Designer in Profile: Pallavi Dean, Founder & Design Director of Pallavi Dean Interiors

Name: Pallavi DeanPallavi Dean Interiors
Company: Pallavi Dean Interiors
Position within company: Founder | Design Director

Tell us a little about your background in design (education, experience, etc)
Pallavi is the founder and creative force behind Pallavi Dean Interiors. Flagship projects include the Paramount Residences (hospitality), Edelman Middle East HQ (office) and Sheraa Entrepreneurship Center (education, at the American University of Sharjah).

Pallavi trained and qualified as an architect, before switching to interiors when she realised that people spend 87% of their time indoors. She was born in India, raised in Dubai and spent years working in London; her designs reflect these eclectic influences. A former professor of interior design at the American University of Sharjah, she strives to implement the latest theoretical and practical research into the firm’s designs.

Pallavi is also a product designer. She launched her ‘Tension’ line of furniture and accessories at Downtown Design 2016, winning the Harpers Bazaar Design Award in 2016 for the Indian ‘bell’ chair she designed in collaboration with Stellar Works of Shanghai. 

How would you describe your personal interior design style?
Bipolar. One day I’m Audrey Hepburn and it’s all about timeless sophistication; the next I want to be Lady Gaga and create controversial talking points. Thankfully we have all types of clients that allow be to switch between the two!

Where does your design inspiration come from?
The secret to good design is a good story. We’ve done a lot of research around this and we’ve found that design narratives fall into one of seven categories, including history, nature, local culture and innovation.

Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2018 and beyond.

I have just one theme: the user experience. This is happening already, but it will accelerate. Less about creating a pretty office, and more about designing an office where the bosses, the workers, visitors and the janitors have an awesome day every day.

As a sidenote to the ‘experience’ play, interactive digital technology and AI are playing a huge role in our work. We have just ordered a robot to replace a receptionist for one of our clients. The future is here!

 If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to interior design schemes, what would it be?

I’ll repeat the same word: experience. I’ll share our mantra which  is ‘Create experiences through design’; we live and breathe that. The guiding principle is always the experience of the people who will use a space – the students in a school, the staff in an office, the family in a home.

That’s not easy. It means doing lots of research before a line is drawn or a brick is laid, to really understand the users of the space, in some cases better than they understand themselves. Designers are hard-wired to design, so forcing them to take a step back and do research is really tough. Thankfully at PDI we have a resident social science geek in Richard, our MD, who trained as an economist and loves – really loves – doing this.

Case in point: we’ve developed a research tool that we call UXD (User Experience Design) to walk our clients through a rigorous, step-by-step research process right at the start of the project. It’s tempting as a designer to bypass this process and jump straight into the concept, but this investment of time pays huge dividends later on.

Once we’ve done the research, then the fun starts! You need to play as a designer, you need artistry, flair, creativity, and we’ve tried to create a culture where creatives thrive. But before playtime, you have to do the research. And that means hiring (or marrying) a geek, because designers are the worst possible people to do this.

How important are The International Hotel & Property Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?
For a boutique home-grown practice like ours, the importance of an international accolade like The International Hotel & Property Awards is huge.

Look, everyone knows that Gensler is the world’s biggest design firm, and as the saying goes, ‘nobody got fired for buying IBM’. That’s perfectly understandable: the Genslers and Fosters of this world are amazing, and I have huge admiration for their work.

But there are also a handful of boutique firms in Dubai – I could name two or three within walking distance of our office in D3 who I’d recommend in a heartbeat – who I’d say are emerging as the crème of the crop of local design start-ups.  If you’re the CEO of a company choosing between a Gensler or a local boutique, a gong such as The International Hotel & Property Awards may be the deciding factor in taking the leap of faith to go with the boutique.

What projects are you currently working on?
Where to start? Al Rawi Cafe in Sharjah – it’s a hub of energy, creativity and social life that lies at the intersection of café culture, library and retail store. We’re creating a research and technology Park for AUS (American University of Sharjah) Enterprises. And a top secret education project in Dubai that will give the kids, parents and teachers the most extraordinary time. Plus the Delano Dubai hotel on Palm Jumeirah. It’s been a long time coming, but doors should open in late 2018 or early 2019.

What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
I think sometimes we all need to stop focusing on the future and enjoy the moment. We’re working on some incredible projects that are making a real difference to the lives of the people who live, work and play in them. That’s what we set out to do – create incredible experiences through design – and that’s what we’re doing, so we have to appreciate it.

Of course, we’re excited about what tomorrow holds. Next year will see two or three big projects delivered. When people walk into them and see them I suspect it will catapult us to the next level in terms of profile. I’m thinking in particular of the Delano hotel on Palm Jumeirah, but also the Dubai Office for the US media company Edelman – that will help define what a modern Middle East workspace can be.

Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself and your daily inspirations:

Your most treasured possession?
My David Hockney Sumo book my husband gave me for our 10th wedding anniversary

Your favourite holiday destination?

Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar?
Mandapa reserve by Ritz Carlton in Ubud, Bali. Richard and I just spent a couple of days there. It is truly magical. I don’t normally like the ‘rustic local charm’ school of hotel design, but it was done so well that I was blown away.

Your favourite book?
Peter Zumthor – Thinking Architecture

Your favourite food and drink?
Japanese. I just spent my birthday night at Zuma Dubai. Ten years on, it’s still the best space and food in Dubai.

Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?
Cooking, creating LEGO structures and chilling on the sofa with my family and dogs in the home I’ve designed.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I’d be a psychologist

Anything else interesting?
Yes. It’s a range of specialist furniture. But I can’t tell you about it because it’s too naughty!

Pallavi Dean Interiors