Leading in design

Award winning project … the Grand Hyatt Dubai’s spa and club (below) and China Lounge.

THE design industry of the Middle East is witnessing rapid growth and this is particularly so in the UAE, which has seen the rise of some stunning creations that have drawn interest on a global level, according to a leading interior design firm.

“Having designed and managed interior design projects in the US, Caribbean and Middle East, I can say from my own experience that there has been a rapid growth in the design industry here that hasn’t happened elsewhere in the world so quickly,” says Josh Mason, associate/senior project designer with Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), which is renowned as a leading global hospitality design firm.

Mason has been working at HBA’s Dubai office for over five years and has had the opportunity to work on a number of world-class urban hotels and resorts in the region.

He says the design sector is constantly pushing the envelope in the UAE, and people come from all over the world to see the originality and creativity of design within the country’s hotels.

“On a regional scale, strong design is definitely in demand, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar pushing the boundaries. It’s a very exciting time to be working in the design industry in the Middle East, and I’m confident that the field will continue to go from strength to strength with the growth of tourism and global interest in the region,” Mason adds.


Having achieved success on both a regional and a global scale, HBA has witnessed an 85 per cent growth in revenue from $55 million to $101 million between 2010-2013.

HBA Dubai has increased its revenue by 50 per cent in the last two years accounting for almost 10 per cent of total HBA global revenue, which translates to $10 million. The firm has also seen 45 per cent increase in its staff strength since 2011.

HBA Middle East director Leila Abdulrahim comments: “There is huge potential in the region, especially following the Dubai Expo 2020 win, with several prestigious hotel brands pledging to more than triple room numbers by the time the Expo comes around. For 2014, we have plans in motion to emulate the success of 2013 and secure further world-class projects in the Middle East and wider region.”

The Golestan at Sheraton Bahrain ... another HBA project.

The Golestan at Sheraton Bahrain ... another HBA project.

With a total of 18 projects currently under way in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) by various offices around the globe, HBA plans to reinforce its ongoing commitment to the region in 2014 with expansion into new geographic areas. Upcoming projects in the region include the Grand Hyatt Makkah in Saudi Arabia, the Corinthia Hotel Benghazi in Libya, the Saraya Aqaba Resort in Jordan, and the Harbor Point Development in Lagos, Nigeria, with projects in sub-Sahara Africa also planned for the near future.

Commenting on HBA’s global growth, Ian Carr Co-CEO of HBA, says: “At HBA, we pride ourselves on the diversity in our talent, design skills, and depth of knowledge around the globe. With over 50 years of hospitality experience, HBA today still prides itself on retaining and expanding its top talent to consistently deliver the highest standard of quality to clients on a global and a local basis, no matter how big or small.

“Our vision has always been to design the world’s best hospitality projects, and it is this vision that forms the basis of our continued success.”

HBA has been leading the hospitality interior design industry since 1965, and remains keenly attuned to the changing industry trends governed by today’s sophisticated traveller. From continent to continent, each HBA interior is the result of a unique and sensitive response to location, architecture and client vision.

With more than 1,200 designers around the globe in 16 offices and a recent expansion in several locations, including the Middle East, HBA is a true global company, according to Mason.

“Our international presence, combined with extensive knowledge of the interior design industry, has facilitated the ability to rewrite the language of design with each new project,” says Mason.

Around the world, HBA has created the signature look of traditional luxury brands, independent contemporary boutiques, urban resort spas, world-class residences, restaurants, and cruise ships.

In 2013, HBA was ranked number one in the annual Interior Design Giants Listing, which ranks 75 interior design giants firms specialising in hospitality.



HBA’s most recent project was for the St Regis Abu Dhabi, UAE, part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, for which the firm was engaged to devise and deliver an interior design worthy of both the renowned St Regis brand and this hotel’s remarkable location.

Both HBA’s Atlanta (US) and Dubai offices worked alongside each other to deliver this stunning project that places Abu Dhabi on par with the greatest urban hotel experiences of London (UK), Rome (Italy), Shanghai (China) and New York (US), while retaining a distinct Arab identity. Part of Nation Towers on the vibrant corniche, the St Regis Abu Dhabi opened its doors on August 15, 2013.

“We imagined a luxurious setting in Abu Dhabi that is steeped in a sophisticated Art Deco past. From this, the main challenge emerged: what would classical Art Deco have looked like if it had been expressed in Abu Dhabi during the 1920s and 30s? While destinations like New York and Shanghai have a long history with Art Deco, during the period, Abu Dhabi was a small, largely undeveloped area known for pearl diving,” says Mason.

St Regis Abu Dhabi ... a luxurious setting that combines Art Deco style with an authentic Middle Eastern identity.

St Regis Abu Dhabi ... a luxurious setting that combines Art Deco style with an authentic Middle Eastern identity.

HBA’s design team instead looked to the colours of the sands, and the traditional foods, spices, arts and crafts that flourished in the markets of the time, imaginatively elevating and applying them to the refined style. HBA then re-envisioned that imagined past, modernising it for a 21st century city.

“Over the course of the three-year design period, we worked with local curators and artists to ensure that the Art Deco style of the hotel was harmoniously blended with an authentic Middle Eastern identity. For example, the hotel’s magnificent lobby features two ornate bronze banister staircases that lead from the floor, sweeping away from each other as they circle the twin majestic pillars that frame the lobby Tea Lounge.

“The blending of Arabian culture with Gilded Age aesthetics continues through the lounge, library and other public spaces in The St Regis Abu Dhabi, including open fireplaces in meeting areas, wooden panels with Arabian geometric motifs adorning the high ceiling, and Arabian-style rugs and cushions.”

In the past too, HBA has designed many unique and prestigious projects across the region and beyond, such as the renowned Qasr Al Sarab hotel, situated in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Desert, as well as the landmark InterContinental Phoenicia hotel located in the most prestigious district of Beirut, Lebanon and the five-star Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.

“HBA’s recent design for the refurbishment of the Grand Hyatt Dubai created a contemporary harmonious space in sync with accents of Arabic design. The project won the accolade of ‘Best of Category/Spas/Fitness/Wellness Centres’ in the 2013 Middle East Interior Design Competition.

“Along with this, we have been involved in world-renowned projects, including the InterContinental London Park Lane, Four Seasons Hotel, Beijing, The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland, and the restoration of the 1929-era Hotel Alfonso XIII, in Seville, Spain, among many others,” Mason says.



Commenting on trends in the design sector, he says: “In the Middle East, we are definitely witnessing a growth in alternative design – design outside of the norm, which people want to travel thousands of miles to see. At HBA, we strive to create designs that open up expectations and give people something new and individual so that they come back.

“In terms of project trends, we are currently witnessing a growth in renovation projects of older buildings – for example, an old office building being converted into a cool, contemporary hotel,” he points out. “As the economy continues to pick up, we are also seeing numerous projects that were previously on hold coming back to life. A recent HBA renovation project is the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which took inspiration from the Arabic culture and colours to create a harmonious melting pot of styles spanning the Middle East.

“Our international presence, depth of experience, and detailed industry knowledge enables us to identify interior design trends at their source, make definitive predictions about new directions and innovations, and influence design standards at a global level. HBA’s ultimate objective is to add value, raise standards and enhance the brand of a project’s owner and operator, and we are proud to be an integral part in facilitating these design trends in the region.”


Future plans

HBA is on a growth path in the region and is eyeing further expansion this year.

“As global interest in the region as a tourism and business destination continues to grow, so does its demand for quality design,” he says. “This provides a constant drive to push boundaries and think outside of the norm. In the coming years, we are planning to expand further into the region and concentrate on more four-star, five-star and renovation hotel projects.”

“We hope to continue our office expansion in 2014 and secure further world-class projects in the Middle East and wider region. Africa is booming at the moment, and we hope to expand our operations further into the market, along with other emerging markets such as India and China,” Mason concludes.