Influenced by her own rich cultural background and her deep interest in Islamic craft, established British designer Bethan Gray has just launched her latest collaboration with Iranian artist Mohamad Reza Shamsian, which will be on show at this year’s INDEX Design Series in Dubai in May. In an interview, she discusses her new range and reveals her design influences.
What can you tell us about your latest range?
Bethan Gray: My latest range is the ‘Shamsian Collection’, created in collaboration with Mohamad Reza Shamsian, a highly sought after, masterful Iranian artist, and his team of 70 highly skilled craftsmen based in Muscat, Oman. The collection is inspired by regional architecture, and features intricate marquetry, a traditional Islamic craft dating back to the 16th century, on Italian stained birdseye maple, in stunning combination with solid brass or iridescent mother of pearl. Detailing on the beautiful Nizwa cabinet takes inspiration from the rounded architectural castellation patterning of the Nizwa Fort in Oman whereas the pattern on the Dhow takes inspiration from the sails of the regional sailing boats.
You draw on both Eastern and Western craft traditions, with you citing your own Arabian heritage as being a key influence on your work. What similarities do you find between the two design styles, despite their obvious differences and how do you harmoniously combine the two?
BG: Cultural referencing is at heart of my design philosophy. Through my travels and research I’m inspired to create original contemporary pieces that resonate with global, as well as local, audiences. In my work, I tend to focus on the similarities between the craft traditions of the East and West. In fact, the East has been very instrumental in inspiring and informing design styles that are now common place in the West – such as monochrome. It’s my own and my ancestors’ journeys that influence and inspire me to look for these similarities.
You describe your signature style as incorporating ‘a love of detail, tactile textures, and luxurious materials such as semi-precious stones, marble, wood, and hand-tooled leather’. INDEX 2017 is all about design for the senses. Do you consider that kind of sensory stimulation a vital part of design and, if so, why?
BG: Being a designer I am, of course, a very visual person. In my designs I focus on the use of graphic pattern and colour palette, as I think in combination these can have a powerful effect on one’s mood – we all have a very visceral reaction to colour and pattern. Recently I designed a café. The brief was to evoke an emotion of my choice – and I chose ‘calm’. We created cosy inviting areas, using pink and jade veneer fretwork, with inlaid brass. The result was also very textural, which added a sense of belonging and warmth.
What is your own personal mantra when it comes to any product you design?
BG: I focus on creating pieces that are warm, contemporary, timeless and elegant. I love to use high-quality natural materials, with a focus on craftsmanship – pushing the boundaries where possible.
What are some of your favourite 2017 design trends?
BG: For me, 2017 colours such as pink, jade and teal will continue to be popular, especially in combination with warm metallics. Rich patterns and textures will be combined in a new contemporary decorative style. This is a big move away from the Scandinavian pared-back style we’ve seen dominate over the last few years.
Bethan will be appearing at the OFIS sponsored Design Talks and exhibiting at this year’s INDEX Design Series – taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre, May 22-25, 2017. Register to attend at indexdesignseries.com.
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