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Maria Iqbal on her eclectic designs

Born in Afghanistan and raised in the UAE, fine artist and pop culture-inspired furniture designer Maria Iqbal chats about her Princess and the Pea bed, the most underrated home item and why Mona Lisa would have loved one of her chairs

  • Maria surrounded by various pieces of art that she’s been working on. Image Credit: Grace Paras/ANM
  • Maria’s Candy Vanity chair. Image Credit: Grace Paras/ANM
  • Maria paints the front of a Tokyo chair. Image Credit: Grace Paras/ANM
  • Abaya chairs. Image Credit: Grace Paras/ANM

Maria Iqbal is… my name, but it’s also the name of my brand. I make unexpected, happiness-inducing pieces for the home, from chairs to pillow covers and more. I am a fine artist and I have a background in advertising, both of which influence my work now.

You can call me a pop artist… since I’m heavily influenced by pop culture. I’m a voracious reader and a lover of media and the arts. I like to innovate and I don’t need a baseline because I’m not scared, so my work is constantly evolving. I’m usually described as colourful and bold in my choice of palettes and motifs.

Each of my pieces has a concept and… is based on a theme, an anecdote or a personal experience. Under my hand-painted chairs, for example, you’ll find the name and mood line of that particular piece, which gives the buyer a clue as to what it was inspired by. I like to get to know the client before I design a piece for them. That is how I preserve the integrity of it. Nothing is duplicated because, like my pieces, people are one of a kind.

I love it when someone brings me their favourite… chair, headboard or even motorcycle helmet. I can give new life to anything as long as it’s solid and capable of taking some creative pounding.

There is no better place to be a designer than the UAE… if you have a clear vision and the courage to follow through. Be it fashion, photography, film or art, the audience here craves novelty and fresh expression. Having lived abroad, mainly in the US, for over 15 years, I can say that it’s a lot more satisfying to lay down a few strokes on a blank canvas rather than try to make a mark on an impossibly busy one. Europe, the Americas and even the East have been claimed by artists over and over again. It’s easier to stand out here.

I try not to get too carried away with my pieces… unless I have been specifically asked to, otherwise things can get way too gimmicky. I experiment with various types of paint and fabric to achieve specific textures, but I have to be careful because I don’t want paint to spill on tables or to have something poke someone when they sit on it.

Design is… a beautiful accident that happens when two completely separate entities collide. The harmony can be smooth or erratic, but as long as the result makes sense to me, that’s good design.

My bed is my favourite piece of furniture… and it’s accurately based on the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. It’s made with 20 different fabric mattresses tied together with vibrant bows. There’s even a pea hidden in the middle somewhere. However, unlike the princess in the story, I sleep peacefully and there is no evil queen involved. The bed can even be taken apart for sleepovers. One is never too old to have girlfriends around for pillow talk.

I’m as much a participant as an observer when it comes to… the design process. My role in the arrangement is to facilitate. I try to understand what the customer wants and I interpret, plan, paint, dance, listen and create. In the end there is a piece that is unique and precious.

The most underrated home accessories are… cushions! I use them everywhere, from the floor to the bed, to armchairs and the sofa, which is why I have developed a fun line of cushions that I’m very excited about. They are currently in production and will be in stores this year.

I’m inspired by… everyone and everything. However, there are two things that really impress me – the window displays in the Louis Vuitton store in Mall of the Emirates
and the Harvey Nichols store in The Dubai Mall.

If I could design for anyone in the world it would be… the mysterious Mona Lisa. It is said that she sat for many hours on numerous occasions until Leonardo Da Vinci was satisfied with his painting of her. I think she would have liked to sit on one of my chairs because they’re very comfortable.