Designing a space comes easily for French-American designer, Bruno Guelaff, who seems to have stumbled upon his calling a few years back. With his Dubai-based studio well into the works, we can now look forward to more commercial and residential projects from the emerging designer.
Born in New York to a couple of French expatriates, Bruno Guelaff was already on his way to having an international lifestyle. The duality of his background did not only prove to add depth to his character, but also continues to serve as an advantage point for his budding career.
“My father has been through a lot and he’s worked really hard to get to New York City, and I’m proud of where I’m from. And I think it gives someone a story, you know? I’m a French New Yorker,” Bruno comments on his weighted identity.
Like many first generation kids in the United States, Bruno initally followed the used-and-abused path studying sociology and later becoming a stock broker after attaining his undergraduate degree. “I did sociology for four years in upstate New York, and then I was a stock broker for a year after that, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I hated it. I couldn’t stand it. I did it for a year and I passed all my exams, but it just didn’t do anything for me.
“Then I just started messing around and people loved my apartment, and soon people would be like, ‘you know I have a friend who is gone for a bit on a vacation. Would you mind doing his apartment and I’ll pay for everything’, and I thought, sure why not? I really enjoyed it,” Bruno explains.
Having been encouraged to enter New York School of Design by a peer, Bruno suddenly found himself on an entirely new path carving out his fate step by step.
Bruno says: “The reason I’m in Dubai is because at the end of the school year, I received an award which allowed me to travel around the world. So I travelled all around that year on my own. My trip was called, ‘Going Coastal’, and I studied how the ocean and the coast affect the architecture and interior design from place to place. I also looked at how architecture and design differ from different cultures and how different cultures accept interior spaces.
“One of the stops on my trip was Dubai. I went to places like Bali, Japan, Maldives…So I just went to see all the resorts, and study how different resorts are in these places. Like in Bali, they have one big room that they sleep in, and hang out in, and that they do everything in. Then I went to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Seychelles,” explains Bruno before laughing in perhaps disbelief of his own good fortune.
He continues: “But you know it changed my life for sure. I met some people from Dubai and then I went back to New York and I worked as a head designer for a firm in New York City.”
It seemed that Dubai made a lasting impression on him as after two more years in New York, the designer phoned up a couple of contacts from the region and made the move across the world. However, his first working experience in Dubai proved to be less than inspiring, and after a short eight months, Bruno left the company that initially hired him and he started his own company: Studio Bruno Guelaff.
He explains: “I was doing all the work and even though I had just arrived here, I was getting all the projects. So I left that company and opened my own.
“What I noticed here, as well as in the U.S., is that architecture firms like to outsource design. You work for a large company, and there’s a constant shift of personnel. The person who actually designed whatever is on the website that attracts the clients, isn’t there anymore.
So, they call people to come in and say, ‘We have this amazing pitch and we need your help,’ and they’ll call someone like me. I’ll come in and do the consultancy, and I’ll do some of their architecture and design projects.
So it kind of told me that if they can have a large company and outsource design, then how about I be the designer and people come to me, and I outsource the monotone bits that I don’t want to do. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want to have huge overheads, and I’ve seen design directors, and all they do is chase projects. I want to design—that’s what I love to do.”
Bruno explains that what he wanted to start was the opposite of what he had been experiencing. “It’s kind of a cool set up and I get more free time to really focus on each project and that’s been something I’m enjoying,” Bruno adds.
Bruno’s projects span across the world, from Las Vegas to New York to Dubai. Each contains the artist’s personal touch which typically consists of clean, polished material complimented by a splash of funky artwork and other detailed elements.
And interior design isn’t the only creative realm that Guelaff manages, as Studio Bruno Guelaff is more than capable of taking on work in other artistic fields. The studio is also deeply experienced in furniture design, branding, and architecture. When asked which is his favourite, Bruno simply admits that he doesn’t have one—he enjoys working in the different fields equally, as they’re all related in one way or another.
“Designing a building,” according to Bruno, “is not very different than designing a couch…At the end of the day, you have blocks and you start moving around it and carving away. So in that sense, forming a building isn’t that different from designing a chair. And for me, with a sociology background, understanding how people react to spaces and react to others, helps me figure out the best way to do it…[having studied sociology] gives me an advantage.”
“Before designing a product, or a house, or a shop, you have to do your homework,” Bruno further quips.
Bruno has a number of projects coming up in Dubai, from a new villa complex on the Palm, to the boutique hotel on JBR, to a new restaurant potentially set for DIFC. The last plays with shadows and mystique, while the others maintain clean and crisp volumes. Comparing the new boutique hotel to a modern-day souk, it seems we have yet to see the best of Studio Bruno Guelaff.
As CID began to wrap up the discussion, Bruno recalled the time he designed Arteco Ceramics, a commercial showroom project. The designer was confronted by a client who insisted on having a black ceiling; yet, Bruno had encouraged him to instead do the unexpected and paint the ceiling white.
After much back and forth, the client conceded and decided to trust the artist. Once the ceiling was complete, the client was thrilled; as it turned out, all the showrooms surrounding Arteco’s had applauded the new and cheeky design, signaling a new trend for ceramics showrooms.
Bruno adds: “I was like, ‘Okay, you also can’t get rid of the fireman tubes and exposed pipes, so let’s make it part of the design, and everyone was like, ‘Oh wow! The ceiling looks great.’ So I think that’s New York telling me to make good with what you have, you know? And have fun with it because you can’t get rid of it. If you have to make a mistake, don’t try to cover it up—glorify it.”