Home / Top 20 most successful boutique interior design firms in the Middle East in 2019
Top 20 most successful boutique interior design firms in the Middle East in 2019

As most boutique firms are wont to do, they are born out of a vision. Most of the founders of small- and mid-size firms would have already amassed vast experiences working with big corporate companies. Case in point: Pallavi Dean of Roar, Jonathan Ashmore of Anarchitect and Lulie Fisher of her eponymous firm, among others.

What propels them to leave the safety net of bigger practices and start their own venture? While there is no single answer to this question, the founders and creative leaders of these firms show that a strong belief in their ideologies and doggedly pursuing their ambition heralds the sweet smell of success. It’s a distinct accomplishment which these practices have achieved, drawing much attention on the design radar on a global level.

As a reflection of this growing trend, at the 2018 Commercial Interior Design Awards, boutique firms garnered the maximum recognition, both in terms of the shortlisted finalists as well as winners. Brimming with innovative ideas conceptualised by young design teams, these companies are almost winning the proverbial David and Goliath battle.

Remarkably, a lot of these firms with a staff strength of less than 20 are working on large scale projects in the hospitality, corporate and residential sectors. It signals towards not only their own credibility in the market, but also the maturing outlook of the industry. Property owners and developers are far more open to working with small practices today, than say, a decade ago.

With savvier clients, who recognise and value the personalised services of start-up firms, projects in the region now eschew cookie-cutter moulds for fresh creative concepts. Financially, it makes better sense, as boutique firms are not burdened with the high overhead operating costs as those of large practices.

This is not to say that the days of the large firms are over. On the contrary, they’re the incubators of future talent. With increased competition in the region, practices, their sizes notwithstanding, are collectively raising the design bar to new heights, and that is a feat to recognise.

Originally established in Damascus in 2001, founders, Firas Alsahin and Amjad Hourieh, moved their practice to Dubai to be at the centre of this vibrant market. The emirate’s booming growth in the commercial sector was an impetus for the firm to explore all the opportunities in the design industry. Overcoming an uphill battle, 4Space Design has gone on to create noteworthy projects in the UAE. Eschewing quantity for quality, profile of the project and relationship with clients, the studio credit its people’s distinct ideas strategic business development.

Recent projects by the firm include the VR Park in Dubai Mall and a grill gourmet concept, Atmosfire. With a specialist approach towards themed attractions, retail and F&B projects, the practice has new commissions that are in the construction pipeline, including cafés in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, an indoor aquarium in Abu Dhabi as well as a retail fashion boutique in Nakheel Mall, Dubai.

The firm has also started offering branding, identity exploration, and concept direction with a view to being a one-stop shop for clients.

Who: 4Space Design

Year and country of establishment: 2001, Syria; 2012, UAE

Fulltime staff: 10

Annual turnover: Above $2,000,000

Within a short span of just six years, Anarchitect has become known as one of the highly-regarded boutique practices in the Middle East. Helmed by RIBA-certified architect, Jonathan Ashmore, the firm has several noteworthy projects in its oeuvre such as the Al Faya Lodge Desert Retreat and Spa in Sharjah, the Harding Boutique Hotel in Sri Lanka, large-scale residential projects in Dubai Hills and Al Barari precincts in the emirate, a co-working space in Bahrain as well as award-winning F&B and retail spaces such as the former El Chiringuito Club and the Rossano Ferretti Hair Spa, the latter two being located in Dubai. Its focus areas are mainly within the hospitality and leisure sectors.

The firm’s rigorous contextual design process and emphasis on materiality has earned it several accolades, including honour at the Commercial Interior Design Awards 2017. With a new office in London, Ashmore hopes to extend his design consultancy to investors, who have property portfolios in both the UAE and UK. As the studio has already been offering custom-made design pieces for its projects, Anarchitect’s first complete product collection is in the offing.

Who: Anarchitect

Year and country of establishment: 2013, UAE; 2019, UK

Fulltime staff: Six

Annual turnover: Not Available

One of the few boutique practices to offer both architecture and interior design services, Binchy and Binchy was founded by Jennie and Cezar Binchy. “We believe that inhabited spaces should be a conscious delight to the people that use them,” says Jennie. “To us, this ‘delight’ is the result of a careful balance between artistic sensibility and practical methodology.”

Regardless of its size, each project taken on by the firm promises to deliver a detailed and bespoke service. The practice won the Interior Design of the Year: F&B category at the 2017 Commercial Interior Design Awards for its work on the Menagerie restaurant in Dubai. One of the biggest projects taken on by firm is an 87,000m2 training centre in Oman which consists of a four star hotel, offices, lecture and training rooms and a conference centre, laboratories, restaurants and VIP areas, staff accommodation, warehouses and maintenance yards, in addition to numerous outdoor training areas.

Other upcoming projects include a 3,500m2 full-service private residential project, as well as the interiors for two 26-storey residences in Dubai Hills, both of which are under construction.

Who: Binchy and Binchy

Year and country of establishment: 2015, UK and UAE

Fulltime staff: 7

Annual turnover: $500,000 to $999,999

As one of the most well-known boutique firms in the regional design industry, Bishop Design has experienced an exponential growth in the past one year, which has seen the company embrace a multidisciplinary approach.

Founded by Paul Bishop, who won the Interior Designer of the Year recognition at the 2018 Commercial Interior Design Awards, the studio has worked on a diverse range of projects which include yachts, religious venues, F&B concepts and hotels — it is currently working on 10 hotel projects — Bishop Design has become one of the strongest practices in the industry.

One of the most recent projects is the Torno Subito restaurant at the W Dubai — The Palm hotel, designed for the world’s top chef, Massimo Bottura. Other projects include Studio One Hotel, and The Wavehouse at the Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah. Upcoming commissions expected to be completed in 2020 is the luxury SLS hotel in Dubai’s Downtown area.

In 2018, the firm launched a whole new sub-brand, Rogue, which offers a multi-pronged approach towards architecture, interiors, videography, and branding.

Who: Bishop Design

Year and country of establishment: 2004, UAE

Fulltime staff: 25

Annual turnover: Above $2,000,000

Since its founding in 2010, Brand Creative has gone from strength to strength as a sought after, homegrown interior design firm in the UAE. Helmed by co-founders, creative director, Carla Conte, and managing director, Mohammed El Hijazi, the practice has also set up a branch office in India.

As a rather strategic move, Conte and her team realised very early on in the firm’s operation that clients required experiential graphics for branding and wayfinding services in interiors. The practice aims to create design solutions which have a direct impact on improved sales and better brand awareness for the property owners. Recent projects include the Rossano Ferretti Hair Spa in Abu Dhabi and multiple outlets of the Sisters Beauty Lounge. The firm’s expertise in beauty and wellness design has earned it several salon and spa projects in the Middle East. One of the high profile projects Brand Creative is currently engaged with is the Al Jalila Children’s Hospital in Dubai. Other commissions include large scale malls in Oman, Wadi Al Lawami and the Amerat Mall, both due to open this year.

Who: Brand Creative

Year and country of establishment: 2010, UAE; 2014, India

Fulltime staff: 18

Annual turnover: Above $2,000,000

Starting out as a fit-out firm two decades ago, Broadway Interiors, founded by Chris Barnes and Mohammed A. Tarish, has evolved into a design and build business, with a special focus on corporate offices, sales centre, and recently, F&B and fitness spaces. With several projects spanning the breadth of the Middle East, the practice’s in-depth knowledge of the construction process in interior projects has added value to its reputation of being a high quality design consultancy. Noteworthy completed projects include Mashroat National Project Management Office, workspaces for DEWA, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, and Lock, Stock and Barrel, while upcoming commissions include the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre and five F&B concepts for the Le Meridian Hotel Complex.

Who: Broadway Interiors

Year and country of establishment: 1999, UAE

Fulltime staff: 18

Annual turnover: Above $2,000,000

The eponymous practice founded by young designer duo, David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem, has recently burst on to the region’s design scene and industry experts have taken notice. With a strong background in industrial and product design, the Beirut-based pair has already worked on prestigious commissions, such as an exhibition showcased by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris and New York; private residences, luxury retail and F&B. Recent projects include elevators for Mitsulift and a car redesign, while the pair is most excited about a retail space for a vintage watch store in Beirut.

Who: David/Nicolas

Year and country of Establishment: 2011, Lebanon

Fulltime staff: 4

Annual Turnover: Below $500,000

Back in the late ’80s, the firm’s founder, Galal Mahmoud, went straight from an internship to starting his own practice with a French Partner. The studio then worked primarily on luxury retail and residential projects in Paris, Miami and South America. In its revised iteration, the concentration has increasingly been on hospitality projects, such as the Sofitel Tamuda Bay. Upcoming properties, where the firm has lent its design services, include Accor Group in Dubai, Jumeirah resort in Bahrain, a hotel conversion in Kuwait, a Sofitel hotel and branded residence in Limassol, Cyprus, and a large-scale luxury residence in Morocco. Embracing a holistic, multidisciplinary approach, the practice offers masterplanning, architecture, interior design, and even signage and bespoke design pieces.

Who: GM Architects

Year and country of establishment: 1987, France; 1998, Lebanon; 2006, UAE

Fulltime staff: 35

Annual turnover: Not available

The boutique practice, founded by Omar Ghafour, has expanded since its inception to other territories such as China, Philippines and soon to be opened full service office in London. Born out of an innate passion for design and its impact on everyday lives, the studio has carved a niche for itself with its painstakingly detailed projects and “less is more” philosophy. At the Commercial Interior Design Awards 2018, the firm won in three categories, including the Office category, Best Use of Lighting in Interior Design, and Public Sector.

With a view towards creating a space that exemplifies its use on both micro and macro levels, the firm works on projects in sectors such as urban planning, product, furniture, lighting and even transport design. Among its award-winning projects is the subliminal Leila Heller Gallery.

Currently, the practice is working on three large projects: a boutique hotel in Bali, La Mer beach club comprising two restaurants, an outdoor pool area, coffeeshop, lounge and gym with a private beach landscape; and three upscale private residences.

Despite engaging in various disciplines of design, the firm’s concentration in hospitality and residential sectors is relatively stronger.

Who: Light Space Design

Year and country of establishment: 2004, UAE

Fulltime staff: 15

Annual turnover: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 and above

Within less than three years of being founded, Lulie Fisher Design Studio has become a force to reckon with, winning recognition in various categories at the Commercial Interior Design Awards over the course of time. Its founder, Lulie Fisher, who has a stellar track record having worked with firms such as Foster + Partners, and Aedas Interiors.

The practice was a result of Fisher’s desire to step away from the world of large corporate firms and set up a design studio with other talented designers to indulge their passion for colour and creativity across all spectrums of design. While the firm has worked across several sectors, hospitality remains its key focus.

Weighing in on the importance of building strong relationships with clients and the personalised service offerings, Fisher says that this has distinguished the firm from its competitors.

Among the high profile projects completed by the studio is the Manarat Al Saadiyat for the Tourism and Cultural Authority, Abu Dhabi. Upcoming commissions include the Vida Hills Hotel, two five star-rated undisclosed hotel projects, Novotel Resort on the Palm Jumeirah, as well as large scale residential developments at City Walk, Emirates Towers District, Deira Waterfront and a luxury development in Zanzibar.

Who: Lulie Fisher Design Studio

Year and country of establishment: 2016, UAE

Fulltime staff: 10

Annual turnover: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000

Founded by the former employees of design firm, Samuel Creations — Christian Merieau and Anil Mangalat — MMAC Associates specialises in hospitality projects ranging from luxury resorts to small restaurants.

Being passionate about creative narratives, MMAC Associates works with a distinct story for each of its projects. The company has a flat structure with the management working shoulder to shoulder with the team. It also offers flexible hours and remote working facility to the team as a way to achieve a healthy work life balance.

The studio’s vast experience in the hotel industry has seen in design a number of hotels in the region including five-, four- and three-star hotels in Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Upcoming projects include commissions by Hilton and Kempinski.

Having recently made inroads into Asian and African territories, the studio is working on projects in Nepal, Bangladesh and Seychelles.

Who: MMAC Associates

Year and country of establishment: 2014, UAE

Fulltime staff: 20

Annual turnover: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 and above

Driven by storytelling, Beirut-based Rabih Geha Architects, founded by Lebanese-Croatian architect, Rabih Geha, believes in creating multisensorial spaces, akin to creating a theatrical production involving actors and spectators.

Having worked on acclaimed fitness space design project, UEnergy, 2Weeks nightclub, as well as several retail concepts, the firm has a large repertoire of work across diverse sectors. Commissions in the construction pipeline include a nightclub in Italy, corporate offices for Rolex distributors in Downtown Beirut, a residential project in 3 Beirut by Foster + Partners, as well as the complete overhaul of a historic mansion in the city.

The practice hopes to start a small product design division within the company.

Who: Rabih Geha Architects

Year and country of establishment: 2006, Lebanon

Fulltime staff: 15

Annual turnover: $500,000 – $999,999

What started off as a kitchen table business by founder Pallavi Dean, quickly transformed into a highly successful boutique practice, now based in Dubai Design District. Dean and her talented team have won multiple awards, most notably, the Boutique Firm of the Year at the Commercial Interior Design Awards 2017. In Dean’s own words, she quit her job at a big firm to spend time with her children and do freelance work. “Before I knew it, work had spiralled and I had a trade licence, professional indemnity insurance, three staff and a string of projects across the Middle East and East Africa. But there was no grand business plan in the beginning.” As the projects built momentum, the firm’s design identity also grew organically.

As a tech- and media-savvy company, Roar has large following on social media channels, which Dean says “adds value to the firm’s business strategy”.

In addition to her current 10 fulltime employees, Dean’s practice also works with a number of outsourced contractors, interns, and independent senior designers, reflecting the growing acceptance of the gig economy in the region.

The practice rebranded last year – from being named after its founder to Roar – which was a strategic business move, and an attempt to shift the focus to the creative flair of the entire team. With a strong focus on research-driven design, which incorporates latest technology, the studio has bagged multiple high profile projects across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and overseas. Projects in the bag include a corporate office for a technology investment firm in Downtown Dubai, a campus comprising five buildings in the International Humanitarian City in the emirate, a retail store at the Founders Memorial in Abu Dhabi, the research and technology campus at the American University of Sharjah, as well as a private residence in the Chelsea precinct in London.

Other completed projects include a 300-key hotel and residential tower on the Palm, the award-winning Shababeek restaurant in Sharjah, and corporate offices for public relations company, Edelman. In the works is a collaboration with a global lighting company, in a bid to introduce more diversified offerings by the studio. The firm’s core business is centered on the office sector, followed closely by hospitality, often using crossover elements in these projects.

Who: Roar, formerly known as Pallavi Dean Interiors

Year and country of establishment: 2013, UAE

Fulltime staff: 10

Annual turnover: Above $2,000,000

Having designed and run his own restaurants and bars for over 10 years back in Australia, founder Marcos Cain started his own boutique firm. A decade into its operation now, the Australian native has found the right mix between design and business complexities. Well-designed experiential properties that are also profitable is Stickman Tribe’s philosophy. Cain believes that such an approach is possible when you treat these projects like your own assets and how you would get the best out of them. “This is achieved when you have lived and worked behind the scenes, financed your own highs and lows, honing your skills with juxtaposition to fully understand budgets, operational values, local and international cultures to evoke a personality,” says Cain.

The 10-year-old studio, with hospitality sector as its core area of expertise, is not only working on large scale projects in the Middle East, but also Asia, including China. Its portfolio now includes projects in over 12 cities and eight countries. Outstanding projects include Hotel Jen in Beijing and the Zaya Nurai Island, and The Cook The Meet The Brew in Kerry Hotel, Shanghai.

Recently completed projects include the spa and four signature restaurants at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, scheduled to open within the first quarter of this year.

Other upcoming projects will see the firm working with Mercedes-Benz and Daimler in cities across China; Hyatt Xi’an full scope hotel, also in China and F&B venues for Conrad Hilton Kuala Lumpur. The firm has also worked on the re-design of The Westin Mina Seyahi, Dubai scheduled for 2020. A new territory expansion is on the cards with the opening of an office in Miami to serve the high-potential but underexplored Latin American market.

Who: Stickman Tribe

Year and country of establishment: 2009, UAE

Fulltime staff: 16

Annual turnover: $2,000,000 and above

Founded by Emma and Kristian Stinson, who started the firm at a relatively young age — they were both in their mid-20s — Studio EM was a homage to Emma’s father who passed away due to cancer. She says: “We were young (and naïve) enough to bounce back if it didn’t work. So far, it has been working out. In all the years since starting Studio EM, I have never woken up and not wanted to go to work or to the office; I truly love the team we have and the environment we work in. I’m living a life that my dad inspired me to live — one without fear or regret, doing what I love each and every day.”

Opting to stay away from the relentless race to the top, the Stinsons’ firm stays focused on its own projects. “In that sense, our greatest competition is ourselves. We often evaluate how can we constantly get better?” says the couple.

The practice has worked on a number of F&B and retail projects across the UAE, including Wagamama outlets in The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates; Alchemy café; Five Guys burger outlets; Lamise Beauty Store; 1004 Gourmet supermarket. In terms of size, Studio EM’s biggest project is the Dubai Stars Sportsplex in Al Khawaneej at 3,716m2, but in terms of giving the firm its first start in the business, the Stinsons count Candylicious in The Dubai Mall as their biggest project.

In the offing for 2019 is Nairobi Street Kitchen, a 4,180m2 food hall concept in the Kenyan capital, headoffice for fashion e-commerce site Namshi, and the renovation of Dubai Ladies Club, among others. Diversifying its business offerings further, the studio added a branding division in 2018 to provide a 360-degree design service to its clients. Innovating further, the firm has even started its own podcasting channel, which invites experts to discuss pertinent topics that have an impact on the design industry, a move which is expected to add value to the firm’s operations.

Who: Studio EM

Year and country of establishment: 2011, UAE

Fulltime staff: 9

Annual Turnover: $500,000 – $999,999

After meeting at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst, Wien (Vienna) in 2011, where architects, Hend Almatrouk and Gijo Paul George were pursuing their master’s in architecture, they began collaborating on international competitions. It became evident to them that the collaborative output was far more impactful than the sum of their individual work. Almatrouk’s work in experimental formal architecture and George’s research into emergent urban phenomena provided the perfect opportunity to combine these divergent fields to form Studio Toggle.

The practice’s ideology is driven by the fact that buildings are not standalone island and that interior design is a natural extension of the building envelope and has to go hand in hand with the architecture and not be disconnected from it. Almatrouk and George explain: “This doesn’t necessarily mean having identical languages but facilitating the evolution of the best possible experience by devising a smooth interface that connects the environment, the building and the interiors in a holistic manner. We describe ourselves as architects, urbanists and activists. This informs the way we design and operate.”

After designing critically acclaimed buildings such as Edges, a 10-storey brick-clad apartment building in Kuwait City, the firm has now set its sight on creating equally striking interior spaces. Their recent retail project, Bean to Bar Chocolatier, Kuwait, won the Retail Interior Design of the Year recognition at the 2018 Commercial Interior Design Awards.

Ongoing projects include an F&B mall, multiple residential towers, a commercial office complex, a seaside residential community of 40 high-end villas, among others. In addition to focusing on its hospitality and retail portfolio, the practice is working on a collection of its own lighting and furniture products, expected to be launched by 2020.

Who: Studio Toggle

Year and country of establishment: 2011, Austria; 2012, Kuwait; 2016, Portugal

Fulltime staff: 14

Annual turnover: $200,000 – $499,999

Originating in the Italian town of Florence, SuperFutureDesign is part of the bigger umbrella of design and architecture offerings, ASZarchitetti founded in Italy. Based in Dubai Design District (d3), the boutique practice, helmed in this region by Andrea Sensoli and his wife Cecilia Morosi, both architects, specialises in luxury retail spaces in Italy and the Middle East such as Prada, Burberry, and Masel among others. However, the firm’s portfolio of built work also includes offices, residential and recreational spaces, with clients spanning Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Sensoli and Morosi have also dabbled in product and concept design, creating pieces such as the MUTable, which is a permanent installation in d3; semi-recessed luminaire Leaf, and spaces such as Bettair house in Dubai, commissioned especially for Dubai Design Week 2017. One of the studio’s biggest project to date is the Oriana Beauty Spa in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Upcoming projects include a luxury residential property in Sconcino, Italy.

Who: SuperFutureDesign

Year and country of establishment: 2004, Italy; 2008, UAE

Fulltime staff: 10

Annual turnover: $200,000 – $499,999

Having recently completed the renovation of the iconic Al Alamein hotel in Egypt, the firm’s founders, brothers Hasan and Husain Roomi, along with business partner Jacqui Shaddock have been recognised as prolific young talents to watch in the region.

Other recently completed projects include the Two Café, Symphony boutique and Candylicious retail outlet. Among the upcoming projects, the Cassette eatery presents an exciting premise to look forward to. Located in The Courtyard complex within the arts district of Al Quoz industrial area, the restaurant is aligned with the ethos of championing arts and culture.

The practice is adopting a deeper involvement in its projects, such as brand identity, food direction, playlists and even table styling, to create a cohesive character in the spaces it designs.

Who: H2R Design

Year and country of establishment: 2012, UK and UAE

Fulltime staff: 23

Annual turnover: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000

Based in Dubai, the boutique practice was founded by Tarik Al Zaharna, who graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, to fill a void in the development of contemporary architecture in the region. In a short span of time, the practice’s research-driven objective has developed into finding a way of evolving regional architecture and design by giving craft, materiality and context the time and attention they deserve.

T.Zed Architects’ forward-thinking vision of contributing to the ‘evolution of the regional architecture’ allows the practice to keep an eye on urbanity, heritage, and culture, while devising a modern design language. Deeply rooted in the process of design and making, the firm considers materiality, programme and details to be at the very core of each project’s identity and purpose.

The firm has recently worked on Koa Canvas, an avant-garde urban mixed-use development in Dubai, which aims to re-interpret how people live, re-imagine the public realm of cities, and enable successful social interactions. The project comprises residential units, boutique hotel, F&B components, a co-working space, an open-air amphitheatre, as well as a day-care centre.

Upcoming projects by the firm include three exclusive residential development in the middle of the desert, to a boutique hotel in Dubai and another development, Sky, located in one of the oldest neigbourhoods in the emirate.

Who: T.ZED Architects

Year and country of establishment: 2015, UAE

Fulltime staff: 9

Annual turnover: Not Available

Founded by Rania Hamed, who comes from a family that has been involved in fashion and design business for decades, the studio was born out of Hamed’s determination to use design to change people’s lives through functional and innovative solutions without compromising on taste and style.

Standing out in a competitive market is not an easy challenge to live up to. However, VSHD addresses the competition by highlighting the importance of functionality, quality of materials, light and details in each of its projects. “We are constantly rethinking conventional spatial arrangements,” says Hamed. “In other words, reliving the space and thinking of new proposals that meet the present and future needs of our clients. Accordingly, our mission is to develop architectural and interior design experiences which are distinctive, compelling, and of superb quality and individuality. We believe this is the ultimate luxury.”

The practice’s biggest completed project to date is The Burj Residence, a comprehensive residential design solution — architecture, interiors and landscape. “We believe that this project set new standards for residential design in the region if not elsewhere,” says Hamed. “Materials and textures used were intended to provide an authenticity to the design.”

The firm has since made inroads into new territories such as Europe and the US. Currently under construction is a luxury penthouse in London, an upscale wellness centre and two residential towers in Dubai, which exemplify an innovative approach towards human scale living.

Who: VSHD Design

Year and country of establishment: 2007, UAE

Fulltime staff: 8

Annual turnover: $500,000 – $999,999

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