Dubai-based Brand Creative, a top design and branding firm that has established itself as ‘brand space’ strategist, has upped the game for many retailers by employing what it calls ‘a holistic approach to brands’.
Among the clients have directly benefited from that strategy is Nar, for which Brand Creative developed the design for its flagship café at City Walk in Dubai, UAE.
The firm first conceptualised the Nar brand “from scratch six years ago including naming, branding, graphics and interiors”, according to Brand Creative’s creative director and founder, Carla Conte.
Since then, the brand has substantially grown with plans in place for multiple sub-brands by 2021.
Conte says Nar’s latest brief included re-analysing the needs of the market and the specific location, and in response the firm created the next brand variation – Nar Social – at Motor City in Dubai, which opened last December.
“Understanding the behaviour of the Motor City demographic, the client intended for Arab families to enjoy the space during the day, but at night attract a far livelier crowd of young, single professionals looking to enjoy their meals with live and televised entertainment, board games and a great shisha experience within an environment that is comfortable,” she says.
The request to add industrialised elements to the concept while still retaining the bold spirit of the flagship concept was paramount. The original bar’s smoke feature which created the space’s “wow” factor was now replaced with an open work concrete staircase and double-storey clay brick oven. The theatre of baking bread and the customer’s vertical journey through the space take center stage.
“Our concept explores the various parts of the shisha pipe and a deconstruction ‘aesthetic’ whilst playfully working with exaggerated proportions of scale,” says Conte.
Nar Social is a casual, laid-back version of the original Nar Café concept. The new sub-brand shifts its focus towards street-side eateries found across the region, and away from the dramatic aesthetic the original café boasted. With this in mind, the aesthetic also shifted towards a raw and unaffected finish, balanced with an enveloping warm glow. The region’s affection for desert nights spent with friends around camp fires, is subtly celebrated in the concept with thoughtful nods to industrialism to bring a youthful edge.
The ground floor is a non-smoking dining area, so it is less about shisha and more about food and aroma. A wood-fired oven is the stand-out feature inspired by campfire cooking and clad with floor-to-ceiling terracotta clay brick. The oven is flanked by a customised wooden sculpture, engraved in gold and black abstract shapes that mimic flickering flames.
Tying back to the smoke-inspired concept, a dark smoked oak wood was used throughout both floors in the joinery. Handmade encaustic cement tiles make up the central flooring feature and hint at the traditional use of carpet under desert camp dining areas. The monochrome and graphic aesthetic of the pattern contemporises the space.
For the ceiling, an Arabic geometric pattern was enlarged to such an extent that it becomes unrecognisable from its traditional state, creating an edgier aesthetic. The pattern was then layered and deconstructed in different metal finishes for a 3D effect.
Pops of colour and arabesque pattern engravings, inspired by the glass of the shisha pipe vase (base), were included on screen dividers but toned down with a black metal mesh covering. An aged golden paint finish with hints of copper was used on the overscaled sculptural “pipe” pillar, casting a warm glow.
The staircase is a pivotal feature to the design where Brand Creative exposed raw finishes and embraced the vertical circulation of the space: concrete steps were partnered with smoke-infused coloured graphic glass panels. The balustrades comprise a unique combination of metal rods threaded through oversized wooden beadwork, which were inspired by the shisha pipe’s mouthpiece.
The careful placement of fire pits throughout the upstairs entertainment area and terrace lends to the intimate vibe. Each fire pit utilises Fanola – the latest technology in ethanol-based bio-fuel, which is a smoke-free, organic and a renewable green source of energy. Heat-resistant glass was specified to contain each fire – providing a safe surface that is cool to the touch even while the fire inside has been lit for hours.
The colourful alloy fabrics from Maharam boast LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) IEQ Credit 4.5, HC MR Credit 5 and are Greenguard Gold certified. The fabric also features low flammability ratings and is resistant to small flyaway coal embers that could otherwise cause fabric damage.
The smoking area includes a bar with a black metal cage fascia and a custom-painted façade mimicking mesh perforations. Flexible seating for large groups was integral to this area’s planning in order to facilitate easy socialising, Conte points out.
Brand Creative, which was established in 2011 by Conte and Mohammed El Hijazi, specialises in salon and spa, health and wellness centres, large-scale retail interiors (shopping malls, duty free), retail, food and beverage outlets.
Commenting on the market, Conte says regionally, food and beverage along with beauty and wellness concepts are alive and thriving.
She explains: “Unlike other retail concepts, anything service-oriented that cannot be replaced with an online experience and still requires a brick-and-mortar space is still being pursued by entrepreneurs and Emiratis looking for other streams of income.”
Conte has seen a major shift in its clients’ appreciation of the need for a holistic approach to branding. “When we started almost a decade ago, clients really struggled with understanding how important it was to create a holistic approach to a brand by assigning one creative agency the reins to both identity and interiors. Today, the region has really caught on to this way of thinking and embraces our style of process and thinking,” she says.
Brand Creative is currently working on a number of projects including Al Jalila Children’s Hospital, Cult Fit, Ixora, Lu Vixen, Dunk n Dip KSA, and residential properties for the UAE royal family.
Some of its prestigious projects in the regional and global market include Oman Avenues Mall, Al Arrayedh Specialised Eye Centre (Bahrain), Bin Sina Pharmacy, Rossano Ferretti Hair Spa and Yeotown Kitchen (London).