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Creating incredible experiences through design

Sujata Assomull
Filed on September 23, 2016 | Last updated on September 23, 2016 at 09.45 am
Creating incredible experiences through design

Dean, who has seen the Dubai skyline change in front of her eyes, is happy to be a part of the new dynamic design industry of this region.

Pallavi Dean Interiors is just five years old but it has already made a mark on the design industry both here and abroad. Its multi-award winning founder Pallavi Dean is a post graduate from Savannah College of Art and Design who, prior to setting up her studio, worked at GAJ Dubai as an associate. The eponymous boutique studio is central to Dean's philosophy, who says, "We're seeing a meteoric rise in the number of boutique interior design and architecture studios in Dubai, as a bit of a backlash against the big firms. I've worked at some of these big firms; at their best, they create amazing work but, at their worst, they become soulless factories, churning out cookie-cutter buildings that all look the same."

Dean, who has seen the Dubai skyline change in front of her eyes, is happy to be a part of the new dynamic design industry of this region. "What we have is incredible," she says. "I was thinking about this a few nights ago, sitting in the lobby of the new Opera House and waiting to watch The Barber of Seville. I saw the Burj Khalifa, the fountains and the vibrant world that's been created around Downtown - and felt really proud." Understandable for a 'Dubai child' who was born here in 1981 and for most of whose childhood, Al Ghurair Centre in Deira was the "be all and end all".

Dean's studio is eight people-strong, and her current projects include the Delano Hotel at the Palm Jumeriah (the Delano Hotel Miami Beach boasts an iconic design: when Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck created the original back in the early 1990s, it pioneered the very concept of a boutique design hotel). Says Dean, "To be able to re-imagine that for Dubai in 2017 is incredible." Hers may be a small and young studio, but it has handled projects across three continents with a style that is clean and sophisticated, yet detailed.

Dean, originally from India, studied in London and married a Briton. She believes it is a combination of these three cultures that eventually moulded her style - a merger of East and West that has certainly ensured its global appeal. "It's a bit unreal that a little firm like ours has projects in three continents. East Africa is a particularly big market, with a string of projects in Tanzania and Uganda. That happened through a Tanzanian businessman. We'd designed his Dubai apartment overlooking the Burj Khalifa. He and his family loved it, and now we're working on hotels, residences and offices in an incredible part of the world."

Dean is now moving into product design - a range she will launch during Downtown Design (the only fair in the Middle East dedicated to quality design) that takes place as part of Dubai Design Week next month. And while it may seem obvious for a niche design studio to move into products, for Dean, it happened more out of necessity than due to some grand master plan. "We were struggling to find furniture for the Delano that really jumped out and grabbed us, so we created our own. People seemed to really like it, and that got me thinking. Why not launch a small range of furniture so that anyone can enjoy it in their apartment or office?"

Dean has now teamed up with two well-established international design houses - Shanghai's Stellar Works and Preciosa Lighting in the Czech Republic. It's a collaboration that speaks to her talent, and the international design industry's interest in the region. "Dubai says it wants to shift from being a consumer and importer of designer goods to a producer and exporter. Those are big words, and fairs like Design Days and Downtown Design are vital to show the world we have the talent to back up the talk. Having a dedicated home at Dubai Design District (D3) gives the movement a real boost - and you know what, the world is sitting up and taking notice," says Dean.

Other homegrown and regional designers Dean admires include Emirati furniture designers Khalid Shafar and Aljoud Lootah, and Lebanese bag designer Nathalie Trad, who she discovered when she moved into the studio next to her at D3 last year. Among the expats, she has her eye on South African architect Shaun Killa, who was awarded the contract for Dubai's Museum of the Future. "And don't forget people working at a bigger-picture level to drive great design in Dubai," she adds. "Dr Amina Al Rustamani, for instance, isn't a designer; she's a businesswoman, but she's doing incredible work behind the scenes as CEO of TECOM (which owns Dubai Design District), and chair of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council."

The designer prefers to remain tight-lipped about her products and the range for now, as she wants the big reveal to happen on October 25 at Downtown Design, and is in talks with retail points of sale. She started work on the products in June and the whole process has taken five months, a lot of travel and working in multiple time zones. But if you've been an admirer of her studio's work, you will now be able to inject her style into your home without having to redo your entire place.

The move is bound to give Dean a bigger reach, so you can be sure to hear more about her work in the coming year. "I think sometimes we all need to stop focusing on the future and enjoy the moment," she notes. "We're working on some incredible projects that are making a real difference to the lives of the people who live, work and play in them. That's what we set out to do - create incredible experiences through design - and that's what we're doing, so we have to appreciate it."

It is not surprising to hear that Dean is involved in academics and teaches at her alma mater, either. "I love being in the academic environment. And I've just completed an incredible new space there, the Sheraa entrepreneurship centre. I can't believe I got to work with the wonderful people there to shape a small part of the campus. More broadly, keep an eye on Sharjah," she adds. "There's an awful lot happening across the emirate." There is no question that Dean truly is an ambassador for design in the UAE - and proof that homegrown talent is what we need to be keeping our eye on.

sujata@khaleejtimes.com


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