She may be in possession of what many women can only ever dream of – a large bespoke walk-in shoe closet – yet Saudi Arabian interior designer Rawan Alsahsah is quick to point out she’s still prone to bouts of indecisiveness. The standalone room has floor-to-ceiling white cabinets featuring decorative glass doors to exhibit her immaculate collection of 100-plus shoes. “As every woman says: I have nothing to wear. I kept saying I had no shoes so I kept buying more,” she shares about her stunning collection, which is displayed with attention and care like treasured style artefacts. “I have more than 100 pairs of shoes so I decided to build a cabinet that lights up and shows all of them, protected behind a glass door.”
Alsahsah moved into her 14-room, two-story villa in September last year and remastered the property to reflect her aesthetic and personality. Her home is located in an upmarket residential area in Al Khaldiah district in Jeddah, where she worked tirelessly to transform the property into a place she could call home.
Inspired by the chic Parisian homes she admired while living in the City of Lights, the personal project saw her start by expanding the main entrance and replacing the wooden door for a metal and glass alternative to let in more light and give a view of the front garden. Alsahsah also knocked out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, creating an airy open-plan space looking out to the verdant back garden. “I set about redesigning everything, from the ceilings to the walls, floors, and doors,” she explains. The result is an eclectic mix of classic, art deco, and contemporary design.
Alsahsah, who is the founder and senior designer of RIS, one of the leading architecture and interior design firms in the Middle East, believes that interiors should reflect their owner’s personality. It’s clear she applied this foresight when designing her own home. While she lives alone with her house staff, her cozy and welcoming abode is rarely empty. “I’m a social person and I enjoy hosting and entertaining friends and family,” she says. “My nephews and niece have sleepovers every weekend so they have their own room.”
When not having her younger family over, she loves to throw themed parties and dinners, turning her kitchen into an entertainment area, and treating friends to live music from her white piano, which stands in the living room. When the weather is right, the party moves outside to her lush garden for barbecues. As you walk across the manicured lawn and past the palm trees, the garden’s showstopping piece reveals itself – a vintage red Mercedes-Benz sawn in half and projecting from a wall. “I installed it there for a themed party last month,” she says, beaming, “and decided to keep it.”
Balancing her playful nature, the designer is a big fan of feng shui, which is evident in her peaceful, tropical Zen garden. “It’s like a mini Bali,” she shares. “I enjoy walking barefoot on the grass and meditating there.” Alsahsah graduated from Petra University in 2000 with a BA in interior architecture, before moving to Washington DC to train as a junior designer. By 2004, she had founded her own interior design studio, partnering with an architect for three years. That business relationship ended in 2011. Cathartically reflecting on the experience, she says, “It let me go full force and explore my creativity.” She returned to Saudi Arabia in 2013 and founded RIS, whose portfolio includes work for hotels, office spaces, residential properties, and medical centers, as well as architecture – the firm is behind one of the mosques at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah.
Alsahsah prides herself on designs that are “functional, superior, and elegant,” which is evident throughout her home – from oriental wallpaper on the bedroom walls to the dark blue kitchen with checkered floors, and bright Persian rugs in the living room and hallway. The layout is bold and assorted yet it works, creating a harmonious and homely ambience.
Her passion for travel and adventure is also apparent throughout. There’s a sense that every item in the home has a story to tell. “I have furniture and lighting from Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler, Lindsey Adelman, and other American and European brands, and rugs from Iwan Maktabi,” she says, preferring to mix brands to create a unique identity. “I have some vintage and antique pieces that I’ve been collecting plus I designed some of the furniture pieces, like the dining table, dining buffet, and the master dresser. The art and accessories are from my shop and everywhere I travel.”
There’s no doubt the successful businesswoman is incredibly happy in her home. “I just love every room,” she says. “Each one has a different mood – but the garden is my favorite.” While satisfied in what is currently her only property, Alsahsah plans to extend her energy further. “In the next five years, I wish to live in a different place every month. Each one in somewhere cultured and by the sea…”
Originally printed in the June 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.