when you are sitting at the head of the table, have a brainwave and need to let everyone around you know.

There's a playfulness to Al-Hamad's work, but also a smartness that seems to belie the fact that the Kuwaiti furniture designer came to the industry quite by chance. "In fact, my entire design career seemed an accident," he says.

Although he had always been creative and had been putting together art installations since he was a youngster, it was only after graduation that his career path veered, quite unexpectedly, towards design. He left university with a degree in architectural acoustics in the midst of the economic slowdown. "I found it impossible to find any work in acoustics," he recalls. "No one was hiring. I then took an opportunity in Kuwait, interning for Atelier Aziz Alqatami, an incredible architecture firm in Kuwait City. Little did I know that this would cause some eruptions within me, creatively and navigationally."

As a result, Al-Hamad started to play around with design ideas. He created a lighting piece for the studio and was commissioned to design some custom-made furniture. Before he knew it, he was being commissioned to design more and more furniture pieces and soon thereafter decided to create a collection of his own. "I had too many ideas and time was always tapping at my shoulder," he says. "I returned to New York in 2011 and designed my first collection in three months that summer. That collection was shown in my first solo show, Furniture is the Servant of Fantasy, at CAP (Contemporary Art Platform) Kuwait in January 2012."

Later that year, Al-Hamad was granted with an A'Design Award for his Gibbous Chair. Inspired by the moon, the glow-in-the-dark easy chair is an oversized sphere made from a heavy-duty, waterproof material. In his trademark style, Al-Hamad designed it so that a section of the sphere pulls out to reveal the chair. That piece can then be used as an ottoman. Designed for outdoor use, the sphere is charged by sunlight during the day and becomes a glowing orb by night.

"The products I design tend to push the limits of design," says Al-Hamad. "They utilise materials, concepts and functionality in progressive ways. Most of the items hold a secret, a surprise, an alternate purpose or a new perspective for the user. They embrace a certain aesthetic that you do not see anywhere else."

While there appears to be an element of multi-functionality built into many of his products - for example, Little Oyster is a zebrawood side table that opens up to reveal a plush, leather seat, which can then be lifted to reveal a hidden storage space - Al-Hamad is certainly not a proponent of multi-functionality for the sake of it. It has to make sense, he says.

"Multi-functionality is not necessarily important to me as it is obvious. It is not always the best decision to include many functions into one object. However, if it is done well and it is well hidden, why not? With today's living spaces getting smaller, it becomes convenient. The more [uses] the merrier."

For Al-Hamad, good design is a matter of perspective. "To each their own. Good is subjective. I can see the positive qualities in any design. However, my opinions are sharp and strong, so my idea of good design is quite specific."

Today Al-Hamad divides his time between New York and Kuwait City. His products are stocked in Kuwait's "destination lifestyle store", theNumber4, and a selection of his works, including the Acropolis Sofa, Bird's Eye Table, Bright Idea armchair, Ghost light and Belly series, recently made their debut in the Interior 360 showroom in Al Quoz, Dubai.

Al-Hamad will continue to bring out new furniture designs and is "open to working with anyone and everyone", he says. He would also love to do more commercial work and is searching for the perfect hotel lobby in which to hang his aforementioned throne/light hybrid, Chandelier.

On May 20, he will launch a studio in the New York borough of Brooklyn and will be focusing on introducing his work to the New York market over the course of the summer.

There are specific challenges that designers face in this part of the world, he says, and having a studio in New York will address at least some of these. "There are a few designers in Kuwait doing some things. I would say there are more talented architects and artists than designers.

"There is a lack of willingness to move forward, aesthetically and socially. There is an overwhelming nostalgia and demand for older design and aesthetics. Also, the notion of being a Khaleeji designer is not so intriguing for a lot of people, especially the older generation. The source of good design is solely Italian, European, in general, and American, in their eyes. It's a bias I have to deal with. It's funny how mentioning that I work out of New York will turn a head or two."

sdenman@thenational.ae

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