Follow Vogue Arabia

The Pioneer: How Sima Malak Became The First Female Interior Designer In Saudi

One of Riyadh’s first and most exclusive female interior designers lifts the lid on one of her most personal projects.

Sima Malak, co-founder and designer at Sima Malak + Alssamoure design associates, in the home of her friend and business partner, Sara Abdulrahman Faisal. Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

“We were the pioneers,” says Sima Malak, co-founder and designer at Sima Malak + Alssamoure Design Associates. Along with her long-time friend and business partner Sara Abdulrahman AlFaisal, she was one of the first women to launch her own interior design firm, in late 1980s Riyadh. “At the time, Lebanese and Italian male designers dominated the industry,” Malak recalls. “But being women in the field turned out to be a major advantage for us. All our suppliers and contractors jumped at the chance to help – it was a very supportive environment. Now, there are more than 30 firms run by women in Riyadh alone.”

Screens repurposed into cabinets for the guest room dressing room. Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

Well-traveled and educated abroad, the pair owned separate practices before merging to create what is now a prominent boutique firm in the heart of the Saudi capital. It is one that caters to a highly discerning and exclusive clientele from all over the world. Their style ranges from neoclassical with art deco influences, to midcentury modern and the contemporary. Every project in their portfolio is bespoke. Sima Malak + Alssamoure Design Associates caters to a nation that has only just begun to unfurl after being long known for its gated communities and private lifestyle. AlFaisal herself, influenced by her travels and education, is an embodiment of the clientele she has now served for more than three decades.

The main entrance, with custom doors by Villiers Brothers. Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

When AlFaisal came to design her own home – a private, two-story villa in the Al Hada suburb of Riyadh – she wanted it to reflect her most personal tastes. With the help of Malak and her team, she was able to turn that vision into a reality. Built in 2008, the three-bedroom home the designer shares with her daughter is tinged with earthy tones and a modern, yet rustic appeal. Antique pieces and artifacts, many passed down through generations, are strewn generously throughout the spacious interior. A fan of the 60s and 70s aesthetic, AlFaisal wanted to include her passions within the home, including her love of abstract art and idiosyncratic furniture. An art deco sharkskin dining table sits in one corner, incorporated as much for its colossal dimensions as for its gorgeous form. “As a rule of thumb, we always design for function first,” AlFaisal says of her choice in furniture. “I come from a big family and love to entertain, so this investment turned out to be a wise choice. My home is a collection of everything I love,” AlFaisal says. “Whether it’s a $20 armchair made by a friend, a family heirloom passed down through generations, or my dream Tresserra library items – if I love it, it goes in.”

All the pieces in the living room, with its bookcase by Tresserra, have been layered to create perfect proportions. Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

The columns of the entrance and the patterns on the window facade pay homage to one of the world’s most prolific architects and designers and one of AlFaisal’s greatest professional inspirations – Frank Lloyd Wright. “The detailing around the doors and the skirting were my ideas and the team carried them out to perfection,” she shares. The challenge was to find a way to unify all these eclectic influences. AlFaisal decided to treat the house like a canvas. “My home is white and intentionally lacks any fixed design features because I want the freedom to tell my story instead of following a certain style or plan,” she explains. “One thing I’m determined to do – whether it’s for myself or my clients – is avoid fads or ‘of the moment’ designs,” she continues. “I’m all about creating a feeling. Even the wall hangings throughout my home represent a mood as opposed to being recognized art. It’s more about textures like wood, metal, mirrors, and embroidery. These all come together to create an atmosphere.”

The living room has no curtains to bring the outside in. The lighting is from Pagani studio. Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

The design was also meant to be timeless and fluid. “The person I was 20 years ago is not the woman I am today. In my home, I can simply change fabrics, rugs, artwork, and lighting, and voilà – it’s a new house!” she says. “Visitors often say that as soon as they step through the front door, they forget where they are or even which country they are in,” remarks AlFaisal. “My passions and philosophies have been influenced by so many cultures and ideals, and my home is an expression of that. It exists as a living, breathing embodiment of who I am. For me – that’s success.”

Read Next: Exclusive: Kim Kardashian West on Launching Skims in the Middle East

Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of Vogue Arabia

View All
Vogue Collection