International design projects arrive with their own sets of demands… and inspirations. Consider the Maviar showroom, which is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—a 13-hour flight, 8-hour time difference, and, ostensibly, a world away from New York City. Set up similar to the D and D Building, with a number of floors housing different vendors and showrooms, the project has three spaces within the building with three different designers developing their own space and vignettes.
Amy Lau, who was tapped early on to help conceptualize the space, is working on one of the luxury furniture, fabric and finishes resource's three sections. (Chuck Chewning is also designing for the space.) Lau chats with EAL about the benefits (seemingly endless Eastern influence) and the challenges (customs clearance and telecommuting, among them) of envisioning, planning and creating a design center in Saudi Arabia.
What are the particular challenges of designing for a project in Riyadh?
Logistics and how the design is implemented at each stage are crucial. We always have to deal with shipping goods, but for this project, items must clear customs 100 percent of the time, which increases lead times.
Also, coordinating receiving warehouses on both coasts of the U.S. and gathering goods for container shipments overseas is a logistical step that isn't typically part of a project located in the U.S. Another piece of the puzzle that can be difficult is meeting with the client. Virtual meetings are quite a different beast than a face-to-face presentation, especially when it comes to having multiple voices on a conference call or showing visuals to the client for approval. It is crucial to clearly communicate design ideas both verbally and visually, and the distance makes that somewhat challenging with time differences and inability for the client to touch and feel materials.
How do you source your materials and products? Is everything shipped in?
The first priority is sourcing items from vendors and designers we love, no matter where they are located in the world. This is really how we operate on local projects as well: We ship things in from all around the world for all of our projects, so it's not unusual or difficult to do the same with this project. We're commissioning the most site-specific and absolutely breathtaking materials and pieces for Maviar, from working with Stephanie Odegard and her incredible artisans in India and Nepal for the unique architectural finishes and backdrops to working with Brenda Houston to source giant agate slabs from Uruguay. We're leaving no stone unturned as the space is going to be designed from top to bottom with the world’s most special and unique finishes and fixtures.
Do you rely on local artisans? How do you find them?
No, we source from all over the world. The goal of this showroom is to bring the best design vendors from around the world to have a space to showcase their goods in Riyadh, so we want to make sure we are also incorporating some of these incredible products and designers in our design of the overall space.
What is most interesting or rewarding about working in Saudi Arabia? What are the key differences between these projects and a domestic project?
The most interesting and rewarding part about working here is getting to know the people and the culture in an intimate way. It's intriguing and an honor to learn firsthand about the way of life in Saudi Arabia and to program entire spaces around this unique culture. The way spaces are used is so specific to the region, from the formality of certain rooms to the way they organize the flow of the interior; it's all a learning process and that makes it really challenging and fun.
Also, the climate is so dramatically different from what we're used to and this creates a profound effect on the architecture. There is a real need to create a feeling of light and openness in these spaces that, due to heat concerns, lack the expansive windows of spaces we design here.
How often do you travel to Riyadh?
I was just there, actually, to celebrate the clients' wedding. It was absolutely incredible to join them for this special day, and a treat to be there as we had been designing remotely prior to that time. Traveling to the site as well as cities and countries nearby was invigorating and also inspiring. I returned home with a renewed energy and some exciting ideas after that trip!