image via managers.org.uk

I must apologise to my readers for going missing for the past couple of weeks but work and projects have literally taken over my life….my poor home is a disaster zone with piles of laundry in the bathroom, piles of papers and plans lying all over my desk….I have been doing on site work from about 7.30 am each day, getting home after 7pm each night and then doing all my paperwork after that from home! My poor cat thinks I have moved out and left him to his own devices and I am certain that my friends have forgotten what I look like!

Both of my big projects have come to deadline date in the same month! I try very hard not to do this, but it is sometimes unavoidable, particularly in Dubai! My hotel project was supposed to be completed by the end of July, but due to severe delays, we had to start on site works at the beginning of September. My Mall project is also winding up at precisely the same time…..the perfect storm. So I am a little overwhelmed and  my nerves are frazzled to say the least!

I hope to be able to show the results of all this frenzied activity very soon, so please do come back in a week or so to see some images I hope to post then!

A busy few weeks……

I have been very neglectful about posting lately…..with good reason though….I am madly busy with work and unfortunately some things have to take a back seat-the blog being one of them.

I do, however, have a sneak peek of what I am working really hard on…..


This is a sample board for the ceiling project I am currently working on….literally back-breaking work as we are hand painting the design-very hard on the neck! It is also almost an hour drive each way from where I live so I am spending and inordinate amount of time in the car…..such a waste of time!

It seems to be going well and I hope to be able to post images of the completed work soon….

sample for ceiling design

Also ….I finished these……………

distressed furniture
Distressed armoire
distressed and limed table and painted armoire

My client was very happy with the result and so was I…..I love all the colours…greige and ivory…very neutral and also easy to live with.

Busy, busy, busy….

Ramadan decorations at the Mall of the Emirates Galleria

I have not posted for almost a month now, partly due to the holy month of Ramadaan and partly due to three projects which I had simmering quietly and which all suddenly started boiling simultaneously!

Fabulous paper stars lit from within

Ramadaan is the Holy Month for Muslims, which is marked by a month of fasting and abstaining from “pleasures”in order to bring one closer to God through patience and resisting temptation. Most Muslims here use Ramadaan as a time to focus on prayer and family and Dubai becomes a slower, gentler place for the duration. While I find the law of not eating or drinking in public quite a challenge, after 12 years I must say I am almost used to it ! The thing I find the hardest is not drinking water whenever I need it….with summer temperatures reaching 46 degrees C, one really needs to hydrate regularly and I often stop at a gas station and hide in a back room to drink some water and to avoid causing any offense to anyone who may be fasting! The Eid weekend is fast approaching and we get almost 5 days off work, which is great- everyone goes out to celebrate by meeting friends and family at restaurants and malls for meals or coffee and lots of shopping! The stores all have Eid specials and sales and  we take full advantage of the reduced prices! It is a fun time and the whole city comes alive again , and returns to the normal chaotic hustle and bustle we know and love…

The other thing which changes my routine completely is the fact that businesses are only allowed to be open 6 hours a day-that means that our office is open from 8 am until 2pm and it is amazing that the shortened day can cause so much havoc for me! I have been trying to cram all my work (which I normally do in about 10 hours ) into 6 and it has exhausted me! Our sites usually start working at 7am and finish at 1pm so it can be somewhat chaotic trying to check on progress on site and then rushing back to the office to complete any paperwork which I may need the girls at the office to do!

Added to all of the issues above, is the fact that all three of my fairly large projects started to kick off at almost the same time , leaving me with little choice but to try and be three places at the same time……still haven’t quite managed to get that under control though! My palace project is currently being prepared, my hotel project is in the sampling stages and my Penthouse project is in its final two weeks but is plagued with contractual issues(which fortunately are not my fault) so I am literally being run off my feet right now.

I hope this sound more like an explanation for my lack of posts rather than a bunch of excuses, but I have some great ideas for posts in the next few weeks and as the summer starts to wind down, I will be feeling much more inspired generally(cooler weather always seems to affect my creative abilities in a very positive way) and I hope to share lots of  these ideas in the next few weeks….

Views of Dubai

image by JF Bab Al Shams Rooftop Bar

This is Bab Al Shams…one of my all time favourite places to have a quiet sun downer overlooking the desert….the roof top bar at Bab Al Shams resort and spa. I have done a lot of work on this resort….stencil designs in all the rooms, stencil designs in niches in all public areas , gold leaf panels in the main dining areas, decorative wall effects in the dining areas….and hand painted kelims in the outdoor areas as well as the Royal Suites.

It was a project that took up almost a year of my time and it has a special place in my heart!

image by JF Gold leaf ceiling panels
Gold leaf ceiling panels
The road to Bab Al Shams at dawn after working all night!

Working on a project in a hotel which is fully functional has its own set of challenges and usually requires a lot of planning and compromise as we have to work around the guests…this usually means working night shifts while the guests are sleeping. I actually don’t mind working at night …far fewer distractions and its always cooler, especially in the summer! Not so much fun in the winter though…the temperature drops to around 5 degress C!

How much does one do for a fee….

I have just very recently had an unfortunate incident with a client  who seemed happy with the work I had been doing for her ,and it has made me question how I am doing business and in particular, how I am billing clients.

From the beginning of the project, my client was very open about the fact that she did not have a huge budget and I realised  that she would not be able to afford to pay  me to manage the project,so we agreed that I would simply be involved as a consultant …I would help her keep to her budget and to achieve the look she wanted.I also provided her with basic concept boards – something simple to give her the concept and idea with colours , fabrics and furniture.

I usually do not like to work like this as it can create all sorts of complications with suppliers and contractors-generally my contractors and suppliers are tried and tested and if they do not do good work, they simply do not get any more referrals or clients from me. In this case, my client decided  that she would shop around for the cheapest bidder. I warned her against that but she proceeded with a contractor who agreed to do the same job for about 20000Dhs less than my lowest estimate from my contractor.

I had deep reservations because there is a base line cost of fit out in Dubai and I was certain that her quote was lower than that but she would not take my recommendation  so I stepped back and she signed the contract. As you can  imagine..the result was horrific..the contractor was over budget, and the project was severely delayed and when I paid my first visit to site (at her request) the finishes were unacceptable. I made a list of issues and gave them to the contractor in an attempt to try and rectify some of the really bad mistakes-I wish I had taken photos! I also advised my client not to pay any more money until these issues or snags had been rectified. At this point my client was in floods of tears on a daily basis and was stressed beyond belief, and although I was never paid to actively get involved on site, I none the less tried to visit at least twice a week to try and keep things on track and eventually the project was completed. The last week was spent giving the space the final finishing touches…I hung wallpaper and artwork, I shopped IKEA on more than one occasion and also sourced cheap lighting and wall paper ,to save every cent that I could for my client , instead of using our local suppliers who are more expensive but who deliver and install! The bottom line is that I truly did my best to watch every penny, and make every decision being conscious of my client’s budget.

After the completion of the project, I presented invoices to my client for final payment-(not the design/consultant fee but additional items which I had purchased for her ,over and above the fee)….she refused to settle the bills claiming that I had not done enough work, in her opinion, to be able to charge her the original design fee agreed upon at the outset of the project. I was aghast and genuinely shocked as I honestly felt that I had done my absolute best…doing much more than the small fee actually covered.

If I have learned anything at all through this upsetting time, it is that as a designer, I need to monitor my time carefully and be more professional in dealing with clients…by that I simply mean that one has to separate feelings and sentiment from business. This is my challenge every day, because I love what I do and I tend to get carried away, wanting the space I am decorating to really look amazing, yet being mindful of the fact that my time is money…as most people in this business know, the rewards of doing a great job and seeing a client really happy with the job you have done are priceless, but you still have to attach a cost to the work you do.

So, back to my question…how much does one actually do for your fee, especially when a design concept fee  is a difficult thing to calculate other than time spent working on it….where do you draw the line?How do you charge for  intellectual property, like ideas and knowledge which we spend many years training for, yet is not something tangible?