It is only a few days into the new year and the founders of Uni Designs interior design firm, Ayman ElKashty and Hisham Fawzi, are busy scheduling the work they have ahead in the first few months of the year.
Owners of new apartments and villas in the new housing communities form the bulk of those requesting interior designing services; however, as both ElKashty and Fawzi stress, there are also demands from owners of relatively small apartments in the city, as well as those of business spaces.
“It is true that the construction boom of the past few years had meant good business for interior designers with more people investing in having large housing space or simply new housing space, with a wish to get the optimum use of this new space, for living and storing,” ElKashty said.
However, he added, “this is not at all the only reason.” Other reasons include a growing awareness of the need to economise – “with people becoming unable to move into larger apartments due to the economic constraints so they try to improve their use of the space they have and they then decide to resort to the help of designers, at least for consultation if not for a full redecorating and redesigning job.”
He also suggested that the growing interest of business owners in having “modern offices fit for new working styles, and the increasing number of chain stores whose owners wish to have unified designs for their branches” have contributed to the expanding demand for interior designers.
According to Fawzi, since Uni Designs was first established back in 1988 there has been “a growing awareness and a growing interest in interior designing issues.”
Over the past several decades, he argues, there has been a considerable increase in the attention dedicated to decoration in Egyptian magazines and the press, and with the advent of the age of the internet this interest and attention has increased rapidly.
“In parallel or maybe consequently there have been many exhibitions that are dedicated to decoration, furniture, materials used in home and office décor and so on,” ElKashty said. Then, he added, there came the new home décor styles that prompted an end to the long dominating fascination of the broadest segment of the Egyptian market with the classic style, with all its variations.
“During the past decade or maybe two decades there have been furniture lines in Egypt that are so liberated from what used to be the ‘must have’ items in the house of a newly married couple,” ElKashty said.
“Of course, the opening of a big branch of one of the largest European modern, and generally affordable, furniture stores has had its imprint on changing tastes.”
According to ElKashty, the embrace of new style of furniture allowed for new concepts of interior space management “and at that point came the need for at least the consultation of a professional designer.”
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“Of course it is a gradual build-up and of course it is not something that most people could afford but still there is a growing trend, and even those who cannot afford the designers’ charges tend to consult with online services or consider the ideas offered by home décor magazines or TV programmes,” ElKashty said.
“There are so many ways and so many angles of looking at the matter, but in the end there is, in general, more demand.”
There has also been a parallel increase in professional landscaping, Fawzi says.
Fawzi acknowledged that landscaping is generally a more constrained function, given that it is about relatively large houses with gardens and perhaps swimming pools, or big office spaces with gardens.
“But when one looks at the large and expanding new communities to the west and east of Greater Cairo, one finds large housing spaces that require the services of landscapers,” he said.
The influence of the construction boom is felt here also, ElKashty said, despite the ups and downs that come with the decline in the Egyptian pound; the return of Egyptians working overseas with the money to buy property has also has an impact.
And while a decorator’s job is sometimes hampered by the increase in prices of some of raw materials, ElKashty said, the introduction of new local products has given Egyptian designers some very decent alternatives.
“A good, well-trained designer can suit his clients’ demands and tastes with either a comfortable or a barely constrained budget, and during the past few years Egypt has developed a really good base of talented and very well-trained designers,” he said.
According to Fawzi and ElKashty, the job of the “good” designers should not stop at the doorstep of their clients’ houses or offices.
“The promotion of beauty and of smart solutions is the core of a designer’s job and this is why we think that it is part of our responsibility to help promote the cause of beauty at the grassroots level,” ElKashty said.
During the past few years, Fawzi and ElKashty have opted to do “community service” by reaching out to some of the more economically challenged neighbourhoods to help children and young men and women acquire some ideas and even some material to introduce beauty into their houses, schools and streets.
“Nobody should ever think that art and beauty is only for those who have the financial means; art and beauty is for everyone,” ElKashty said.
The two decorators also have much sadness to share over the declining aesthetic qualities of so many buildings and even entire neighbourhoods, either due to the loss of artistic constructions or to the congested building patterns.
Still, they think that beyond the sadness there lies the responsibility of those who know, themselves included, to promote the spirit and imprint of art – even if at a very small scale.
It is not an impossible job, they say, for cities and villages of Egypt to acquire – or regain – a touch of art, but it takes the sincere and sustained commitment of those who can help.