x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sofa Studio showcases locally made items and home-grown companies

As more small homeware businesses launch in the UAE, this is becoming the place to go for high-quality products from lesser-known labels.

Sofa Studio aims to produce
Sofa Studio aims to produce "locally made items with a European flavour" and showcase home-grown companies. Antonie Robertson / The National

At school fairs, house sales and small-scale markets across the UAE, a new breed of entrepreneur is emerging. Predominantly female, and often juggling the demands of a start-up business with the rigours of the school run, these new home-grown talents are providing consumers in the UAE with an exciting alternative to the big-name brands that have so far dominated the local homeware market.

Many of these small business owners uncovered gaps in the market while trying to furnish their own homes. In many cases, a failed attempt to find a specific style of furniture or a certain type of accessory evolved, almost unwittingly, into a business idea. The result is a new wave of well-thought-out, well-made products that cannot be found anywhere else on the market.

Osca Blom is emerging as a champion of these smaller, lesser-known brands. When the Dutch interior designer moved to Dubai in 2008, she struggled to find homeware suppliers of a certain calibre. Eventually, she came across a company that produced high-quality soft furnishings and decided to join forces with them to establish the Sofa Studio in Al Quoz. The aim of the studio is to produce "locally made items with a European flavour", using high-quality materials but at a price point that is comparable to places such as Marina and The One, Osca explains.

All of the studio's products, which include sofas, headboards, lampshades, footstools, curtains, cushions and carpets, can be fully customised, while existing chairs and sofas can be restored or reupholstered. In addition to its own products, Sofa Studio showcases homeware items by a number of other home-grown companies. For newly formed, one-man brands without premises of their own, this is something of a godsend.

As part of its efforts to promote lesser-known talent, Sofa Studio organised a three-day exhibition at the end of February, presenting products by nine home-related brands.

"A number of the ladies were already showcasing their products here but we're now building an event around that," Osca explains. "This is something that I plan to do on a regular basis."

For Catherine Macmillan, the exhibition presented the perfect opportunity for her to introduce her products to the public for the first time. Macmillan sells old quilts made in the traditional Kantha style, a Bangladeshi or West Bengali method that involves sewing together five layers of sari using a single running stitch.

"Kantha is an art that's almost lost these days," says Macmillan. "These quilts are 100 years old and the colours are still so vivid. You can find new ones pretty much anywhere but it's the old ones with a bit of history that are a bit more tricky to track down."

Also present at the exhibition and new to the market were The Linen Souk, which was established in December and specialises in fully customisable linen products, and Objects and Elements, a 6,000-square-foot showroom in Al Quoz founded by the Dubai interiors veteran Claudia Granberg in November.

Unique pieces were the order of the day at the Sofa Studio exhibition, from the 100 per cent handmade soy wax candles by La Vela, to the UAE skyline-inspired cushions by Moon by Mazoon and the cushions made from vintage Hungarian hemp grain sacks and adorned with on-trend camel, hare and fish motifs by Angela Hadgett.

Jumping off the walls were vibrant scenes by the Dutch artist Renee Richters, while cushions by Mariska Meijers had a similarly painterly quality to them. "Meijers is a Dutch artist whose paintings are transformed onto cushions," Osca explains. "She is getting quite a following in the US, London and France."

Bright pops of colour were also provided courtesy of Color Industry, whose fairy tale and street scene motifs have long been a favourite at House & Home. The company's collection of trunks, tins, cushions and wall stickers is set to be expanded, reveals Alieke Couturier, who founded the company two years ago with her partner Susanne Vogels.

Also on show at the exhibition were beautifully crafted Iranian earthenware products supplied by Nicolette Bessem. "I had a lot of these products myself and everybody started asking where they could get some. I source them from an old contact who only comes to Dubai every now and again.

"I only pick things that I like - I'm very specific about that. I'm looking for a combination of colour and quality, and I only buy useful things. I'm looking for round or square shapes and things you can actually use, like salad bowls, plates and sushi cups."

Bessem doesn't have a website or company name and sells her wares by organising house sales every now and again. She says that events such as the Sofa Studio exhibition present an invaluable way for smaller brands to strengthen their profile.

"There's too much rubbish on the market," she says. "The nice thing is that Osca has brought together a group of people that are just starting out or have something that is unusual. Things like this are also very good for inspiration."

On show at Sofa Studio

Spirit of India

Brand new to the market, Spirit of India is the brainchild of the Dubai resident Catherine Macmillan. Her speciality is quilts made in the traditional Kantha style of Bangladesh and West Bengal. "I bought some of these quilts in India many many years ago and I fell in love with them. We have children so the key thing was that they were washable. I started giving quilts to girlfriends as presents. It's all taken off from there," Macmillan says. For more information, email cvmacmillan@gmail.com

Color Industry

Color Industry was launched two years ago by the Dubai-based Dutch duo Alieke Couturier and Susanne Vogels. The self-proclaimed "kids and lifestyle" brand's forte is bright, happy colours and quirky details, with a collection that includes treasure trunks, wall stickers, cushions and tin cans emblazoned with the brand's instantly recognisable fairy tale and street scene motifs. Color Industry products are available at Just Kidding, on www.filini.com, in O' de Rose and in Sofa Studio. www.colorindustryme.com

Nicolette Bessem

Nicolette Bessem sells high-quality, handmade Iranian earthenware. "You can put them in the oven, in the dishwasher and in the microwave," she says. She is always on the lookout for pieces that are colourful but also useful. "Either you like this style or you don't," she says. "These pieces come from all different regions in Iran, but it is getting more and more difficult to get hold of them because of the embargoes." For more information, check out Nicolette Bessem's Facebook page or email bessem@aim.ae