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Push through the heavy glass doors of warehouse 15 in Al Quoz and you enter an oasis of calm. In sharp contrast to the industrial vibe of the neighbourhood, the offices of Marie Laurent Architecture reflect the ethos around which the company has been built — that architecture should be beautiful, true, simple and safe. High ceilings, stark white walls and furniture and a suspended loft, all flooded with natural light, lend a serene feel to an area that is impressive both in its simplicity and edginess.
French interior architect Marie Laurent graduated from the American University in Dubai (AUD) and has done a three-year stint in Geneva, Switzerland, at Favre & Guth and DVK Architectes. A UAE resident for more than 14 years, she is a board member of the architecture and design programme at the university.
In 2011, Laurent was nominated as interior architect for the Sharjah Business Women Council's new projects and the development of the Al Fisht Corniche. The next year, she established Marie Laurent Architecture and has since been captivating clients across the globe with her signature minimalism and environment-friendly and clean design.
Laurent is responsible for some of the most renowned and extraordinary residential and commercial architectural concepts in the UAE that strictly adhere to environmental conservation, quality and clarity among other norms, which make her work cutting edge.
But what makes her stand out in a city known for its over-the-top extravagance is her belief that less is more, as she eschews cookie-cutter design and traditional aesthetics. Laurent strives to create spaces that go beyond the standard concept of homes, offices and lifestyle, and instead pursues projects inspired by layout, location and function.
Less is more
''I don't believe in having a dozen beautiful objects in a room all vying for attention,'' says Laurent. ''Instead just one or two pieces are far more effective. [But] nothing is more eye catching or awe-inspiring than space and natural light, even if it is an illusion created cleverly through design.''
Her award-winning practice — it has won two A'Design awards — has a portfolio that covers residential, commercial and hospitality projects. The firm is involved in project study, interior design and development, upholstery work and landscaping, as well as furniture, lighting, garden and pool and pool house design.
Laurent has worked on several high-profile projects in the UAE. ''I love working here because there's a dynamic environment with people willing to develop extraordinary architectural concepts within the understanding of tradition,'' she says. ''It's easy to be excessive and clutter a centre table with crystal, candles, a vase and books, or [by] putting paintings and mirrors on the wall. But simplicity is hard work — sometimes you have to convince a client that all a wall needs is a coat of expensive paint.''
While business is booming, Laurent confesses it hasn't been an easy ride. When she had the vision of creating strong, clean interiors, trends favoured a heavy handed approach with opulent richness more in vogue. ''It took a while to convince clients that space can be a wow factor,'' she says.
Laurent tells that growing up in the south of France by the sea, ''I knew that I could never live in a space that made [me] feel trapped, which is why I love breaking down walls, making doors disappear and bringing the outside indoors.''
Insisting that homes should be pictures of calm and not for show, the designer revels in moments during any project when ''it's all broken down and there is only the shell and core. For me that's a new beginning full of possibilities''. One of her most successful works is Comptoir 102, a concept store and restaurant, which has been praised for its design as much as its products and menu.
When the Swiss Confiserie Sprüngli decided to open its first boutique and café outside Switzerland in the UAE last year at the Village Mall in Jumeirah, it chose Laurent to design the store. ''You have a feel of Europe as you approach the café with black awnings framing the entrance,'' she says.
''We kept the dark wood scheme of the original café, with large displays and mirror perspectives on the shelves. In contrast to the mall, the scheme helps immerse visitors in a very modern yet cosy atmosphere.
''A large central counter displays all varieties of sweets and becomes the centre of attention, while seating areas around give you the feeling of a brasserie.''
Dreams come true
When designing commercial spaces, be it the Sprüngli Café or the Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde at Al Serkal Avenue, the brief is usually more structured, but when it comes to realising someone's dream house, the process is a lot more emotional.
''When I am visualizing a home, I strip it down to showcase the architecture of the structure, where the focus will be on the space rather than any decor or details irrelevant to the overall design.
''The only approach I know is minimalistic.''
Needless to say homeowners seeking a serene, uncluttered and distinctive environment are in Laurent's safe hands.
With her timeless innovative design concepts, she creates functional clean spaces that make the most of any room. From sleek penthouse apartments to beachside villas in her portfolio, Laurent has a long list of satisfied clients and many return for a new piece of bespoke furniture or project. Penthouse 59 in the Marina was a five bedroom apartment spread over 7,500 sq ft, which Laurent transformed into a two bedroom sprawling space with breathtaking views of the Palm Jumeirah. Each room has several views and the place has been designed to ensure that whether it's sunrise in the bedroom or sunset in the living room, the star is always the view, explains Laurent.
While she already has an impressive and fascinating body of work, Laurent says her dream project would be to design a boutique hotel. When asked about her favourite spaces in the city, she names The Index and Rolex Tower Dubai on Shaikh Zayed Road, XVA Hotel in Al Bastakiya and Vida Downtown Dubai hotel.
At home with pets
If designing a home is all about the occupants, then pets are also an important consideration.
Marie Laurent Architecture's signature minimalism and design masterpieces have been translated into a new and exciting concept for the furred members through the Pet Project. Offering 360-degree views, plush cushions and personalized roof colours, Laurent has designed sturdy pet perches that also come with wheels for easy manoeuvrability and relocation.
Handcrafted in Dubai and individually numbered, the Pet Project offers options of various sizes, expertly fashioned for the pet's comfort.
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Source: Sanaya Pavri, Special to Property Weekly