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Interview: Ceebo Shah and Khalid Sharan
Designers Ceebo Shah and Khalid Sharan talk to Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic about their upcoming projects and share their dream to design a first boutique hotel in Dubai
Dubai-based studio Creative Clinic, led by the interior design duo Ceebo Shah and Khalid Sharan, prides itself in its distinct designs by combining sophistication with a nod of whimsy and quirkiness. In the past five years the two worked side-by-side on some popular venues in the region and together dream of designing their very own boutique hotel in Dubai. Sticking to their vision – never to be mundane Shah and Sharan say they would love to be recognized as the “guys who are trying to pioneer designs that push the boundaries”.
“We would like to be identified by our work that is quirky and different from what you would normally see. The key is to stand out in a good way and in a way that is fresh to the eye. It’s all about adding a nice twist to the design whether through the use of colours or materials,” explains Sharan.
Educated in Switzerland, Sharan started his career in luxury management, designing concepts for hotels and high-end luxury brands in Miami and Palm Beach, Florida. Moving to Dubai in 2006, he started his own hospitality consultancy business maintaining strong ties between the UAE, Kuwait and Jordan.
“On the other hand, our designs are a reflection of our personalities. Both Ceebo and I are energetic, outgoing and very brave and we have guts to go with very strong statements. We constantly keep reinventing our designs. We create most of the artwork, sculptures and fun furniture that we use in our concept.”
Raised in California with a background in international business and fine arts, Shah moved to the Middle East in 2003, successfully merging his passion for design, fashion and the arts into his design practice. Shah adds that they draw power from their shared vision, stimulating each other’s creativity.
“We design places that we would want to go to. We travel a lot and are always checking out different venues and we try to infuse those experiences in all of our designs. I feel a certain sense of accomplishment because most of the venues in Dubai that we designed became really successful. Also, people started to recognise our design style and lots of people are calling us and asking whether we designed a certain place. So, it’s kind of leaving your signature around the city,” says Shah.
Maintaining that quirky individuality seems to be crucial for both of them. But, instead of ordering “the cool stuff” and design products online, Sharan and Shah have chosen a harder way – they produce every piece of furniture in house.
“To keep that essential originality in our work, we believe that everything has to be customised and created specifically for the project. We try to produce everything in house by using craftsmen from this region. There is nothing easier than going online and ordering the best products from Italy or a bunch of ready-made items, but that would make us personal shoppers. We have amazing craftsmen here and they are not utilised properly,” explains Sharan.
With their concepts sometimes being a bit “over the top”, Shah admits often they have to scale it back. The tricky part is to convince the client that their eccentric design will look as good in real life as on a paper or renderings. “Just trust us” is what they would usually tell the client, and Shah adds that so far it has worked for them.
“We like to go 110 percent extreme with all of our designs. Our clients would say ‘Wow, but this is too much’. Luckily, most of the time, they end up liking it and so far it has worked for us. If clients want something new, different and a bit edgy, they would come to us. Fortunately, we have come to a point to take on the projects that really excite us,” says Shah. “When it comes to design, we are constantly pushing the boundaries, but at the same time we are pushing our clients out of their comfort zone. Experienced clients that have already worked on different projects and venues are trained to think from an outsider’s perspective, while the clients that are doing so for the first time are much more personal with their approach and design taste.”
WORKING IN THE UAE
Commenting on interiors around the UAE, the design duo notices that Dubai is now setting the standards in design and is no longer a destination that is simply keeping up.
“Initially, Dubai was all about the expensive interiors, glamour and luxury. Many venues made it big, but they stayed very safe when it came to design. The only two options that we could see around the city were ultra-modern, business looking and polished interiors versus arabesque and old-looking Arabian interiors. Eventually, people got tired of it. People in this community are well educated; they’ve travelled around the world and they’ve seen it all, so it makes it harder to impress them. They want something real and authentic, where they can be casual, have a great meal or a drink, where they can enjoy listening to music. The word ‘luxury’ is not anymore a synonym for ‘bling-bling’ and expensive, it is all about the experience. Luxury now is personal experience and guests want to feel something different.”
DESIGNING THE BLUE MARLIN IBIZA
The beach club Blue Marlin Ibiza was one of the very first projects signed by this design duo. Located on the beach of Ghantoot Al Jazira Island hotel, a major challenge was to create a place that people would feel is worth driving 45 minutes to, and of course, to come back again.
“Blue Marlin Ibiza is a beautiful indoor-outdoor beach club and today one of the most successful clubs in the UAE. We had so much fun working on it and the challenge was recreating an existing lounge area into something special,” explains Shah.
DESIGNING THE ACT
Another popular place “healed” by Creative Clinic is The Act. The all in one theatre, restaurant and nightclub is located on the 42nd floor of Shangri-La hotel in Dubai. Overlooking bejewelled chandeliers, the small bar upstairs caters to those dining in the velvet-curtained balcony booths while downstairs, dinner unfolds in spacious U-booths and table sets. With some peculiar artwork and unusual installations scattered around the place, every corner tells a different story.
“We didn’t want to design a place that looked or felt themed after an old theatre. In order to create an authentic experience that felt real, we used reclaimed wood for the flooring and real antique furniture. We travelled a lot and handpicked every single chandelier to create that feeling. I like mixing senses of an old boudoir theatre from France and an opera in Vienna or Broadway with a “speakeasy” New York vibe. In all of our designs we are focusing on details and it is usually something that you wouldn’t see the first time you visit the place. Wherever your eye hits, it should see something different,” states Sharan.
The pair is currently working on interiors for two offices in Dubai Design District. Vintage Persian rugs, their signature chandeliers, an open kitchenette that looks like a bar area… Obviously, you cannot help but wonder what the employees will say once they walk into the office imagined by these guys.
“The clients are letting us to do it our way and that is why we decided to design the two offices in ‘d3’. It will be an office space that doesn’t look like an office space. It will be fun and beautiful, yet functional, comfortable and financially feasible. We want people who work there to always remember us with a smile. We want to create a place that will almost feel like home, that they will be excited to go to and not rush to leave at five.”
Shops in the new shopping centre The Mall in Jumeirah, offices in d3, projects in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt… with all these projects lined up, there is still one classified as a dream – their very own boutique hotel in Dubai.
“Our dream is to design eventually our own boutique hotel and we are negotiating with investors. A lot of young people who are coming to the city prefer to stay in a well-designed space where they can hang out in a lobby, as opposed to a boring and conventional executive hotel. People are coming to enjoy Dubai and have fun, yet there is not one edgy and funky hotel here, as you would see them in London, New York or Miami,” concludes Shah.