Interview: Fadi Sarieddine

Lebanese designer Fadi Sarieddine speaks to Rima Alsammarae about his career in design

Just four years shy of the Lebanese civil war, architect and designer Fadi Sarieddine was born in 1972, setting his childhood and teenage years during Lebanon’s most tumultuous times. And it was during the ‘anarchy of war’, as he puts it, that Sarieddine would begin understanding the importance of urban design.

Sarieddine says: “The war had its bad experiences, but if you want to step back, you can see some aspects of it that were not positive but built the way for how I think or perceive things. For example, in a war things get out of hand and our national stadium was turned into a refugee camp, which I used to visit.

It ended up being bombed by the Israelis, but when I visited it, the bleachers had cows on them and while the main green field was full of tents, the refugees managed to keep a small green patch in the middle that was still used as a football field.

“So I started to see things being used out of their context, like tires for example were filled with sand and used to protect windows. Sometimes, tires were used to block the road, even though the tire is meant to indicate movement. Sometimes, you would see chairs block the road or reserve a parking spot. So in my mind, the meaning and form started to dissociate and you see that a lot in my furniture design.”

Sarieddine studied at the American University of Beirut before working with a number of established Lebanese architects like Bernard Khoury. It wasn’t until 2004, that the designer and architect moved to Dubai to work with a South African firm, as he analysed the market place. The designer notes that moving to the emirate wasn’t as smooth as one could hope, as it took a long time for Sarieddine to find his niche.

“It took me time for Dubai to grow on me, coming from Beirut,” he explains. “Beirut is a very old city and has its soul. When you come to Dubai, it’s very difficult to relate to it at first. It’s a high-way city that is very compartmentalised with cities within cities, so you don’t belong easily.

“Now, it has grown on me and I like the freedom it allows. Because it’s a city that’s expanding, everything that is happening within it, you feel that there is room for experimentation.”

After moving to Dubai, Sarieddine and his family hoped to decorate their home, But he found the market place devoid of designs that spoke to his character. During this time, Sarieddine began building furniture as he designed his home space.

“At first, I started to do things for myself, and then it expanded into doing furniture for friends. When people started to see my designs, there started to be a big demand and that’s when I learned that there was a real market.

“In Dubai, there are two extremes. Either you get B&B Italia, which is very nice, but very expensive, or you get Ikea, which is too mainstream, cheap and in every house. There’s not a lot of furniture that is in the middle, or things that are designed well and are affordable. So I started to pick up on the demand and I started my own firm which is more like an atelier,” says Sarieddine.

As Sarieddine started to design various furniture pieces, his architecture background continued to play a large role in his approach. According to the designer, you learn philosophy while studying architecture, which remains relevant when designing.

Main Frame is the designer’s latest creation, which was exhibited at Dubai Design Days 2015. The line includes a table, chair and light, as well as a shelving system. The basis behind the line is a main system, or skeleton, with components that can be plugged-in later.

Sarieddine explains: “The whole line is called Main Frame. It’s a frame that you always start with, but it’s also meant to connect to the IT world, as the main frame is the main computer. And I like this correlation because in technology, you have the mother board that you plug memory cards and so on into, but in the furniture world, this idea was never there in such a way. So I’m trying to make furniture catch up with technology in that sense.

“Main Frame is actually our toy in a way. A lot of my furniture is playful and we actually enjoy designing it in that sense. The end-user can manipulate it and move things around. Main Frame pushes that aspect to another level—you have a main frame and you can build it and plug in different parts.

Maybe over time, your needs will change and you will come back to us because you can always add elements or ‘upgrade’ the piece” While Sarieddine started his atelier in 2013 alongside his wife, his team has now grown to a healthy six.

In addition to the furniture designs, Sarieddine and his team continue delivering architectural and interior design schemes. At the moment, villas designed by the atelier for Dubai’s Al Barsha district are rising from the ground. Sarieddine also continues to take on projects throughout the UAE such as various pop-up coffee and food kiosks. He’s also participating in Wallpaper*’s next exhibition that showcases work from the Middle East.

As Sarieddine focuses on his atelier’s various fields, he notes that his team will continue to develop new plug-ins for Main Frame, as it was a huge success this year, with orders coming in from the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“What I liked most,” says Sarieddine, “is that when people are in the vicinity of Main Frame, they smile or laugh. The furniture communicates with them without needing any background information.”

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