PALLAVI Dean Interiors recently completed a private office for Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, the CEO and founder of Kalimat, a UAE-based book publisher specialising in Arabic language books for children.
“It is a quirky space that plays with the colours of the abaya and dish-dash – a complete monochrome concept,” says Pallavi Dean, design director of the interior design firm.
He continues: “When Amani Al Ali, the office manager of the executive office of Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, approached our firm to extend the executive office, her directive was simple: to make the office a brilliant space and design and build it in three months. Right, no pressure then! Having worked with the client in the past was a key plus point; this allowed us to hit the ground running.”
Sheikha Bodour is also a leading advocate for children’s and women’s issues in the Middle East and the chairperson of the Sharjah Investment Development Authority, and has initiated the Heart of Sharjah project, the region’s biggest heritage development, and the Al Majaz Waterfront, one of Sharjah’s most important recreational destinations.
This new office was commissioned as Sheikha Bodour’s enterprise had grown over the years and she needed to accommodate new staff. The required office space was 2,700 sq ft, located in the iconic setting of Qanat al Qasba in Sharjah, one floor below the existing office. The brief for the extension was to include five private offices, with two open-plan studio spaces for 10 employees, and a number of shared spaces.
“We were looking to create a space that was a natural extension of the existing office. The design language needed to be carried through both floors, allowing them to be read as one office rather than two separate entities,” comments Dean.
“This notion of ‘continuation’ or ‘extension and growth’ became the central theme of the design concept. The initial sketches show a fluid ribbon element that links the two floors and creates an organic element stitching the office space together.
“Through the design process, the concept was refined into a linear black wrap-around element that flows from flooring into walls and ceilings, extending into custom-made furniture. This guides the user through the space and serves as a space-forming device, creating a three-dimensional experience for the user.
“The colour palette is monochromatic in keeping with the brief, and the existing office – but as a designer I was looking for meaning in the tones I would play with. I wanted the office to represent the heritage and wealth of culture in Sharjah while creating a quirky, contemporary Emirati statement. I’ve lived in Sharjah, studied and taught at the American University of Sharjah and have family who still live there, so I understand that it’s important to grasp its unique cultural and social context.”
As a point of departure, Dean started with the stark contrast between the colours of the traditional Emirati garb – the feminine abaya and the masculine kandura. The black ribbon element represents the abaya flowing elegantly and strongly through the space bringing together all the independent elements; the reflective white backdrop hints to the colour of the kandura. The juxtaposition of the black element in the predominantly white and light space creates a strong design statement – seamless and minimal.
As with any monochromatic palette, it’s a fine line between minimal and stark, says Dean. “The palette is rich in textures – reflective finishes such as synthetic white stone and back-painted glass, metallic accents, soft flooring and strong forms in the furniture add interest to the palette. Texture is also created through pattern in the wallpaper and most notably in the printed manifestations used on the glazing; here the repetition of client’s brand logo creates a pattern while providing privacy.”
In line with the Baby Friendly City Sharjah Campaign launched by Sheikha Bodour in 2012, the client specifically requested for a kids play room and a breastfeeding room for working mothers. The client was emphatic about the fact that the office needed to be a space that employees felt a sense of belonging.
“In direct response to this request, we created a central hub in the office. This is a large, glass-enclosed breakout space encouraging a relaxed, collaborative working environment,” says Dean.
The most enjoyable part, according to Dean was working closely with the client. “Here’s a great example: during one of our meetings we were trying to decide where to place a large, mirror-faced wall clock that the executive office had been given. The client suggested ‘how about the ceiling?’ At first I thought it was a crazy idea! It’s a heavy, glass clock at least a metre in diameter and I couldn’t imagine how we could do it safely, But the engineers at Aspect Contracting came up with a secure solution and it’s become one of main feature elements in the space.”
As with any design project, the details can make or break the idea. Dean relied heavily on her carpet supplier Tretford to create the seamless look for the black ribbon element that runs through the space.
Many details in the project were hand-crafted, including bespoke joinery and artwork; the large black and white prints of the Sharjah Heritage Area were photographed and are signed by one of the designer’s on Dean’s team.
“I think designing the project was the easy bit – ensuring it was built on a tight deadline within budget was the challenge. Aspect Contracting did an excellent job of executing the works, putting up with my endless requests of ensuring the MEP (mechanical electrical and plumbing) elements were well integrated within the design features and sourcing multiple options for materials.
“As with all my projects, sustainability is a driving factor. We used zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, the carpets are natural fibre made with the highest grade cashmere goat hairs from sustainable sources, while all the lights fixtures are energy efficient,” she says.
Dean also feels that none of her projects is complete “without a Scandinavian touch”.
“The exposed bulbs by Muuto in the break-out space give it the quirky touch. Triangular facets of the Magis chairs coupled with the classic lines of the Eames task chair give the closed offices a sophisticated yet contemporary look. The meeting room table, reception table and the Mondrian-style wall cabinets were the custom-designed elements made by millwork contractors based here in the UAE,” she says.