The headquarters of Depa Interiors in Dubai was the venue for a roundtable discussion on connection within the interior design industry.
On the panel were Abdoullah Albizreh, director at Depa Interiors; Benjamin Piper, partner and design principal at Killa Design; Diane Thorsen, design director of hospitality at Gensler Middle East; Gerard Glintmeijer, founder of Design by GDS; Isabel Pintado, senior vice president of Wilson Associates; Lara El Hani, design director at Kristina Zanic Consultants and Maliha Nishat, director of interior design, global design, Marriott Middle East & Africa.
Up for discussion was how design professionals can better collaborate and streamline their processes to ensure best outcome of projects, as we see a surge in GCC construction, especially in the residential and hotel sectors, which are all set to provide a boost to the region's interior and fit-out firms.
According to a recent INDEX report, the UAE continues to spearhead the GCC market in interiors and fit-out spend with KSA also showing an upward swing.
The GCC interior design and fit-out industries are expected to flourish as the demand for new residential properties, hotels, schools and hospitals continues to grow, cementing the region as one of the fastest growing and most exciting in the world.
With so much potential in the sector, how can all its components come together as one whole to achieve best results?
Although an upward curve in spending was predicted for 2020, budget constraints and value engineering continue to present challenges to designers.
Benjamin Piper recalls his early days in Dubai and a client who told him the only limit to a project was his imagination. He adds: "This was a marvellous thing and really was the spirit of the time. Those days are in the past and clients these days don't say 'your imagination is the limit.' We still have a lot of value to give as the designers, because we are the ones trying to raise the bar, to move away from what's pragmatic to hopefully what's inspiring."
Lara – "I think it stems from lack of awareness; if they give us a budget they might get a mediocre design. Value engineering has lost its value. They just change marble with a painted marble tile. But if you designed for tile initially, you might create a beautiful space. It doesn't have to be expensive materials, and then everyone will stay on budget and the deliverables will be on time. All of these things need to be collective… The whole community.
Isabel – "I would slightly disagree. Fake materials don't have to be fake. You're much better off creating a space that has some real magic. You might have a ceramic tile that's used cleverly. You might have things that cost a third of the price of marble. That doesn't make them fake. It just makes them true to what they are. But I do agree with you 100 per cent about the fake ceramic tiles, fake metal work and the like – that's all an unfortunate result of value engineering."
Abdoullah – "All of us need to work together as an industry, starting from the client revealing his proper budget, because I see consultants that they don't have the right budget and they have to work with value engineering from the beginning."
Working with clients
Gerard – "I think the creative also does not have a high value here.
"In Europe you are in an artist and here in the region they appreciate you in a way, but you are two per cent of the general Excel sheet. In the end you are 100 per cent experience for the hotel guests."
Isabel – "There's an enormous fear of trying new things as well. Without that level of bravery, you never have the creativity to design."
Ben – "You could almost say the mettle of a designer is really tested in standing up for what they believe in.
"If you look at whoever has made a strong name for themselves in design, it is who is really obstinate. I find you need to choose your battles, as it's difficult not to have a good working relationship with your client.
"That's the mark of a good designer, not only the designs that they come up with, but that they defend them and allow them to withstand the process of the project being built."
Diane – "The issue comes when you have clients who have jumped into hospitality for the first time and there isn't enough trust for them to realise we are there to help them. You have clients who have their first hotel and are looking at as their own home. It's a lack of trust and lack of experience."
Maliha – "As operators that's our very first job [to educate the owners]. Our brands range from the luxury top end to the select brand and if the owners come to us and say they'd like Marriott to represent their property, we say, this is what your budget would approximately be. That starts at the very beginning of the process."
Lara – "It's return on investment that's on the table. If it's a business hotel and they don't have enough meeting rooms because they have bigger ballrooms, they're in the wrong brand.
"Once you start putting the factor of return on investment on the table, they will start listening."
Diane – "In one sense the market is maturing. A challenging market always creates opportunities for really great designers to withstand those periods. I think there's an educate aspect that needs to happen on the client side."
Ben – "We all have a part to play and we should play it well. "We shouldn't be playing each other's instruments."Depa Interiors hosted the event to bring like-minded professionals from the industry together.
As the world's leading provider of interior solutions, Depa has delivered projects in 43 countries, including iconic buildings such as the Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis the Palm and Dubai Opera House. Employing thousands of skilled labourers and with 10 manufacturing facilities, Depa performs all services in-house, making it a leader in the hospitality sector and one with 20 years of proven strength in BIM engineering and project management.
Summing up the discussion, Depa's director Abdoullah says: "There were a number of themes at the round table that kept being repeated, all on how the industry has to evolve."
He went on: "Everyone has to take responsibility; the clients need to be transparent and share their actual project budgets and the consultants and contractors need to take the responsibility to work towards those budgets, while appreciating that the client has a business plan.
"Hopefully then we can start working on a value management basis, rather than value engineering."