Saudi interior design engineer and motorsport enthusiast Aseel Al Hamad is helping shape her country’s spaces for the future.
Math and science may have been engineer Aseel Al Hamad’s favorite school subjects, but she didn’t hesitate to dip her fingers in paint – literally – and get creative, too.
“I still have my first framed painting, dated 1989,” she says. “It stood out as it represented a house with a beautiful sun and a nice garden. My parents encouraged me to take private art classes; I remember the first exhibition I participated in and won the top prize. I was eight.”
Al Hamad, who radiates remarkable energy and an Old Hollywood aura – a doppelgänger of Ava Gardner – discovered that she could marry her love of numbers with creativity when she looked at a blueprint. “They felt more like artwork to my eyes, with these beautiful straight lines filled with numbers. That’s when I knew I wanted to become an architect, since it’s a combination of both science and design.”
Al Hamad went from admiring her grandfather’s Seventies- style residence fit with Murano chandeliers, to drawing floor plans seaside in the mud, to graduating as the top student from Prince Sultan University in 2009 and establishing her own firm, Idegree Design, a little over 10 years ago. Her signature, as featured throughout residential and commercial projects across Saudi, is contemporary luxury. “I am getting increasingly inspired by a minimalist style – it’s not a simpler design process as quality is more challenging in terms of material selections and finishing in order to feature beauty in the hidden simplicity and clever, clean designs,” she says.
Apart from pure aesthetics, over the years Al Hamad has seen the overall constructs of spaces evolve in her home country. “We used to design two formal living spaces, one for women and one for men. Now, we are asked to design a formal living and formal/casual living for close friends and family. We like to welcome our nearest in a comfortable area.” She notes that the younger Saudi generation is more focused on a quality lifestyle – entertainment like a home theater is preferred to many unused living rooms. As for restaurants, she considers that they have become more spacious and chic. “Restaurant owners are competing to open beautifully designed spaces, which contend internationally,” she states. Her team has just finished the design of a pop-up restaurant for Nozomi in Riyadh. “We wanted to reflect a minimalist, modern Japanese garden,” she offers, adding that she chose light oak with black accents, furniture covered with neutral- hued linens, and greenery-patterned fabrics from Pierre Frey. Real bamboo wallpaper was imported from Elitis in France, and the space was filled with bamboo trees. The outdoor terrace features lime-colored accents to add zest, and floor lamps that offer a different interior and outdoor ambience.
As a Saudi female entrepreneur – who was honored last year by the General Investment Authority as an inspirational female helping transform the image of the Kingdom – she considers it her duty “to support, encourage, and inspire Saudi women, especially the young generation, to reach a bigger goal that is aligned with the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030.” She sees 2018 as a watershed year, since women were “encouraged to drive, watch sport, and attend the cinema – and also join the military.” These huge steps focused on female empowerment as a key priority. “I am also inspired by our beloved rulers and the speed of the transformation of our country,” she says, noting that the evolution of women’s rights has been the fastest among all others.
Of course, speed is a matter close to Al Hamad’s heart. A race car aficionado and the first Saudi woman to import and own a Ferrari in 2012, the following year she was invited to take a victory lap around the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, as the guest of Renault, to mark the lifting of the Saudi female driving ban. The Saudi Arabia representative at the FIA Women in Motorsports commission, she is the first female board member on the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation. These are all great leaps for the design engineer, who as a young girl played with toy cars, which she says was at odds with the country in which she was raised as she was not allowed to drive.
Looking back on her bold achievements, she advises women to take small steps. “I feel that if you look at the whole project from a distance and see how difficult or complicated it can be, it is overwhelming,” she considers. “Take small steps and never focus on the end result; you will notice that your dreams come true as long as you work hard and never lose hope. I also believe that life is like a race and anyone can be a champion.”
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia
Photographs AMS studio, Hadeel Al Jmaan