As the Architectural Digest Middle East Interior Designer of the Year 2020, and one of the Top 50 global designers by Marie Claire, Pallavi Dean has a expert insight into the design world. We caught up with Pallavi to learn more about her inspirations, processes and recent projects.

Q1. What do you believe shaped you as a designer?

Actually, I think back to working in London when I was in my 20s, designing a series of care homes for the elderly. At first I thought ‘oh no, how boring’, but it taught me a priceless lesson as a young designer: it’s not all about being a hero ‘starchitect’ designing lavish buildings that win awards. It’s about the people who will use a space – their problems, their needs, and solving them. That’s the main role of design. Don’t get me wrong, I love gorgeous designs that look great in magazines! But the first job is to create a great experience for the people who will use the space. I’ll never forget that lesson from British care homes.

Q2. Do you think, Creativity or Design Research, is the major contributor in the making of a successful designer?

Both. Our motto at Roar is ‘50% wild, 50% tame’ for exactly this reason. The wild side is the funky artistic flair, the tame side is the number-crunching, evidence-based design.

Q3. Some say creativity is ‘having an eye’ to be able to see something differently and reinterpret it – like artists who create surrealist works. Do you believe creativity it is wired into people?

Look, design is part art, part science. You can learn both – but the art side does require a certain creative spark to begin with, and that I think is innate. You either have it or you don’t.


Q4. How would you describe your design research – how has it changed over the years?

It’s increasingly methodological – and that’s not easy for designers, because most of us are intuitive doers who just want to dive in and start creating! To combat this impulsive instinct, we developed a process called UXD – User Experience Design – that we use at the start of all of our projects. First, define the Users in the space (the family members in a home, the workers in an office etc). Next, define the Experiences you want them to have (dinner parties at home, brainstorming at work etc). Only then do you Design a space. I won’t lie, it’s quite frustrating for the design team! But it pays dividends down the line, and having a set process with defined steps just makes it an automatic process.

Q5. How did you approach designing an aesthetically pleasing yet hygienic space for Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park?

We started with a story. We based the entire design around the falaj system of irrigation, that’s been the source of life for communities in the deserts around Sharjah for 5,000 years. Once you crack this guiding designing narrative – and let me tell you, that’s not a simple process – then everything fits together.

Q6. Can you share with us the design concept the recently opened Sensasia spa?

SENSASIA is a pan-Asian brand, so we cast the net wide to understand the architecture of the region: Thailand, Bali, Vietnam and more. One example: we studied arches that are a key feature of that architectural typology, using the shapes to inspire out own art form. The end result is a space that is a nod to all of these cultures – but a very modern, contemporary version.

In my interview on this project for Sleeper Magazine I advised the design process for SENSASIA Stories was an exercise in restraint for me. We have purposefully not overpowered the senses; instead this is a place of quiet, respite and reflection. The interior scheme – dark and light hues of grey, complemented by a warm wood finish and strong stone slabs – allows one to just ‘be’. We played with just three main materials and colours. Grey stone and slate, brown tones within the luxury vinyl flooring, natural textures such as wallpaper with hessian finishes. The interior design revolves around the material palette – it’s layered with textures. This helps with the acoustics as well as tactility: the touch and feel; it’s a space designed for all senses.”

Q7. How would you describe your work in three words?

50% wild – 50% tame

Q8. And how would you describe yourself in three words?

Playful. Honest. Exacting

Q9. Tell us about a project designed by someone else that you wish had come to you. Why?

I’m a big believer in there is enough for everyone – although I do wish I had designed the Guggheim in Bilbao – an architectural statement that transformed the city.

What is your life’s philosophy?

On any given day you can be the best wife, mother, designer, entrepreneur, activist or athlete but you can never be all these things every day. Compartmentalise and don’t be so hard on yourself!

Q10. What is your favourite restaurant/hotel and why?

My current favourite is The Arts Club in Dubai. It only opened on Christmas Day last year, and I’m a member – I love it! Four beautifully-designed floors with a multitude of bars, restaurants, coffee shops and chill-out spaces. But more than how it looks, they’ve achieved the real goal of interior design – they’ve created an experience and a vibe. That’s not easy in a city like Dubai that already has so many awesome restaurants and hotels, yet they’ve cracked the code. To be fair, Soho House in Mumbai has done it too. Maybe because I just turned 40, I’m really enjoying private members clubs – a sign of getting old! But these two are not stuffy and exclusive, they’ve got a real buzz.

Q11. What is a skill you would like to learn and why?

My lockdown hobby was taking up pottery and I would really, really love to master this skill – new homeware line in the making? #staytuned. Joking apart, I’m dreadful – but I love connecting with a material by hand – such an antithesis to cad or rhino which is my everyday reality!

Q12. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people

I once applied to be Emirates cabin crew – rejected at my first round of interviews! We’ll say inflight entertainment’s loss was the design world’s gain.