Janan Khammo, set up PDL (Progetti Di Lusso) Interiors in 2007, having worked as an architect in Dubai for the last 15 years with companies such as DEPA and Kocache Enterprises.
His fit-out projects include the Sheraton Bahrain, Sheikh Marwan Al Maktoum Palace, Grand Hyatt, Dubai and the Kempinski Hotel, at the Mall of the Emirates.
He currently employs 60 craftsmen and 15 engineers at a factory that specialises in custom made fit-in joinery and loose furniture with an in-house design team working on concept presentation, design modification, coordination and perspectives.
His company was asked to design the 470m² Samad Restaurant at Beach Park Plaza, Jumeirah, using the theme of Iraqi architecture, providing authentic traditional food and furniture within a related mood/atmosphere.
This idea was generated and developed after the huge success of the first Samad Restaurant built in Deira in 2005, also designed by PDL Interiors.
“At that time, the intention was to attract an Iraqi clientele, where the majority of people were located in Sharjah, as well as people who pass by and tourists,” said Khammo.
“In our new Jumeirah branch the clientele are meant to be different; the majority are UAE citizens and expats, but we also wanted to appeal to various diplomatic corps, delegates and visitors to Dubai World Trade Centre exhibitions, in addition to the Iraqi society, living in Abu Dhabi.
“For most of the Iraqi community in UAE, Samad Restaurant has become a landmark, a gathering place, a venue for celebrations. Based on those targeted clientele, we made our designs and controlled our finishes to achieve the quality of interiors intended.”
Khammo said from an architect’s point of view, the design requirements set up by the management for Samad was like a ‘dream come true’ and an ‘architects playground’.
He said the team started the design process by exploring all possibilities for selecting the correct architectural vocabulary from an Iraqi dictionary of architectural details through to learning more about the history of Mesopotamian architecture.
“In our design we have emphasised certain elements, such as the flat dome, which is usually used in the basements of traditional houses, mashrabia (in Iraq those are called shanashil) which are basically windows overlooking the path ‘darboona’ outside,” he said.
“The coloured windows (fretwork) called the URSI, which represent big windows covering the whole span of a wall with coloured glass, are used in the guest reception room on the upper floor, giving a warmth and privacy to the house residents.
“Most important of all is the building materials, the bricks (masonry work) with all its intriguing details, used either for structural or ornamental purposes next to the wood work.”
Khammo believes that to achieve an aesthetically sound authentic design, it needs to make the whole space look as if it was actually built in the traditional method of Iraqi design.
“There should not be any ‘stick on’, ‘faux paint’ or ‘decorative pieces’. In our design you feel that the ‘décor’ is the side product, which is revealed through the genuine authentic sophisticated structural technique,” he added.
The biggest challenge for PDL Interiors was how to blend the various architectural elements, which are now relocated and pertain to more than one building prototype.
For example, the dome belonged to a house cellar, the mashrabia is an external window, the URSI window is the guest room internal window, arched ceilings resting on wooden beams are meant for public buildings.
All those elements were reshuffled and placed into a new format that could accommodate the function and style of a modern restaurant.
Then you have the smaller details and finishes, the traditional wood panel ornaments deriving from traditional cabinets called ‘Sandalia’ from mosul Northern Iraq, which have the patterns engraved in mother of pearl.
“We used those cabinets for the counter front. The wooden ceiling patterns are typical for the houses of the wealthy tradesmen with the decorative centre piece called the ‘Ayyina’. This is extensively used on the upper floor soffit in our case and we have selected the Ayyina called ‘Cobra’ pattern and developed it into a lighting feature.”
The menus are designed to reflect the mood of the restaurant with Arabic poetry and the waitress uniforms are a replica of the old abbasid era, the dresses worn by the Hareem.
“You find yourself sitting in a space that is not a house, a Khan (rest house) or a street (darboona), however the feeling is very traditional of Baghdadi/Iraq,” said Khammo.
“A lot of artwork is spread around the restaurant depicting various times of Iraqi history, most important of all is the major artwork at the top of the main staircase, which is in antique copper representing a mix of old Babylonian symbols and Assyrian figures of warriors on their horses hunting lions.
“From our previous design experience at the first Samad restaurant in Deira, we noticed that one of the reasons of our success is the variety of architectural details and micro spaces (environments) provided in different corners of the restaurant. By doing so, the client is attracted towards a different area depending on where he sits.”
The project completion date suffered, due to several issues beyond the design team and main contractor’s control, such as the additional mezzanine floor steel structure that was added to the existing built up area which had to be approved by local authorities.
This space was needed for two reasons; functionally the allocated ground floor area for kitchens was not sufficient for the set up menu and secondly from an architectural point of view, this additional space was indispensable.
It also faced a problem with the scarcity of power, as the electrical power available in the mall was not sufficient to accommodate the restaurant kitchen.
“The overall result is quite pleasant, we achieved almost everything we aimed for, from a design point of view, quality of space, furniture and accessories, atmosphere and the details. The only disappointment was the delay in the opening,” added Khammo.
“Throughout a project and as a standard process you are always faced with practical site problems that were not visible when setting out the concept.
“We had to alter the designs in many corners of the restaurant to accommodate the MEP site requirements and spot problems. It was very interesting and challenging to alter the design details because we wanted to retain the same overall spirit.”
PDL Interiors has already won a new contract with another restaurant in Deira, thanks to the design of Samad and has had a lot of ‘encouraging feedback’ from visitors, architects and prospective clients.
It has completed a number of projects in its portfolio, including a AED40m interior for the head office of the Environment Agency, in Abu Dhabi, designed by RW Armstrong, Al Waha Capital, SABIC/Dubai and ALEC Al Jaber.