The design thinking of Pallavi Dean

The designer shares what inspired her collection of home furnishings.

Having earned the respect, admiration and endless accolades of the Dubai design world, Design Director Pallavi Dean has embarked on her latest design adventure: furnishings designer. Her line, Tension, reflects both her humble, soulful disposition and the spirit of the contemporary design world.

Pallavi Dean

The collection – including the Bell chair, Svagata vertical console, Svagata pouf, Samagree light (positive), Samagree light (negative) and Mezan see-saw – mirrors her own effortlessly graceful, yet complex and incredibly grounded, persona.

“As for the core idea of Tension, it just bubbled to the surface: I’m Indian but I’ve never lived in India; the UAE is home but I’ll never be Emirati; my husband and kids are British, but at Heathrow I have to stand in a separate queue,” she explains. “If you’re a dancer, I guess you’d express these raw emotions through choreography. I’m an architect. I build stuff. Here it is.”

bell chair

And this involves intense personal risk. “It’s] raw, emotional scar-tissue that I’m putting on display. We tend not to reveal our flaws and fault-lines in public here in Dubai – we portray a picture of perfection to the world on Facebook and Instagram. This line blows away the façade and says ‘You know what, it can be really tense growing up here not knowing who you are or where you fit in to the world’. A lot of people can relate to that, especially if they’ve grown up as Gulf expats.”

With a portfolio of stunning projects, this line was a natural extension. “On a basic level, furniture design is something you do every day as an interior designer. We were looking for furniture for the upcoming Delano hotel on Palm Jumeirah, by IFA Hotels & Resorts, and none of the off-the-shelf furniture was really hitting the spot. So we started creating our own.”pallavi deanDean relates her own journey to that of an artist. “It’s utterly self-indulgent. I often compare it to musicians: if you’re writing music for a movie or an advert, you’re selling a service. But if it’s your album, you write whatever the heck you want. Tension is my first album.”

But she still had immense challenges: “Hands down, [my biggest challenge] was finding international partners,” she explains. “Take Stellar Works: they collaborate with rock star designers like David Rockwell – they don’t have to work with rookie product designers like me. Two things helped crack the nut: First, they looked at the calibre of work we’re doing at Pallavi Dean Interiors. Second, there’s a huge appetite from international firms to collaborate with Middle Eastern designers.”

Her collection is an aesthetic marvel. Its sensual materiality and meticulous execution creates a visual narrative that is both timeless yet clearly rooted in the contemporary world.

“Materials do a lot of the heavy lifting in bringing the three-way cultural tension story to life,” explains Dean. “The camel leather and fur is from a tannery in Al Ain. I spent hours there handpicking the right hides. Sheepskin is subtly different, a nod to the British influence. The rose gold accents were carefully chosen: 24-carat yellow gold is a potent symbol in Indian and Arab culture, but it felt too harsh; Rose gold is a hybrid of 75% pure gold, 4% silver and 21% copper. It just felt right.”Pallavi DeanBut the richness of materiality is due to style and substance. “Most of the Indian influence shines through not in the materials so much as the rituals that inspire the furniture,” she says. “Take the Ikant chair: the base of the chair is modelled on the Indian prayer bell, or Ghanta, which makes the ‘OM’ sound that signals the start of meditation.”

But her collection also holds surprises – including a see-saw! ‘It’s the riskiest piece in the collection’, she says. ‘It’s being built by craftsmen in Ajman who, frankly, have never built a see-saw before! They’re hugely talented people whom I’ve known for years – but neither they nor I have ever built a see-saw. And people love it’!

Despite her success she remains humble. “Of course, I hope people like it. If they buy it, even better! But I won’t judge the success of the collection in dollars and cents. The Beatles didn’t write Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band based on the findings of a focus group. I borrowed the same approach with my furniture line. People may like it or hate it but they can never say it’s not authentic.” We can’t wait to hear her next release.