Staying true to one’s design aesthetics can be challenging in a fast-moving market, within tight time frames and more often tight budgets, but Portuguese-born interior architect Sneha Divias, seems to have managed to strike the perfect balance. CID’s 2017 interior designer of the year was particularly praised by the judges for the consistency in her work and her style, which the panel described as understated and sophisticated.
Her 10-year long experience extends to designing high-end villas in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and America. Taj Hotel Business Bay, Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi and Raffles Shenzhen are just a few hospitality projects under her belt, along with boutique hotels in Bogota, Lisbon and Douro Valley in Portugal.
For Divias, good design is not solely about the outcome, but its essence lies in the process.
“It is about the emotional resonance and impacts it has on its users,” Divias tells Commercial Interior Design. “What matters is how design makes one feel, as well as how well it was delivered regarding time and budget. Great design should be conceptualised to be timeless and respond to the context narrative.”
Divias says she doesn’t believe in prototypes of ideas but follows key principles – geometry, balance and strong detailing. “I don’t have a fixed approach,” she says. “I start each project very freely and open-minded. I like to give a personal interpretation to the brief I receive, but these fundamental principles are the base for my work. The geometry of a project when space planning, creating scale and proportion is key to achieve a continuous flow. Balance comes from seamlessly integrating elements from architecture, interior, and furniture to create layers that speak to each other in the same language. The details are the most important connectors that truly bring the substance of the project to life.”
After receiving a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the Lusiada University of Porto and taking courses at Delft University of Technology and Istanbul Technical University, Divias had worked as an architect for a couple of years when she decided to take an interior design course at New York University.
Architects, such as John Pawson, Geoffrey Bawa and Marcio Kogan, known for their minimalist aesthetics and seamless integration of exteriors and interiors, have largely inspired Divias’ approach to work on architecture and interiors in an integrated and holistic way.
“I enjoy being in buildings designed by them to appreciate the thought process of the space planning, materials and details,” she says.
“It is definitely an advantage to have the architectural background as it is a varied subject that gives me the know-how to support my designs. The scale and scope of the projects are different; there are other kinds of dialogues and problems to solve.”
After finishing her course in New York, Divias went on to work at Atelier Nini Andrade Silva in Lisbon mainly on boutique hotels and residential projects.
“The effect on the user experience from inside the space was fascinating to me, and I started adding layers to my profession and experience. It was a very organic process blurring the lines of architecture and design,” she says.
The best professional advice she has been given so far is to “run her own race”. “It is great to look up to people with inspiring careers and learn from the best,” she says “but the way we grasp the opportunities that are presented to us is paramount to shape our own niche in the market and professional journey.”
And her journey to the Middle East started four years ago when a recruitment agency approached her to work for well-established Dubai-based firm LW Design. At that time, many construction companies in Portugal were still badly affected by the recession.
“This became an opportunity to explore new challenges,” she says. “I was instantly impressed with the scale of projects developed in the region and the energy of the office, so the decision to move happened very quickly.”
While in Lisbon, the architectural DNA of the surroundings would have a greater influence in contextualising her designs, Divias was challenged by the key differences of working in the region namely scale, level of ambition and innovation.
“Despite these differences, she hit the ground running working mainly on hospitality projects. “It was encouraging to be exposed to an environment with a diversity of talent and openness to explore new ideas,” says Divias. “The biggest challenge of this market is the often unrealistic timelines and the pace, which can adversely affect the management and the execution projects.”
With a number of successful projects to her name, it was then a natural move for Divias to set up her own design studio. Earlier this year she launched Sneha Divias Atelier. Facing the typical challenges of an entrepreneur launching a start-up, Divias found herself doing much more than just designing. “Between finding the right collaborators, doing business development, admin management and coordinating projects, I realised that time is a precious resource that needed to be optimised differently,” she says.
The decision to go it alone, elicited both challenges and rewards. The most gratifying aspect for her is the complete creative autonomy. “And I’m at the helm of an exciting fulfilling journey.”
This year Divias completed a retail project for Maska Wraps in Dubai Mall, executive offices for the new Dubai Holding headquarters in collaboration with Marie Laurent Architecture, an apartment in Dubai International Financial Centre and a villa on the Palm Jumeirah, for which she won the CID’s Awards category. She also designed soon-to-open OliOli, which is an educational play space with interactive galleries for children in Dubai’s Al Quoz area and was highly commended as the concept of the year at the CID Awards.
The awards Divias has recently won and the recognition she was given by her industry peers, undoubtedly set the bar a bit higher for the upcoming hospitality, F&B, commercial and residential projects that are to be completed under her vision. “There is a lot of room for the unexpected,” she concludes.