The interior architect and real estate developer shares his perspective on the transformation of the Saudi design aesthetic
There are always unintended consequences in life.
When the Kingdom started its push for change, the last thing on anyone’s mind was interior design. Yet now, as Saudi has become the fastest-growing tourist market in the G20, restaurants, and hotels are popping up all over the place. Some designs are international and others local – to the point of kitsch.
And as the youthful population has entered the workforce en masse, it has sought new homes suited to their lifestyles, smaller and more modern. But as a Saudi interior design aesthetic emerged?
When it comes to establishing a design style for a nation, we should be wary of copying anyone else. We need to do it in the way that suits us. Make our own rules, which will facilitate the things we want to do with these spaces. If I’m designing something, the Saudi element has to come naturally. As Saudis, because we live our identity daily with what we wear, what we eat, and so on, we sometimes get bored with our own heritage aesthetic, particularly if the location or project intention doesn’t require it.
In design, everything must serve a purpose, from how we dress to how we sit. It’s important to keep this aim top of mind when talking about Saudi aesthetics. A mingle bench and stools don’t work the same way in Riyadh as they do in an apartment or restaurant in London. Don’t get me started on importing things like exposed brick walls. They might work in Brooklyn, but in Riyadh, not so much. In Brooklyn, they’re part of how the city was regenerated and the history of mixed-use properties. It makes sense. It’s natural.
Speaking of nature, take dinner parties in the Saudi capital. There aren’t any seating charts – ever. Dinners are mostly buffets and operate on a “more the merrier” and “bring your friend” basis. It reflects the hospitality of our culture, and the spaces and furniture within them also need to embody that. With the change in working hours, for example, lunch as a family has become a weekend thing for everyone (as many have 9-to-5 jobs). Interiors evolve to serve this new lifestyle, and traditional elements persist, such as the Bakhoor, oud, and the coffee ritual which is an essential part of hospitality.
So, how do we incorporate those into a modern home, office, or restaurant?
Via Riyadh is an example of Salmani-inspired architecture in a modern aesthetic
If there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s to forget about trends. Be true to yourself. Most of all, don’t look at Instagram. You'd be surprised at how many images there are fake and don't work in your space in the real world. The Gulf region is often pigeonholed as having a dominant style that revolves around a lot of gold and marble, which can seem uncool. You know what? Let’s keep using it. Marble suits the weather and gold is a classic.
An interesting example of Saudi style materialising is the current Salmani architecture named after King Salman. His love and knowledge of history make this style fitting, emerging during his reign and in this moment of change in Saudi history. The naming and documenting of it will be important for future generations.
When it comes to how we think about Saudi design as individuals, a good conclusion to draw is: don't overthink it. Just let it grow organically. Islamic architecture, for example, was never “invented,” it just evolved. It adapted to regional preferences. Only hundreds of years later did a distinct style emerge.
With the organic growth of Saudi design and the deep roots of Islamic influence on architecture and you think of it in those terms, it's incredibly exciting to see where modern Saudi design is going.