Dubai's arts precinct, Al Quoz, is filled with industrial warehouse spaces which have now been transformed into art galleries, retail outlets, trendy cafes, and the offices of award-winning design practices. The neighbourhood has become a hotspot for the city's creative professionals, who have set up their studios here due to the proximity to joinery workshops, metal factories and other associated businesses closely linked with design and architecture.
Reflecting an amalgamation of different creative disciplines, the area has a thriving roster of designers who operate out of here. Among such names is the Dubai- and London-based H2R Design, founded by brothers Hasan and Husain Roomi. Echoing the prevalent sentiment of blurred lines between work and play, the firm has expanded its atelier to create Cassette, a re-imagined bistro concept centered on and inspired by the context of its location -- in Al Quoz's, The Courtyard.
Seeking inspiration from their love for art, design, music, food, and the culture that surrounds it, H2R Design team developed the entire concept from ideation to completion, including the name, spatial experience, interior design, branding, food direction, table styling, and playlist creation.
Cassette is essentially an expansion of the H2R Design studio and flows seamlessly from its office on the second floor to the sprawling space on the ground floor. With the rise of co-working spaces across the country, the project showcases the dynamic transformation of a traditional workplace into a creative hub.
The team worked with a blank canvas and enjoyed complete autonomy to create a space which is mindful of the culture and context it is sited on. Highlighting its community narrative, local artists are invited to display and sell their artwork at the bistro.
“Our goal is to make a positive contribution to our culture’s most important creative mediums by establishing an immersive experience where diners can let themselves unwind and be inspired by our carefully-designed interiors, food selection and playlist creation,” says Hasan Roomi, co-founder at H2R Design. “We created an interactive corner where people can listen to and buy limited edition vinyl records. This sentiment was recurring in our music selection which also ranges from classic, old-school, new and modern adaptations.”
Jacqui Shaddock, partner at H2R Design, adds: “Cassette is designed to be warm and inviting, encouraging guests to explore and physically engage with the space, whether they come for work, for a coffee break, to eat or to catch up with friends. Being so close to our own work home, enabled us to be thoroughly and consistently involved throughout the entire process of Cassette coming to life.”
To preserve the history and original identity of the site, H2R Design introduced a concept that would naturally weave into The Courtyard. Talking about the design challenges, says: “We ensured that we left the structure intact and designed around it. The columns and exposed ceiling are in their original state in order to display the original framework and structure of the space. However, this brought up challenges with regards to the acoustics.”
He continues: “Because music was such a fundamental factor of the concept, we wanted to make sure the sound was confined. This led us to installing acoustic panels throughout the ceiling, allowing sound waves to flow continuously throughout and within the space – providing the perfect, soft acoustics that would not just be great to listen to, but also to talk comfortably over.”
In order to communicate Cassette’s implicit nostalgia and ethos, central floor tiles and glass blocks elements were introduced in front of the kitchen to give the space a retro classic feel. The black flooring adds contrast and character with a rustic but elegant touch. It also helps in making the space feel confined and whole, accounting for the high ceilings and shopfront glazing.
The space is casual with hints of refined elements, notably through the installed wallpaper that gives subtle texture and warmth. As well as the use of the copper cornice detail strip that runs on the wall throughout the space, representing the tape inside a cassette.
The materiality of the space, such as the different types of metals that are used, resemble the vibrations and sounds of the music, as well as the lights suspended at different levels, with globe bulbs that represent musical notes. Lighting was very important, and it was customised as mood lighting to complete the identity of the space.
Hints of mint green colour give the space an air of lightness. “We accounted for casual and cool seating designs, so no one feels intimated by the seating arrangement,” says Husain. “The use of sofas and banquettes soften up the space, making it feel cosy and comfortable. Every banquette is designed with power outlets to encourage diners to stay and work.”