Young Emirati Jawaher Alkhayyal, a product and interior designer, has a passion for spaces, and of breathing life into the urban environment through her products and interactive installations. “I want to create purposeful spaces,” she says at her studio in Sharjah that has an air of quietude around it, much like her work.
Her creations encompass multidisciplinary design fields, inspired by her culture and heritage. They are contemporary in look, capturing within them the essence of the past.
As a child, Jawaher loved art and her parents gave her colours and inspired her to look beyond the obvious to feed her passion. Young Jawaher was drawn to the urban space, and she was inspired by her roots, her travels, history and the natural surroundings.
After earning her master’s degree in design for luxury and craftsmanship from Ecal in Switzerland, with certificates in lighting design from Chelsea College of Arts, and furniture design from Central Saint Martins, she began collaborating with clients, including Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, The Youth Office, Dubai Design District, The Cultural Office and Maison Piaget.
“While my academic concentration was particularly in interior design, I am consistently exploring various design fields. I am mostly interested in creating purposeful spaces. Most of my work tends to be inspired primarily by our Emirati culture and heritage and how to capture its essence and deliver it in a contemporary way,” she says. “I work on a variety of projects that often include working in multiple art and design fields ranging from art installations to commercial and residential interiors.”
Talking about her design philosophy, Jawaher says her sustainably designed projects reflect current social and environmental concerns. “I want to design products and spaces that positively impact the modern lifestyles of a wide variety of people and I have always believed in working in different collaborative projects with other artists, designers and craftsmen.”
Her first projects were with Dubai Culture and the Youth Hub in collaboration with her friend and partner, Alya AlEghfeli. “Our first project with Dubai Culture was a commission to create an outdoor seating structure for the Dubai Public Library. The seating was first launched at Design Days Dubai 2016. We called it Iqr’a. It was both a sculptural and playful structure, encouraging users of all ages to experience the space and interpret it in different ways. Iqr’a bridges the gap between Emirati traditions and modernity through a design that combines minimalism and Emirati tradition, which was introduced through the floor seating, swings and ropes – all nostalgic of the traditional Emirati home.”
Talking about her wish list for the UAE’s public realm, Jawaher says there should be more products and creations reflecting the modern Emirati lifestyle. “We need to work alongside local craftsmen to develop traditional Emirati craftsmanship and incorporate them into modern products and spaces. I would also like to design for the hospitality industry in the region.”
After her first project was launched at the Dubai Design Week, “we were invited by Shamma Al Mazroui, UAE Minister of State for Youth, to work for the Youth Office. We proposed a design concept for the Youth hub, which was being built at Emirates Towers, Dubai. We worked in collaboration with the youth team, which resulted in successfully launching the best Youth Hub in the world.”
In 2018, Jawaher was commissioned by luxury watch brand Maison Piaget in collaboration with The Cultural Office of Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum to create an installation piece that was exhibited at Art Dubai that year. Titled the Summer Muse or the Sunny Side of Life, this was an important milestone in her young career. The piece was an interactive art installation that was designed as a seat. It was a combination of art and furniture that played with shadow and light.
“It was exhibited at the Piaget Lounge, and I visualised a figure on it, gently twirling left and right. The subtle motion was inspired by the natural movement of feathers, leaves and water. I played on light and shade and made the piece as interactive as I could,” explains Jawaher.
Jawaher’s first collection of products was launched at the 2019 Downtown Design, and was called the Sarab collection, which incorporated the ‘Safifa’ craftsmanship. It was a series of hand-crafted products, which included mirrors, coffee tables, clothing hooks and shelves. These products celebrated the traditional Emirati craft of Safifa or palm-leaf weaving. “We don’t use this kind of craft anymore, but it is still functional and beautiful,” says the designer who has reimagined the functionality and aesthetics of locally sourced materials and craftsmanship through her designs.
“Sarab was my first line of locally sourced and handcrafted products launched at Downtown Design during Dubai Design Week 2019. The Sarab collection explores different thicknesses, forms and patterns of the Safifa craft to create a variety of objects, testing the material’s strength and flexibility. Historically reliable materials, including brass and camel leather, have been infused with traditional palm frond weave, elevating the form and aesthetics of each piece,” says Jawaher.
After completing her course in Lausanne last summer, she opened her studio in Sharjah and currently works with clients on home and commercial interiors. “But my passion is working in the public realm. My designs are modern but I look for inspiration in almost everything, my past and present, from Asia to the rest of the world. Of course, I am inspired by my heritage and history, but my spaces don’t reflect the UAE always. I feel my past has integrated the cultures of the world and I try and highlight that through my work.”