The bigger picture
Julia Dempster, Interior Motives, moves from creating set designs at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, to her screen favourite destination, Dubai
Julia Dempster, managing director, Interior Motives design firm, Dubai, completed a BA (Hons) in interior design at the University of Central England, UK, and an MA in furniture design at Brunel University.
She started her career designing show homes in England before moving to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles as a set designer. Sixteen years ago, after returning to Britain from a two-year stint travelling the world, she was handed the opportunity of a lifetime designing palaces in Dubai for The Crown Prince, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now the Ruler of the UAE.
Interior Motives was set up in 2002 and has offices in India and the UK. It focuses on the interior design of restaurants, hotels and residential projects.
What project are you currently working on in the middle east?
A first for the region, we have just finished designing a Steigenberger Hotel in West Bay, Doha. The luxurious design of the guest rooms, which are now decorated in warm shades of cream and brown also feature a high-gloss zebrano veneer, which provides a classy contrast.
One of the highlights of the project will be a new Day Spa of just under 1,000m² in size. We are also fortunate to have a loyal client for whom we are designing several brands of Hiltons in different areas of Saudi Arabia.
We are currently developing a programme of refurbishment and re-branding of the Ramada Plaza, Doha, which is a hugely successful hotel, to a Radisson Blu. The interior is unmistakably contemporary and the use of materials and decorative details promote familiarity more in keeping with a traditional building, accepting the existing architecture and energising it. We are also designing a resort hotel in Sohar, Oman for the Rezidor Group.
Others include OOSC (Oman Oilfields Supply Centre) offices in Muscat, the client has provided an exceptional brief but with the limitations of re-using some of its existing furniture.
We are designing a Crowne Plaza Minhal, Riyadh, Holiday Inn & Express, Hyderabad, India, Holiday Inn Medina, Novotel Al Barsha, Dubai and a Crowne Plaza in Lagos. We are also working on some confidential hospitality projects in Qatar and Tanzania.
What are the main challenges you face today in the Middle East?
Our biggest challenge presently is a worldwide issue, the hotel industry is emerging from a difficult time. We have witnessed an increase in refurbishments whilst new commissions are on the down.
As a result, developers and hotel owners are looking to refurbish and revamp their existing sites or parts thereof, instead of investing in new constructions. Although opportunities in Dubai have obviously decreased with a more cautious stance by clients, they aren’t non-existent.
Other markets like Abu Dhabi are continuing their large scale master planning that is much greater than the recent recession could impact on. Our Dubai office serves as a hub for the wider GCC region; we have live projects in KSA, Qatar and Bahrain.
Many women who become self-employed do not realise that until they hire staff, they will have to wear many hats—assistant, messenger, executive. Along with family responsibilities, these additional roles can be very demanding.
The Harvard Business School Review confirms that the higher women climb professionally the fewer children they have, but the reverse is true for men.
This is a sensitive topic to discuss, because interpreted superficially it may seem to reinforce the old stereotype that women need to make a choice between career and family; an ultimatum society does not push upon men.
Personally, I feel all it really indicates is that women need to take greater control of managing their business development so that they can fulfil their potential both professionally and personally. I know this from personal experience as I am myself a mother-of-one.
Direct time-consuming tasks to other individuals, that way you can focus on growing your business while someone else works on the admin. This allows you to still have enough time to balance family life and work.
What is your favourite project to date and why?
One of my favorite projects is Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi. The design period was quick and took eight weeks from conceptualisation to tender and the client and operator gave us a great brief to work with, embracing an organic theme. The guestrooms boast a range of rich textures, employing the use of marble, walnut wood panelling and bamboo flower-inspired soft furnishings.
We were fortunate to have a stunning location, the Abu Dhabi hotel has views of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and is close to the city centre and main exhibitions facilities.
It has 369 guestrooms and suites including a “bath with a view”, bathrooms designed with creek side views. There are also a number of restaurants including Al Naba’a Lounge, Elements, Chameleon, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Frankie’s (italian), Cedar Lounge and The Chocolate Gallery.
What advice would you give someone wanting to join the profession?
For all those wanting to embark on their own business venture, my advice is to think it through. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? What is the motivation? Don’t ever think it is going to be a breeze. Have a clear vision, focus on your goal and know what you want to achieve. Leadership is imperative.
Every small business owner needs to network, and broadly. Each person you meet is a possible referral or potential client. Join the business organisation for your field, stay focused while you are at the networking event and be determined to achieve pre-determined goals, which were your reasons for attending the event.
Talk to other designers and find out what other competitors in your area are charging. If you feel uncomfortable contacting a competitor, ask someone else do it. The same goes for collections. No small business owner can go without collecting their fees, so if you are afraid of making the calls get someone else to make them for you or send letters gently requesting payment.
Taking any assignment that comes around does not give you the opportunity to focus on what you like to do. Stick to projects that incorporate the services you offer. Let the other assignments go. This will allow you the time to work on fulfilling projects.
Interior designers are expected to face keen competition for available positions because many talented individuals are attracted to this profession. Individuals with little or no formal training in interior design, as well as those lacking creativity and perseverance, will find it more difficult to establish a career in this occupation.
I highly recommend internships. That is the way to get into the business, work for free for other companies to get experience and real world knowledge. This is your foot in the door and will give an insight into the area of design you want to explore.
You’ve got to have vision – to be able to walk into the shell of a building or read a plan and visualise what it should look like. Then you’ve got to be able to convey that strong vision to your client and team. You need to communicate, so there are no surprises at the end of a project.
When you’re working out what a client wants, you have to be intuitive and able to listen. You also need a thorough knowledge of how buildings are constructed: the lighting, audiovisual and technical elements.
Always buy quality and not quantity, believe you should answer the clients brief, love what you design.
What’s next for you?
I’m spontaneous by nature and always on the lookout for new challenges, so Interior Motives has now opened offices in India and the UK. I always trust my first instincts; they often remain true, though it’s difficult to remember that when you’re up to your eyes in a project.
You can love a million different styles and I am very fortunate to create a different interior every day.
We all have backgrounds working with larger prominent design companies but our desire to offer clients a more personal approach at a competitive rate has cemented our position in the industry at large.