Interior design is all about use of space and the people who will use the space, says designer JOHANN KRUGER
Having qualified as an architectural technologist more than 20 years ago, Johann Kruger has since worked on a plethora of projects ranging from hotels to hospitals, casinos to shopping malls and palaces to private planes.
With a career that features some of the finest hotels in the world and other award winning projects, he has worked in many different countries in different styles serving a wide array of clients.
Kruger was recently appointed creative consultant at Best Interiors, an international architecture and interior design firm headquartered in Dubai focusing on the hospitality and high-end residential sector projects.
In an exclusive interview with Middle East Interiors, Kruger spoke about his work, design trends and challenges faced today by the interior designers.
Please give us a brief about yourself.
I qualified as an architect in 1991 but have been doing interior design for the past 20 years. I did not touch architecture at all. This is not because I cannot do architecture but because interior design is fast paced and gives immediate satisfaction unlike the laborious and technical architecture where you have to wait for some years for the building to go up.
I came to the UAE over 12 years ago from South Africa and have been involved with some of the most luxurious and innovative interiors. After working with a firm in Abu Dhabi for some time, I joined the Al Fara’a Group’s architectural and interiors design division and moved Dubai. I worked there for a few years but then when the economy went south, the interior design division was closed.
Lavish design: The main deck
terrace of a superyacht
I did something on my own for three years and just when I decided to call it a day in the Middle East and go back to South Africa, a very good offer came my way from Damac Properties.
I worked with Damac as senior interior manager. After a year I joined hands with Best Interiors. I had previously collaborated with Best Interiors on some of its projects.
What projects are you working on?
We are currently working on 18 to 20 residential units in the Marina 23. When this project was launched, Best Interiors got the monopoly of being the interior design firm of choice. We also got access to the list of people who bought property in the building. This helped us to get in touch with the apartment owners to promote ourselves. Besides custom designed solutions we are also offering pre-designed interiors packages along with turnkey solutions.
We are also doing a luxurious palace in Fujairah. The project is very opulent, classic and typical Middle Eastern in style and taste.
Best Interiors is also involved with a number of corporate, commercial and residential projects (including villas and high-rise buildings) in India – Mumbai, Pune and Delhi.
We have just finished one project in Delhi and have recently been asked by some hotel groups to tender for their upcoming projects.
If we get these hotel projects we will be really busy with the projects in India.
Then we are also doing some villas in Angola and Cape Town, South Africa, and an office tower in Doha, Qatar.
What are your expansion plans?
Best Interiors is in the process of opening offices in Delhi and Mumbai. Since these cities are going to be among the largest metropolis in the world in a few years’ time, there are huge opportunities for companies like us.
But Dubai will stay as the design core of the company. Design will be controlled from here. Our offices in Delhi and Mumbai will do executive work like preparation of presentations, auto cad drawings but the design concept will originate from Dubai.
What changes have you seen in the Middle East over the past decade?
The region has witnessed tremendous changes since I first landed. The first change and something which stands out like a pole above water is the taste of people. When I first came here everything was so ornate and decorative, for example heavily carved Italian chandeliers with gold leafing. But over the years this has changed. Today people are looking for more modern design. Having travelled abroad, people in this region have realised that beauty is not in heavy décor but can also be in simplicity. Approach to design has changed. For example if you had walked into a brand new hotel 10 years ago and if you enter a new hotel today you will see a lot of difference in the décor, furnishing and the materials.
Today the market offers a wide array of products.
Another thing that has changed, and for which I would blame the economy for going wobbly, is the quality of designers. Prior to the economic slowdown there was an oversaturated market with regards to architects, designers and there was so much work that even the poor or bad designers were busy. In terms of design what we saw ranged from mind blowing to ghastly and atrocious. There were no design standards as there were no entities to control what was going on in the market. But when the economy went south, a lot of these designers were struggling.
A number of firms were forced to close down or shift focus to more affluent or stable markets. Today we are in a market dominated by good and competent strong design and architectural firms with internal stability to ride
Tell us about current trends in interior design.
The move today is more towards modern, clean, simple and uncluttered spaces. There is a proportion of space, lighting, integration of landscaping into the interiors.
We are doing such a diverse range of projects that it is difficult to pin point trends but we choose to set trends rather than follow. In general current trends are not only leaning towards contemporary modern but also abstract modern like the on-going projects on the Yas and Sadiyaat Islands in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai museum project announced recently.
So the evolution has happened here and what took the British or the French a few hundred years to achieve, has happened in the UAE in 10 to 15 years. The move from classical- traditional building to high-tech integrated buildings is quite an achievement. Today we have ultra-modern high-tech cities of the future.
What challenges do you face in the industry today?
I would say the main challenge for any designer is staying ahead in the game and to be the leader of the pack rather than a follower. It is easier to make a mark in a smaller city or less prominent environment. But in the UAE where there are a number of good and renowned design firms it is difficult. The challenge here is to find a niche market where one’s strength can shine through and where one can really set the pace and be different from everyone else. We are trying to do that by keeping our spectrum of projects different so that we are not caught up in a groove.
Entertainment area: Landscaping
for a private residence in Dubai
Over the past two decades, I have done projects ranging from churches to nightclubs, yacht to planes and the nice thing about Best Interiors is that it also does a wide range of projects like corporate, residential, entertainment and retail. Together we can do anything and everything so that in the future if a challenging project comes our way we can flex our creative muscle and do something different.
The second challenge we are facing is monetary restraints. Clients have not yet regained confidence so the budgets are still tight. It is difficult since everybody wants a Rolls Royce but their budgets are limited. Client wants wow but the budget is anything but wow. So you have to really stretch your imagination as much as possible in terms of the products available.
Another challenge we face here in the UAE is the diversity of nationalities. We could be doing a project for an Emirati today and another moment a project for a British company. It really bounces around so one has to be sensitive and understand where the client comes from and read very carefully what the client wants /likes or dislikes. It is very important to get the brief right.
What kind of projects do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy doing hotel projects because a hotel is the reflection of the society and the country where it is located. No two hotels are identical. It is simple to design suites, but the lobby, lounge, and food and beverage outlets are different. In the UAE I have been doing mainly high-end villas or the luxury residential market so would like to do more hotel projects.
What will be your dream project?
I would like to design a modern and totally out-of- this-world mosque. Having spent so many years in the UAE, I understand the importance of a mosque to the people and society. There are many mosques here and all very traditional in design. I would like to design a mosque sitting on a vast piece of land surrounded with water and with the reflection of its lighting on the water.
For any architect or designer there is this one dream project – to design their own house. I would also like to build a property for myself and implement whatever I have learnt so far.
What are your future plans?
I have introduced architectural division and landscaping to Best Interiors. We are also in talks to launch our signature range of custom-designed furniture. We already have custom rugs and are looking at introducing fabrics. We are not only branching out territorially as well as in our scope of services.