The Two Sides of Success
SCALE chronicles the story of two Qatari interior designers Aisha Al Mohannadi and Kaltham Al Kuwari who are basking in the success of their two-year-old design firm Design House Interiors. The firm has completed around 84 design projects in this short time and has also won the UK based International Property Awards for the category of Residential Interior for Arabia. By Sindhu Nair
The two Qatari designers are literally bustling with energy and their passion is perceptible from across the table. Their energy is infectious and soon I am drawn into their narrative. A narrative of two young women setting the norms in the industry which doesn’t see many successful interior designers in the country. This is the story of Design House Interiors, an interior design studio founded by Aisha Al Mohannadi and Kaltham Al Kuwari.
“I love design,” enthuses both of them almost in the same breath, “Even when we are on holidays, we keep looking for inspiration, take pictures and discuss projects. This is our passion and we enjoy what we are doing.” Though passionate about their work, the two are mature enough to put the focus on the brand rather than on themselves. “We want Design House Interiors to be the focus and not just the fact that we lead it.”
Aisha Al Mohannadi & Kaltham Al Kuwari
DESIGN HOUSE INTERIORS
Both Aisha Al Mohannadi and Kaltham Al Kuwari were exceptional students who graduated with a BFA in Interior Design from the prestigious VCUArts Qatar in 2017. Aisha graduated with magna cum laude honours and Kaltham graduated with a distinctive honours medal and magna cum laude honours. In 2018, Kaltham was awarded Education Excellence Award by His Highness, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar for excelling in Interior Design.
The idea to start on their own and to do that as a team ensued quite accidentally. Kaltham joined a business leadership workshop after graduation and a few takeaways during the class rewrote history for her. “The first slide during the presentation was that success is not dependant on age, and the next slide was about partners and it stated that is always best to work with a partner who completes you,” says Kaltham, whose immediate thought was about the other most diligent student in her class, Aisha. “Aisha is very good with visuals and her overall presentation is excellent while I look at the details, and I realised that we did complete each other. As soon as the presentation was over, I was on a call with Aisha, and encouraged her to join the workshop.”
Long story short, by the end of the business entrepreneur workshop, the two who were never the best of friends yet understood that they had similar design tastes and working ethos, became partners of a design studio. With a business plan in place, thanks to the workshop which had an assignment on the business plan and the two made the plan exactly as if it was something that they had planned all along, the wheels were in motion and the first step towards the formation of Design House Interiors was taken, and the rest followed intuitively.
“We met outside the class and decided on this very name for our brand,” says Aisha, “Just like the saying in Arabic. Subanallah, if you wish and work hard for something, all the forces work to make it come true.” At the same time, almost by destiny, one of them was asked if they would be interested to meet a businessman who was looking for interior designers to plan a space for him. “We were stunned at how things fell in place,” remembers Aisha, and thus began the work on their very first commercial project.
That the country is sparse in talent is a misnomer, one just has to look at the graduates who pass out from the local colleges to realise this. Many of the graduates join public services and become part of the governing entity. While this might seem to be a means to lead nation-building projects, it is not the right direction for the hyper-creative ones, who love to make things happen, take the rein and build, or create.
In a country where half of its public buildings and many of its private and even interior projects are designed by architects or designers (usually big names) from outside the country, what are the opportunities for talented designers or creators?
“The interior design firms here in Qatar, do not design, they outsource the designs. VCUArts Qatar have been sending out students of high caliber for 20 years but when this talent is not used, it is a loss for all of us,” says Kaltham.
Giving a new direction of hope is these two designers who have taken the giant leap to make a practice on their own and push for projects and lead by example.
With fire in their blood and a strong passion for design, success seems inevitable for the two. It is also the perfection in the way they present the concept designs and working drawings that attract clients to their work.
Let us hear what these successful designers have to say about the Doha interior market.
SCALE: Which was your first project and how was the experience designing?
Aisha: The first project we started with was a 1000 sqft commercial project, and now two years later, we have done six projects for the same client, Mohammed Al Emadi, owner of Al Hazm Mall. We have a very good client-interior architect relationship and he is very satisfied with our work. Three shops have opened, Glam District, Shoe District, and Sensation, two are under construction and three more projects are in the process of design. He saw us from the beginning and gave us an opportunity and we are thankful for that.
SCALE: How difficult is it to form a team here? Is hiring a good workforce easy?
Kaltham: We have noticed that we do not have to worry much if we hire new designers from our Alma Mater, they have similar critical design thinking and communicating skills like we both have which makes it easier for us to understand each other. Most of our design graduates are from VCUQ and all of them share our passion and have lived here their entire life which makes it easier to understand the country and design accordingly.
SCALE: How about the labour force, where do you source good carpenters or such a skilled workforce?
Kaltham: We work alongside fit-out companies and supervise them. We have different supervision bundle offers; that is another feature that makes us stand out in the market. Most interior design companies carry out interior fit-out along-with the design and those who only carry out the design, do not supervise the work or if they do, they are way too expensive. This is why our different supervision bundles make sense as we too feel satisfied that our designs are followed and understood while the clients also get to see what is drawn and imagined. Our goal was not just financial gains but to make an impression in the market, change it for the better, offer good solutions and designs that are similar on paper and in reality. It is also a guarantee for the clients because we never leave a project midway, many projects evolve at the site and because we offer our supervisory roles, we too love to design during the process and on-site making the final project much more functional than when on paper. We never leave the project midway.
SCALE: Which do you love to work more on; residential projects or commercial projects?
Kaltham and Aisha: We love designing both commercial and residential but every project is unique it depends on the project scope itself and how much we get to explore our creativity, regardless of whether it is residential or commercial. We have finished 10 to 15 commercial projects and the rest are residential. We mostly love residential projects that give us a free hand which makes us want to explore new ideas and material or it might be commercial projects where the love the brand identity so much that we are inspired by it to create something very different than what we have done before.
In less than one year, we had designed over 10 commercial projects; including Qatar’s first Design District (2200 sqm), a central office hub for designers to work, meet clients and exchange ideas located at Al Hazm Mall. We also completed over 60 residential projects in a year.
We did not realise this while we were delivering the projects but recently while we were updating our portfolios, we realised that we have achieved much more than what most of the designers have achieved here.
SCALE: How many projects do you take at a time?
Aisha: We take not more than three to five projects in a month. Sometimes, if the project is quite large, we take on lesser assignments. 99% of our clients are Qataris and we have seen that the projects are all around Doha, it is not concentrated in one area or one mall, our projects are in most Malls. And we have also found out that we get more projects from and around the recently completed project, by word of mouth. So, our best marketing campaign was the completion of the project in the best way we could. We did not have to market our expertise at all, we always had clients coming to us.
This small firm is on the path to greater heights and SCALE urges you to keep your eyes on them as they craft new designs and weave their magic in interior spaces.
All Images Courtesy DHI.