Take us back to the beginning of Al Huzaifa furniture. How has the brand evolved over time?
The Al Huzaifa journey began in 1976, with a single store in Sharjah. Today the brand defines furniture fashion nationwide, unveiling an exclusive showroom soon on Al Wasl Road, Dubai, addding to its presence in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Looking back, although the beginnings were small, the vision wasn’t. Right from the word go, it’s been about observing global trends, cherry-picking styles that resonate with our regional clientele and presenting collections that blend in with their lifestyles while pushing the edge of design and innovation just that little bit every time. This perspective defines our evolution and our offering at any point.
Like with fashion, music or any aspect of contemporary culture, you could actually look back at our products at any point of time and get an instant sense of what was current.
How would you describe your brand’s aesthetics?
Furniture fashion is what we are about. Now while that’s our brand essence, it takes a wealth of experience and insight to get it right when it comes down to execution through the distinct genres of classical and contemporary furniture. While each genre has its own grammar, the poetry is uniquely Al Huzaifa.
Every fashion season brings its own contours, silhouettes and finishes. Styles move in various directions — quieter or more flamboyant — with the mood of the times. Transcending it all, however, is a certain attitude — a voice if you will — a bold, individualistic elegance that’s unmistakably Al Huzaifa.
And it appeals to our clientele who prefer to make a statement without trying too hard.
How would you like to assess the market for furniture and interior design in the UAE? Will the growth in the UAE’s affordable housing market drive demand for furniture?
It’s a fast evolving market. We’re talking of one of the world’s most dynamic environments with an affluent audience, highly connected to global fashion trends and comprising a dazzling variety of nationalities. What we find particularly interesting is that although everyone comes in with their own reference points and homemaking preferences, there’s a distinct style vernacular emerging.
Also emerging rapidly is the smart shopper who asks harder questions about the intrinsic value of what she’s buying. At a macro level, the pie is growing but margins are under pressure — which is a good thing actually, as it drives the industry to deliver better value.
Admittedly it tilts the playing field in favour of larger players such as ourselves as we’ve value-engineered for a demanding clientele and built the sort of scale that drives costs down. As the large volume of affordable housing comes on stream, the uptick in furniture purchase is bound to follow. These customers are here to stay, pardon the pun, and they are likely to prioritise enduring quality over low-ticket disposable furniture that means recurring replacement costs.
How would you like to describe the UAE market in terms of its interior-design preferences? What are the other key trends shaping the market?
As you’d expect with a market that comprises over 130 nationalities, we have a microcosm of global tastes and preferences. Lifestyles vary widely, but there are certain convergence points. Most families are young with school-going children. There’s a uniquely large number of singles or couples as the UAE increasingly becomes an appealing place to start a career. Dwelling units are compact. As expats stay longer, they have a growing propensity to investing in living well.
With many brands globally developing eco-friendly furniture, what steps have to undertaken to meet the demand for eco-friendly designs?
From our perspective at Al Huzaifa, eco-friendly design should go deeper than a certain look or a certain set of materials which appeal to a superficial notion of what eco-friendliness means. While natural, renewable materials may tick a couple of boxes, the hard questions to ask are: What sort of carbon footprint does the manufacturing process generate? and what is the opportunity cost, in ecological terms, of cultivating this material? It’s important to separate fad from fact. The good news is that eco-friendly manufacturing practices generally make great economic sense, and we see this as a fundamental driver for the industry.
For someone on a limited budget, what would be your top tip when looking to update his house for the upcoming festive season?
Quality over quantity. If you’re looking to update the look and make your place feel special, skip the mass-produced generic stuff at all-purpose home stores. Look for something special. It’s a mistaken notion that you should either do a total makeover or nothing at all. On the contrary, a few well-thought-out accent pieces can make all the difference. Most importantly, let your innate sense of style do the choosing. Pick things that speak for you...and speak to you.
How do you see the interiors sector evolving in the next decade?
As millennials come of homemaking age, start families and become the statistical bulk of the market, they’re likely to bring their unique set of values and preferences with them. A distaste for excess, a quest for simplicity, design that delivers on functionality as much as on style.
The two key pillars, as for any category of goods and services, will be personalisation and ease of fulfilment. They will demand an increasingly participative role in the design and creation of their spaces. In fact, as this shift from customer to co-creator takes place, brands and designers will come in more as curators of inspiration while providing the guard rails that can only come from professional insight. The eye-try-buy journey will, of course, increasingly run off digital platforms and technologies such as augmented reality. Brands that can get this creative grammar right can look forward to big wins.