Name: Carla Conte
Company: Brand Creative
Position within company: Creative Director
. Tell us a little about your background in design
I started my design career in 1998, interning for one of Toronto’s top design and branding agencies. I saw first hand how big brands developed sales strategies utilizing design as a tool to immerse consumers in the ultimate brand experience – interior space. It was a fascinating experience that led me to pursuing an interior design degree from Ryerson University in Canada. The same agency hired me after graduation and it was in those early days that I decided to specialize in retail, food and beverage and entertainment focused industries.
I spent over a decade working with Fortune 500 companies in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia, before being named Head of Design (Dubai) for a boutique London based retail design agency in 2009. I actually moved to Dubai in 2006 which was an experience that opened many doors for me while exposing me to the design and construction processes in the region. I had spent nearly 13 years climbing the proverbial “ladder”, learning from my mentors and dedicating myself to the design industry, when I decided in 2011 to open Brand Creative.
. How would you describe your personal interior design style?
I love working with custom graphics and artwork. The strategic use of colour is very important to me. In describing my own home I would say it is bold, urban-chic with a contemporary yet elegant undertone. A collection of beloved items from my travels to New York, Morocco, Italy, West Africa and the Far East combined with design classics from Ray & Charles Eames, Tom Dixon, and new fabrics and prints from Paul Smith have been lovingly composed to make me feel comfortable yet inspired. I’m very connected to the aboriginal artists from my Canadian homeland so I have included Haida ink drawings and soap stone carvings as unique accessories.
. Where does your design inspiration come from?
The two biggest sources of inspiration for me are cultural studies (when appropriate for the project) and fashion. The similarities in fashion design and interiors are obvious – the layering of texture and colour, the juxtaposition of form and line, using accessories to define character and personality.
. In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?
I think designers are becoming very conscious of our collective responsibility in creating sustainable environments that are inventive in terms of material usage and building processes. The industry as a whole is responding to this with the products and materials being introduced.
In terms of concepts and themes, I am thrilled to see that projects are focusing more on client briefs and individuality as opposed to particular trends. Flipping through any current design magazine reveals projects that are really diverse in style and execution so it’s difficult to pin point trends of this particular time. I think this shows progression in our way of thinking – it’s very positive.
. Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2015 and beyond.
In terms of retail design, we are anticipating the following:
1. Sacrificing Real Estate
With the growing popularity of Instagram and Pinterest and the exposure to impeccably stylized product shots and interiors, comes the elevated expectation of the same experience in store. Retailers will begin to give up real estate in store to the likes of art installations, entertainment lounges and seating areas – all things that don’t “sell” in an attempt to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
2. Death of the Cash Desk
The traditional cash desk is changing in size, shape and even existence. Many retailers will always need a “home base” for bags and supplies but when possible we will begin to see more knowledgeable staff interacting directly with consumers armed with iPads – even being able to complete the cash transaction on the spot. While this might not be suitable for all retail segments, it does simplify the check out process in shops that desperately need the perception of “ease” as prime focus (Apple has already implemented this ingenius process where possible).
3. Design Blips
Brands of influence have taken the opportunity to interact with customers with bold and conversational design elements very seriously. Strategically branded walls with relevant messaging, videos or icons in unexpected locations generate intrigue. The more out of place the message appears – the more captivating it appears.
4. Retail as Theater
Imagine being transported through a 30 ft. long “light tunnel” where your retina is prepared for an “experience room”. This is exactly what designers out of New York have developed for Under Armour (sporting fashion). The customer is immersed in a panoramic film which serves as a prelude to the retail space where you find mannequins wearing the items featured in the film. The film is so inspiring it makes anyone feel like an athlete.
5. Digital Catalogue
Tablets are being introduced into the shop to help consumers narrow down decisions and select products that are precisely right for them. Jean shops in America have already caught onto this idea where body shape, size and denim wash can be pre-selected and within 2 minutes every suitable option is delivered to the customer via conveyor belt.
. If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to interior design schemes, what would it be?
Always ensure that your concept and design rationale is solid before putting pen to paper. Being strategically focused at the beginning of a project ensures that there is continuity well into the detail and implementation phases. Telling a good story through interiors requires careful thought and focus.
. How important are The International Design and Architecture Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?
This is an amazing opportunity to be exposed to new projects and other designers on a global level. The talent in the industry is bursting at the seams and it is truly an honour to be shortlisted amongst such diverse and creative talent.
. What projects are you currently working on?
We are currently working on many international projects which is exciting; a shopping center in Oman, a duty-free concept in Abu Dhabi, a high end sporting flagship in Dubai, a premium lingerie chain across the GCC and a beautiful, historical villa in Como, Italy to name a few.
. What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
We are focusing on the strategic growth of the company. With Dubai being awarded Expo 2020, we have seen an increase in project requests and RFPs. We are in the midst of opening a branch office in Asia and our aim is to have the office constructed in early 2015. We are also launching a line of sustainable yet eclectic furniture and accessories which are being manufactured in various parts of Morocco.
. Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself
Your most treasured possession?
My drafting board – it follows me around the world as a reminder of my early days in the profession.
Your favourite holiday destination?
Morocco – I love the food, souks, art and craftsmanship in their fashion and décor.
Your favourite hotel / restaurant / bar?
Le Petit Hotel in Montreal – modern décor set in an historical Quebecois context
Bannock in Toronto for gourmet Canadian comfort food
Zuma in Dubai’s Financial district is perfect for end of week drinks
Your favourite book / film / song?
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
Any film by Tim Burton or Baz Luhrmann – the set designs alone are mesmerizing!
Depeche Mode is still my “go to” band when I’m looking to get in the creative zone.
Your favourite food and drink?
I can never resist cheese and prosecco!
Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?
Lunch and drinks al fresco somewhere in the marina by my home and then getting lost in a bookstore or souk.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
If I had to decide on something else at this point, it would be humanitarian work. The most fulfilling time of my life was building homes in Ghana in a village called Nquantakese with the Habitat for Humanity organization. I’m definitely headed back to Africa in the future to continue this type of work.