UAE designers on how they are shaking up interior spaces with new materials and textures

UAE designers on how they are shaking up interior spaces with new materials and textures

Dubai, Interior design, Interiors, Materials

We have asked a few UAE-based designers about how they are shaking up interior spaces with the use of new materials and textures.

Here is what they said:

What are some of the new innovations in the industry?

Lulie Fisher (LF): Natural products such as “Organoid” which comes in boards, panels, wall covering and sticky back sheets. It is made from 100% crushed natural materials like Austrian Alpine Hay peppered with flowers and blossoms such as daisies, rose petals and blue cornflowers; herbs and spices; seeds and husks; mosses and lichens or even tea and coffee. These provide a romantic story, visual magnetism and an unforgettable and lingering olfactory experience. Scents emanate for years and the end product is 100% biodegradable.

We have been looking for the right project to use “Organoid” for a while now, but unfortunately, the cost has been a determining factor. The client needs to be passionate about the story and have a reasonable budget. An educational environment would be perfect and even small areas will pack a big punch.

Farid Noufaily and Omar Ghafour (FN and OG): Years ago, man-made materials were nowhere near in terms of the look and feel to the natural. But increasingly, we are seeing engineered materials looking ever more realistic and unique. In the last few years, we have seen a vast improvement in the lamination and ceramic industry. This has given us more flexibility in our work by not letting project budgets dictate the materials.

Tonalite from Italy has launched a collection of graphic patterns with 3D effect.

Some of the innovative textures we have worked with include stone printed and stamped ceramics, resin embedded materials and high-end veneers. These are just a few of the materials we are experimenting with in some of our current projects. We are always on the lookout for both natural and man-made materials that are available in the market.

Pallavi Dean (PD): Interior designers are now becoming chemists and physicists, with incredible developments in material science. Take 3D printing, for instance. You can do amazing things to a whole host of materials — from concrete to plastic and metal.

If you marry that with parametric design, the imagination is really the only limitation. We also see great work in mixed media — combining distressed with refined. Think of raw marble edges in the same panel as polished marble. Or taking a rough material like concrete or cork and mixing it with a smooth resin. Finally, we’re big fans of biophilia in materials.Modular carpet company Interface has spent decades researching this. Biophilic carpet tiles can add a real warmth and acoustic richness to a space.

Firas Alsahin (FA): This year, we are witnessing a comeback for many surfaces, but with a fresh twist. Terrazzo inspired surfaces, for example,  can be made more evocative now by adding mixed materials such as wood, glass, metal, and by applying patterns with unique designs.

Playing with light and shadow is also elevated by using new materials such as quilted and stitch details on wall coverings made out of cork, leather, acoustic, aside from the concrete and natural stone tiles that use light to enhance pattern. Giving new life to unwanted materials by creating sustainable surfaces such as reclaimed materials and repurposed designs are also being embraced.

Interface’s biophilic modular carpets have been used by Dean.

Is there a preference for natural materials over man-made choices?

LF: Natural materials will always be considered more luxurious and high end. They develop a natural patina and can become more beautiful over time, but they generally require more maintenance whether it be soaping leathers, re-finishing and oiling timbers or polishing marbles.

These materials may not always give the desired look. What may be appropriate for a five-star hotel may not be appropriate for a commercial space, for example, where more casual, fun and low maintenance materials are preferred. We are currently working on a youth hub using pigmented polished concretes and coloured concrete tiles, but juxtaposed with the warmth of real timber in the touchdown areas.

FA: All materials are derived from nature at some point during the manufacturing process. Natural materials are subject to less treatment than man-made. Biophilic design direction stresses on using natural materials, so we have a lot of green walls and reclaimed wood, which enhance the environmental movement.

In more modern direction, man-made materials such as plastic, glass-reinforced concrete and fibre glass, enhance the sleek and minimalist approach. Advantages and disadvantages of going with both are durability, maintenance, and environmental impact. It’s good to have a balance between the two options in the design process.

There’s a lot of sustainable materials and one of them is the bamboo. It’s a resilient natural material that can be framed easily and grows at such a rapid rate that it can be harvested frequently without being detrimental to the plant’s survival. It is lightweight and has a high tensile strength that makes it ideal for structural elements, as well as, interior finishing and furnishings.

Caltagirone tiles from Lithea

FN and OG: Natural materials are, of course, more superior when you get up close. However, they are not always applicable, due to budget constraints, timelines, availability in the market, and durability of use. Natural materials also require maintenance and care, both daily and yearly with occasional retreatments. Clients do not always understand that wood breathes and stone is porous and both must be maintained to their specific requirements, even when sealed or treated.

Engineered materials are more durable, but not always the most appealing or realistic. For years, the material available in the market was always a caricature or cheap knock-off of the natural materials.

There are better products on the market these days and increasingly, we are seeing a better selection for both private and commercial applications. For the most part, man-made materials require the least maintenance. However, it might take getting used to for clients to learn specific cleaning and care instructions.

Which materials are best suited for commercial applications?

FN and OG: For us, it is an obvious choice that man-made materials are best suited for most commercial applications; the durability and price point are competitive. However, in our practice, we are always interested in introducing raw materials into our designs – a travertine stone counter here and a raw steel element there always inject life into a space.

However, for residential projects, we would have to say that a strategic combination of both natural and man-made materials combined tastefully complement each other well. There are too many to count; stone printed and stamped ceramics, resin embedded materials, high-end veneers are just a few of the materials we are experimenting with in some of our current projects.

Al Nurai restaurant by 4Space Interior Design

In our experience, homogenous – whether natural or man-made materials – are the most effective in terms of versatility, cost-effectiveness and durability. We prefer engineered materials that are homogenous such as Corian for durability and natural materials such as stone, concrete or solid woods. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to budgets and purpose of use as deciding factors.

FA: In commercial projects, surfaces should serve two aspects: aesthetic and functionality. Surfaces form the design and shape of the space that the designer wants to create, whether following some trends or telling a story of the concept.

Functionality, in terms of durability, care, and maintenance, is an important aspect when choosing a material for commercial project where there is a lot of engagement with people. So materials with chromatic effect like brass, copper, and chrome will be a good choice. Retro finishes are making a comeback and metals are also making a statement, not to mention the functionality.

PD: There are many, but our go-to product is Laminam, an ultra-thin, large format ceramic slab. Most importantly, it has great visual appeal and available in looks that mimic marble, stone, concrete, wood and porcelain. The tiles are up to three metres, making a dramatic impact, whether on floors, walls or even tabletops. But it’s the practicality that we really favour – it’s easy to clean and hygienic (no mould or mildew), it’s fire-, heat- and water-resistant. It has a lower environmental impact than natural products such as marble. We particularly love it as flooring for indoor and outdoor spaces.

What are some of the new and innovative textures?

LF: Popular at the moment are carved stone surfaces, coloured terrazzos, tegular, coloured concrete tiles, natural woven wall coverings and handpainted wallpapers. None of these are innovative, but have either stood the test of time like the natural wall coverings or are having a second or third coming like terrazzo.

Italian firm Appiani manufactures a variety of tiles in different textures.

Once considered inferior, terrazo is actually a sustainable form of stone (using offcuts or chips of marble or granite) and has the advantage of needing only day-work joints and being highly durable. We are currently using a classic white terrazzo in the public areas of the new Vida Hills Hotel.

PD: Surfaces with embedded technology which react to user movements, touch and activity. Ceilings that change light and intensity to mimic nature are also being introduced.

Which type of materials warrant least maintenance?

LF: Dense man-made and durable materials such as reconstituted stones and solid surfaces such as Trespa and Colour Core. Natural products which age gracefully and beautifully over time should also be considered. They may require a little maintenance but will still look fantastic hundreds of years on such as granites, slates and hardwoods.

FA: The elements of wood and stone will always be the most durable and noble materials. At Nurai, one of our restaurant projects in Business Bay, the rich walnut panelling is illuminated by lights – shaping a pattern of forest woods, wrapping the room in an amber glow, which is both unexpected and comforting.

Metallic wall finish by Itagraniti

Stone, on the other hand, is easier to install by using a slate stone veneer with a real stone surface which provides huge flexibility. This lightweight material makes the impossible “possible” and creates the most amazing project. It can be used indoor, outdoor, as a curved wall and in varying sizes.

In our Karamna eatery project, we used slate stone on curved walls and the result is outstanding. It has no segmentation unlike when using normal stones. Not to mention, it is cost effective if you want to go with stone slabs of 10-20mm thickness.

Of the total project budget, how much percentage is generally allocated to surfaces?

PD: It really depends on your material specifications. In mid to high-end fit-outs, between 25% to 35% of the budget is dedicated to surface finishes.

Oxidised steel is among the materials Alsahin uses in his projects.

FA: We will likely be dealing with high budget for surfaces this year as the trend shifts from the industrial looks, exposed ceiling, walls and floors. We will see more panelling, and finishes combined with bright colours in metallic and glossy finishes.

It still depends on the designer and on how much space needed to be covered. I’m currently spending 50% extra on surfaces than before.

LF: Around 15% to 20% as surfaces are a hugely important element and probably have the biggest impact on any interior design.

FN and OG: Anecdotally, we would have to say that about 30% to 40% of our budgets are spent on surfaces, taking into consideration all types of surfaces.


Lulie Fisher, Founder, Design Director, Lulie Fisher Design Studio

Firas Alsahin, Managing Partner, 4Space Interior Design

Pallavi Dean, Founder, Design Director, Pallavi Dean Interiors

Farid Noufaily (L), Partner and Omar Ghafour (R), Founder, Light Space Design

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