From recent grads to the well established, CID picks out five designers new to the GCC Industry
Interior designer, Godwin Austin Johnson
Dubai-born, Palestinian-Egyptian designer Maysoun Abou-Houly took up interior design while attending the American University of Sharjah.
Currently the young designer stands as an integral part of the GAJ team, which allows her to use not only her background in interior design, but also architecture. She notes that part of her profession requires the conscious effort to connect the indoors with the base structure of projects.
“When we design a space, we must consider what we have on the outside. So working at GAJ, we have that attraction to [both fields].”
Abou-Houly has worked on a number of projects in her two years at GAJ including the Hyatt Regency refurbishment in Dubai and the Tozuer Desert Oasis Retreat in Tunisia.
In addition to designing hospitality projects, Abou-Houly is also interested in furniture design and sees that as a growing possibility for future direction.
“One of the main highlights I had in university was the furniture class, which was very interesting for me, being able to bring out the concept, procure the material and build it,” explains
The first furniture design that Abou-Houly created was a metal bench. She notes: “It’s both sculptural and a furniture piece that can be used in more public spaces.
I was able to fabricate it on my own. I always liked the idea of doing something by hand and controlling the process, rather than having someone to instruct. That piece of furniture was exhibited in Design Days 2012 in the AUS booth, so I was very proud of that.”
The metal bench also comes with accompanying artwork made from burnt paper. Abou-Houly says: “All the sparks that come onto the paper, I just took that as a rough organic piece and used that as artwork. For me, nothing is considered scrap. I can use anything and have it as a way of expressing art.”
CEO, Brian Leib Interiors
Having been in interior design for over 20 years, it’s hard to classify the South African designer Brian Leib as emerging; however, having only just recently brought his company to Dubai –the designer looks to bring some fresh vision to the market.
Leib explains: “We travel with our clients, and one of them came to Dubai and we fell in love with [the place].
“There’s so much from a design perspective…Dubai is so different from everywhere else, from the architecture to the people. And that’s what I draw inspiration from the most.”
Known for his residential designs, Leib has recently opened up to working on commercial projects.
He says: “About two to three years ago, someone asked me to redo their restaurant, and from there we’ve started doing franchises of different restaurants, gyms…There’s a concept [of mine] coming out of South Africa that’s putting up spaces in New York and London. And I’m working on an office [in Dubai].
“The office is like an extension of the client’s home. Often times, I’ll work on a client’s home and then they’ll call me in to do their office because I understand them and I understand how they relate to their space.”
Leib thrives on the motto ‘live your space’. He’s an artist who truly believes in connecting with the space around you and turning it into a showcase of sorts that expresses who you really are.
At the moment, Brian Leib Interiors is going through a self-proclaimed ‘glitzy-glam’ style. “I’ve very outrageous,” Leib notes. “I’m very over the top and I’m very daring. I love colour and I love looking at trends.”
Leib uses the word ‘love’ often in conversation and he makes sure to emphasise his intention of applying the word’s full spectrum of passion. “I’m a love person; you’ve got to love what goes in your space. It won’t work if you just like it—you’ve really got to love it.”
Interior designer, Stickman
“I come from a small town outside of Edinburgh—it’s very pretty, but it’s very cold,” starts off Jenny Brunton, one of the newest additions to the Dubai-based Stickman team. After her graduation from Heriot Watt University in Scotland, Brunton decided to move to Dubai since she was familiar with the city, as she interned there the year before.
And now, having moved back, Brunton maintains a youthful energy as she seems to be finding herself gaining more experience on a daily basis.
She explains: “Recently, we’ve just been working on really amazing new concept hotels.” Brunton adds: “I enjoy hospitality. I feel like Stickman has a really good style that they use, and I really enjoy working with them. We match up really well, and it’s probably because we get to work all over the world.”
Brunton also compares Dubai to Scottland, noting that opportunities are more widespread here, hence her decision to relocate.
“Work wise and experience wise it just doesn’t match up to work back in the UK. People who work in Dubai are very lucky,” she explains.
Brunton adds: “And I was lucky that Stickman responded to me.”
While Brunton’s career is still in its early phase, the designer is adamant about hiring new graduates. She says: “I think it’s definitely worthwhile taking on new graduates because we work very hard –I’m not saying people with experience are different, but I’m so grateful that I’m able to do so much in such a short period of time.”
Brunton is one of the newest designers to have hit the scene in Dubai, having only a couple of months worth of experience under her belt. But she seems to be finding her tune at Stickman.
“We’re very busy –it’s a hard working team. We do a lot of hospitality. I wouldn’t specifically peg myself into anything, but I do love the work we do and I definitely enjoy the hospitality [sector],” she explains.
Interior designer, Studio EM
Rustic and raw is how Nicola Moore describes her developing design aesthetic.
The Sharjah-born, English designer has a quick way about her, which is both a refreshing and efficient character trait. Such energy reflects her enthusiasm and passion for design, as well as her ability to stay true to her style without compromising on her valued principles.
“I’m not one for the polished, luxurious look, which is what you get everywhere in Dubai. So I’m hoping I can bring something new to [the table],” she explains.
Having studied architecture and design at Nottingham Trent University, Moore interned at both Studio EM and Stickman during her final year before finding her place with the former Dubai-based studio.
Moore, too, is a recent graduate and already has a number of projects underway with her company. From Love Donuts, to a number of Vietnamese restaurants and new Candylicious branches, it’s obvious that Moore’s element is in the F&B sector.
On Love Donuts, she says: “I get a lot of good responses from Love because nothing was polished, nothing was too refined … so it reflected me well.”
As for the Vietnamese restaurants, she explains: “They have really different designs. One has some touches of Vietnamese influences, but it’s quite western with contemporary furniture, while the other one maintains a lot of Vietnamese elements and has a more street vibe to it—they’re quite on different spectrums.”
As for her future, Moore seems to still be kicking around a few ideas, noting: “I’d like to be a senior designer for sure. Although, right now I am getting a lot of help from Emma [Stinson, Studio EM], but eventually I want to be able to do everything by myself. But after that I don’t know. Someone asked me if I want my own company, but who knows? For now, I’ll just see how Dubai goes.”
Local Emirati designer Aljoud Lootah seems to have no boundaries when it comes to her creative explorations.
The designer founded Niftee in 2007, which had originally incorporated a more graphic design and clothing focus, but has grown with the designer to incorporate her new interior projects and furniture pieces.
Lootah explains: “I started with cashmere shawls and clothing, but a few years later I started growing more toward projects and corporate gifts.”
Lootah created her first table in 2009 and a few years later, she was chosen for the six-month Design Road Professional programme. The programme invited four industry professionals to attend lectures and workshops. At the end of the six months, the designers were to design a product. It was then that Lootah produced her stool, which displayed at Design Days Dubai in 2013.
She says: “I try to connect Arabesque patterns with an Emirati influence. I like to explore a lot with patterns. For the stool, I wanted something that would reflect that but in a modern way.”
More recently, Lootah was commissioned for the Ramadan design for Dubai Mall’s Level Shoe District.
Lootah notes: “Level Shoe District was one of my exciting projects. They commissioned me to produce a pattern that would be applied to their interiors and their newly established majlis area.”
The designer completed graphics which were applied to the interiors of Level Shoe District, as well as created the district’s mirrored window displays.