One of the Middle East’s most popular interior designers has made Arab elements all the rage in contemporary furniture design. Nada Debs, a master at incorporating her native roots into her designs, didn’t grow up in the Arab world. In fact, the designer, who is said to be a favorite of Queen Rania of Jordan, grew up in Japan. This could partly explain the reason behind her minimalist creations that are always marked with a Middle Eastern aesthetic and infused with the Far East mysterious beauty.
Debs studied at the renowned Rhode Island School of Design in the United States before starting her own design company in the UK and finally moving back to her homeland, Lebanon.
Mostly famous for the exemplary quality of wood and craftsmanship found in her furniture, the East-East and West-East designs are what make Nada Debs’ work unique.
You can’t help but fall in love with Nada the minute you see all the amazing collections on her website or glimpse the feel-good decors she has created for her clients. She makes everything look so easy and effortless – the sign of a true expert.
Samah Oueslati chatted with the designer to see what she has to say about her techniques and her secret to success.
Nada, can you share a few key things about yourself, your background and what led you to pursue a career in interior design and custom furniture?
I felt there was a need to express the beauty of our Middle Eastern craft in a more contemporary way. Japan, where I was brought up, gave me the natural instinct of keeping things minimalist. I took this concept into Middle Eastern craft where I simplified the lines of furniture to show off the beauty of our craft. It was at a junction in my life where I wanted to bring together the background of both my identities, the Arabic and the Japanese, when I realized there was a big group of people who were returning to Lebanon from abroad. They were looking for objects like I was, that related the Arab world to modernity. This is where I felt that I was able to nurture the emotional and functional needs of creating furniture and home accessories that reflected that.
What part of your work do you love the most and why?
I love discovering new ways of using old crafts as I watch the craftsman working in his traditional style, I cannot help imaging a new or different way to do the same thing or to try the technique using different materials.
During your career, what are the "wow" moments and breakthroughs you have in witnessed in people?
When I first went public and opened a showroom (I worked from home for about 5 years), many people reacted by saying ‘wow, why didn’t anyone think of doing this before?’ Another moment was when people would walk into the showroom and tell me that my objects looked very ‘Zen’ and had a Japanese feel without having known that I come from that background! This was when I termed my concept “East & East”– it’s a celebration of the minimalism of the Far East with the craftsmanship of the Middle East.
From your experience, what aspect of color and material combination is the hardest to create and why?
When I am taking a traditional technique into new materials, I am challenged by how the new material reacts to the old techniques. For example, it took us a long time to get rid of bubbles when we were laying out the mother of pearl in resin, or the reaction of the mother of pearl inlaid in concrete… these are challenges that, when pushed, we usually end up achieving good results.
In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between how you see interior design, and how most interior designers see it?
I usually start the interior design process with the feeling that the client wants to have when they enter the space (happy, cozy, dramatic, etc). Then I like to see the lifestyle of the client: do they entertain a lot, or do they use the space themselves more… I start with the necessary objects – the table, the sofa – and then expand to the rest of the space – from wall finishing to lighting. I guess the difference would be that I start with the emotional aspect and the direct objects that we touch first. And of course, I add my little arabesque touches where necessary!
What is your signature decorating style and how would you describe it in three words?
Modern, arabesque, warm.
What recommendation would you give to a new interior designer who would like to discover his or her own signature style?
Sometimes coming out with one’s own signature style takes time. Part of it is something we feel internally, a certain vision or image we have and partly it is a reaction to people’s needs and likes. It is finding the balance of both and coming up with the style that one is most comfortable with.
When you walk into a room for the first time, how do you decide what mood to create?
The natural light in the space really makes a difference. The circulation of the space and how to walk around the space; I would start with that.
What is your design forecast for the next 2 years?
I’ll be experimenting with more materials as well as creating lifestyle items such as wallpaper, candles, even chocolate! I also plan to do quite a lot of collaborations with other designers.
Finally, what is one thing nobody knows about you, but wish they do?
Sometimes designers could be intimidating; I am just a friendly girl-next-door and would like to stay that way.
Nada Debs has retails outlets throughout Beirut: The Nada Debs Gallery, which displays the “East & East” and “Contemporary” Collections and two Nada Debs Boutiques, which carry her home accessory collections. Globally, Nada Debs is represented in New York, Dubai, Geneva, Cairo and Amman. For more information visit www.nadadebs.com