With the launch of Vogue Living Arabia, we celebrate the region’s grand craftsmanship and unique interiors.
Beyond lush gardens and lavish fountains, through resplendent doorways and up staircases that lead to expansive spaces of gilded finishes and marble floors, the Middle Eastern residence has historically been nothing short of grand. For centuries, the region has been celebrated for its sumptuous tastes. From the ancient Salwa Palace in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, which formed the residence and first home of the Al Saud Amirs and Imams of the Kingdom’s first state to Sursock Palace in Beirut, the region has long been synonymous with awe-inducing grandeur. Strict geometry, vast layouts, and an open-space philosophy often seen in the historic mosques and palaces across the Middle East and North Africa mark the Islamic style most often associated with the region and one that forms the essence of the modern Arab interior design, craft, and architectural backbone seen today.
From North Africa, the Moroccan aesthetic that is so marked across Rabat and Casablanca presents the bold colors, patterns, and an overall traditional ornamentation that is most noted in the Berber rugs and mosaic tiles that have influenced even the Alhambra Palace in Spain. Marrying Islamic and Byzantine architecture, with a defining feature in the arched openings that are found across Beirut and the aforementioned Sursock Palace, the Mediterranean style brings a sense of splendor. In the Arab world, so often does the modern and traditional homogenize, illustrating the influences of a diaspora that now reaches from East to West. Many homes across the region are a reflection of summers abroad and childhood travels, bringing a true sense of diversity to Middle Eastern tastes that echo the mobile nature of Arab society.
In itself, the Middle Eastern palace continues to live on as a symbol of the region’s rich history, architecture, and design, with several opening to the public in recent years as major tourist destinations across the Gulf. In 2019, Qasr Al Watan, or Palace of the Nation, opened its doors within Abu Dhabi’s vast presidential palace. It reveals a Mughal era-inspired aesthetic that also pays homage to the heritage and artistry of the Arabian Gulf, integrating 5,000 geometric, vegetal, and floral patterns throughout the space. It now stands as a working citadel that hosts official state visits and summits with a dedicated section allowing visitors the chance to explore a vast collection of artifacts and manuscripts highlighting the Arab world’s contributions to various intellectual fields.
This aesthetic also influenced interior designers around the world, including Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Jacques Garcias, and Alberto Pinto. Staunchly dedicated to the Middle East’s traditional aesthetic is Iranian-British design legend Alidad. The illustrious designer’s taste is a representation of the region’s great appreciation for baroque architecture and design. Mixing vivid colors, textures, and antiques within unstructured and layered spaces, Alidad’s work best defines the Levantine and Gulf’s visual appeal – a timeless amalgam of refined chaos. Other interior architects are taking a different approach. Gaining global recognition for his work on Beirut’s Grand Sérail, Nabil Dada, founder of Dada & Associates and one of Lebanon’s most prominent interior decorators, is best known for his sleek and modern designs. From royalty to prominent figures, chic and contemporary is becoming increasingly popular, as showcased in Dada’s recent project, Calypso, a minimalist haven located on the cliffs of Jounieh Bay. His son Adib Dada, an architect and founder of the practice TheOtherDada, is integrating sustainability and local materials within his regional projects, as trends continue to shift towards the environmentally friendly. Together, the duo is bringing the region’s interiors into the future with contemporary, clean, and liveable architecture and design.
With buildings in the Middle East becoming increasingly glitzy, with futuristic skyscrapers coming to the fore in Dubai and Riyadh over the last few decades, the importance of heritage still remains, and is now taking on a more significant role in the region’s architectural framework. Bahrain-based interior designer Ammar Basheir realized that design can be a powerful tool to bridge cultures and expose diverse audiences to Bahraini craftsmanship. His work on Nuzul Al Salam, a restored heritage house and boutique hotel in the historic city and Bahrain’s former capital of Muharraq, is a prime example of how to best modernize vernacular architecture without compromising on its historical aesthetic. The hotel, which opened its doors in 2019, has interiors bedecked in rich colors, vintage accessories, and lavish fabrics, set against a backdrop of a striking oak and steel parametric staircase and terrazzo floor. It can be said that Nuzul Al Salam itself is a paradigm of the Middle East’s distinctive style and its enduring appetite for luxury.
Originally published in the November 2020 issue of Vogue Living Arabia.