What can you share with us about your journey on becoming a Designer?
It’s changed. Today as a designer, my first thought when I wake up is about other people: how do I solve their problems, make their life better? That’s very different from when I started out. If I’m honest, the reason I became a designer – deciding as a 17-year-old to study architecture – was far more egotistical: how can I make my mark on the world, how can I win awards? Don’t get me wrong, I still have those thoughts! But when you’ve been doing this for 20 years, you realize that when you’re designing – buildings, lights, software, highways, whatever – you achieve success when you ditch your ego and design for real people. That’s why our tagline is “creating experiences through design”. It’s not about us as designers – it’s about the experience of the workers in an office, the family in a home, the kids in a school, and so on.
How would you define your style, is there any particular architectural/design movement in history that inspire your work today?
No. And that’s very deliberate. The problem with having a signature ‘style’ when you run an interior design consultancy like ours is that you end up forcing it on your clients, so everything looks the same. We start from a very different perspective – taking time doing research, getting to know clients, and proposing the style (and substance) that works best for them.
So, we’ll be working in parallel on an office for a young media company that’s cool, hip, funky with bright colours, exposed concrete and graffiti – and at the same time an office for a private bank that’s refined, mature and sophisticated, with plush carpets, leather, and wood.
Which project has given you the most satisfaction thus far?
If I had to pick one, it would be the original Sheraa entrepreneurship centre at the American University of Sharjah. Not necessarily because it’s the prettiest, but because it had the greatest impact. The brief was not just to design a space, but to create a movement: encourage entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and mentors to come together.
It worked: hundreds of start-ups have used Sheera to help kick-start their business since it launched in 2016. Of course, the design was just part of that. But to contribute to meaningful, positive change is the most rewarding thing as a designer.
How do you think art, architecture & fashion are linked?
In a word, storytelling. All great art tells a story – a story that’s personal to the artist, yet with a profound, wider meaning. That’s what people relate to. From the Leonardo painting Salvator Mundi which The Louvre Abu Dhabi has just acquired, to Banksy’s Girl With a Red Balloon which shredded itself at auction. Great fashion does the same: we’ve all been immersed lately with the story of the late Karl Lagerfeld, and how he revived Chanel: drama, personality, triumph over adversity – wow! The current boom in modest fashion is also about storytelling, with the stars being the women who want to look good without sacrificing their modesty.
All of our interior designs are built around a strong narrative: take the Sheraa entrepreneurship centre in Sharjah. The word Sheraa means sail in Arabic, so we created a design story based on the metaphor of the perilous journeys sailors used to make from the ports in Sharjah – there are many parallels with starting up a company. At their best, stories are more than just marketing fluff – they’re the core concept that drives the entire design and construction process, making the finished product consistent and coherent.
What is your definition of success?
I’ll be honest: I’m a business owner with rent and salaries to pay, so the first definition of success is making more revenue than expenses! But beyond that, the moments in my year that really make me smile are when I hand over a project and the client is just blown away. People spend 87% of their time indoors, so as interior designers we really can have a profound impact on people's daily lives.
Describe your style, how do the clothes you wear impact your confidence?
I’m increasingly aware of just how important it is. For example, we’ve just come back from the Frame magazine awards in Amsterdam. We won ‘Emerging Designer of the Year’ – to be voted the best in the world was pretty special. But if I’m honest, more people came up to me to compliment me on my wardrobe than our interior designs! Given that we were essentially there to make contacts and grab global attention for the Roar brand, that's not flattery - it's a tangible business outcome.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of our time is spent is on dirty building sites, wearing very unflattering high visibility jackets and hard hats. But you have to be able to turn on the style, and not just for one-off awards ceremonies. Every day. We have multiple meetings with high profile clients, and then there’s the constant call of social media and magazine photo shoots. Even just walking around D3 (Dubai Design District) – you could meet your next potential client queueing for a salad at Home Bakery. The final point I’ll make is that most of the hard work happens in the gym and in the kitchen – I’ve got two kids, so staying in shape is a constant battle. But it’s not optional.
What’s your philosophy to live a successful and happy life?
I follow one wonderful piece of advice that my business coach told me. On any given day you can either be a brilliant entrepreneur, a brilliant designer, a great mother, the perfect wife, a selfless mentor, the person who gives 110% in the gym. But you can’t be all of those people every day. So one morning I’ll get up early and exercise and let someone else take the kids to school; the next morning I'll skip the gym and hang out with the boys (Cameron and Blake, aged 8 and 6), having breakfast and dropping them at class. One day I’ll have a string of business development meetings; the next day I’ll keep my diary free and just do deep, creative work in the studio.