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Forking out for an interior designer used to be a way to keep up with the Joneses. Things have changed —especially in the UAE.
According to Dubai Municipality interior design (ID) is one of the fastest-growing industries in the Middle East.
Nikki Bisiker, 53, set up Nikki B Signature Interiors in 2005. According to the Brit, ID has come a long way since the days of "trying to impress neighbours."
Bisiker runs an international studio with a creative and passionate team; something she claims is of the utmost importance when working in the ID industry. And, with clients, "trust is key," she says. "The client has to know you are listening." She says, "They want to feel you understand, which helps them feel confident in your abilities to produce something exceptional, on budget and on time."
While owners of hotel apartments and leisure facilities are the bread and butter for many UAE design teams, the call to transform residential properties is on the rise.
"Interior design magazines and television shows, celebrity status, ease of transport to enable extensive travelling, boutique hotels, fashion and culinary expansion have all had an impact on the way we want to inhabit our homes," says Bisiker. "Our expectations have increased. Interior designers have always featured in high society, but now they are available on a more mainstream level."
So, who is spending what in the UAE? "There are no limits," says Bisiker, who has projects in Emirates Hills, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai International Financial Centre and The Palm.
British-born Anam Siddiqui, 27, agrees. She is the owner and senior designer at Perfect Proportions, which has operated in the UAE for more than seven years. This year she launched the Online Market Place for bespoke furniture collections. "All our furniture items are arranged in online mood boards depending on personalities," says Siddiqui.
Having recently been employed to design the Abdulsalam Al Rafi family home, Siddiqui says it is never about budget, "design is design".
A quick delve into the books of more than 12 UAE-based design companies gave figures ranging from as low as Dh2,000 for help with paint and accessories (price includes materials and labour) to upwards of Dh22 million for a home makeover in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Other commercial projects drift into the higher millions.
When it comes to style, the UAE is in a league of its own. Bisiker says, "The population [of Dubai] is so internationally varied that each home reflects different cultures and personalities. It helps to keep creative minds challenged and stimulated."
Shades of beige
"Clients tend to have homes that reflect the exterior [hues], so in Dubai a lot of people ask for cream, beige and sand colours," says Bisiker. "We try to expand their thought processes and layer with a broader spectrum of colours and textures. The idea is to become more inspired with the living environment.
"The client is paying us for our professional services, experience and knowledge and these must be provided."
For 90 per cent of designers in the UAE, the story is similar. Colour requests are all shades of beige. Other concerns are the job should be finished quickly, quality can be compromised, hang the environment and the biggest frustration is a lack of understanding of project execution. Bisiker says it's important to find solutions that genuinely fit the bill of the initial consultation. "I would say immediately if I felt a client was derailing from the vision," says Bisiker. "Aesthetically, if the client expressly wanted [something], I would incorporate it in a way that would work best."
As the concept of sustainable living increases in popularity, many homeowners are looking to make the shift to environmentally friendly designs. However, cost plays a big part.
"The environment plays a practical role within design schemes," says Bisiker. "In the UAE, it's usually more concerned with quality and type of materials as they must be able to withstand high temperatures, air conditioning and help with keeping dust to a minimum.
Jonathan Lowe, 52, is an environmental architect from Doha. "The environment is becoming more of a consideration in the UAE, especially when it comes to larger construction companies," says Lowe, originally from China. "It will eventually filter down to individuals. Many people are switched on when it comes to recycling and saving energy.
"What they don't realise is that there are similar options when it comes to decorating."
The principles of green design that help clients make eco-conscious choices are energy efficiency, use of low-impact materials, use of high-quality, durable materials, design for reuse or recycling, use of recycled materials and conservation of water.
A UC Berkeley/UCLA study of 1.6 million single-family homes sold in California from 2007-12 showed that green homes sold for 9 per cent more than regular homes.
"If you show people items that are comparable in price and construction to more conventional options, but explain that they're much healthier, they'll almost always take it," says Lowe.
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Source: Kelly Ann Crane, Special to Property Weekly