14 Star Designers Transform Townhouses in Doha for a New Cultural Club
India Mahdavi, Rossana Orlandi, Daniel Arsham, and Donna Karan were tapped to craft the interiors for the Qatari capital’s new Culture Pass Club
The latest addition to the rapidly evolving cultural landscape in Doha, Qatar is Culture Pass Club, a private membership-based community in the Qatari capital’s posh Msheireb Downtown district. Besides offering high-tier membership to Qatar Museums as well as access to a scent garden and programming of panels, workshops and exhibitions, the initiative’s true jewel is access to fourteen townhouses designed by an international roster of designers. Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Daniel Arsham, Armani/Casa, India Mahdavi, Christ Wolston of The Future Perfect, Aisha Al-Sowaidi and Rossana Orlandi are among the decorators of the houses that circle a large courtyard. Traditionally called majlis in the Arab culture, these indoor or outdoor spaces are populated by men and women who typically gather separately to converse, drink tea, and relax.
When Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani and American design critic and editor Whitney Robinson embarked on the project in November 2019, they gave each creative the direct prompt to design their fantasy home in Doha. After fifteen years working in editorial positions at various publications, including a recent editor in chief role at Elle Decor, Robinson, who recently founded the New York-based hospitality and design firm NW Northstar , is well aware of the joy that the designers find in being unrestrained by the demands of a typical commission. “I’ve always been interested in discovering designers’ personal spaces and choices they make for their own homes when they can fully let their flags fly,” he tells Galerie. “I started the concept as a magazine headline and asked myself how the project would resonate once unveiled,” he says.
The responses, unsurprisingly, have been diverse, each tapping into its creator’s signature visual traits while signaling experimentation and whimsy. The membership program allows the patrons to work and socialize while enjoying an eclectic mix of styles and engaging with the best in contemporary design. Each townhouse is available for daily or short term occupation, giving members the chance to fully immerse in the space.
Paris design powerhouse India Mahdavi is among those who deeply internalized the assignment of designing a dream house, so much so that much like decorating her own home, she is still in the process of finalizing the space. “I am excited to activate the whole interior gradually like my real house and furnish it to reflect my Iranian heritage,” she tells Galerie. The grand floor house manifests this attempt with a mesmerizing handprinted silk-based “haute couture” wallpaper by the British company DeGournay. Dressed in a wash of imagery inspired by the miniature fables of the 16th-century Persian artist Reza Abbasi, the wallpaper is accompanied by her lush upholstered furniture. In the back, another statement wallpaper stands out with its abstract patterns, which Mahdavi considers as an homage to the 1970s aesthetic trends in the West. “This pairing of the East and the West as well as figuration and minimalism reflects my own story,” she adds.
Robinson believes now is the perfect time to enliven our surroundings and go for bolder palettes. “There is a reason white is the most popular color in interior design, but the pandemic has shown us that range and expression are crucial,” he says.
For Medellín and New York-based designer Chris Wolston, the platform was a way to delve into the history of his foremost material—rattan—in the Gulf region. “From the beginning I was interested in using the townhouse as a platform for cross-cultural storytelling,” he says. Wolston was initially interested in creating his signature Nalgonas chairs, which mirror the human form with their embracing arms stemming from their backs, with local wicker artisans. Upon discovering Doha’s many local craft practices, including wicker, are imported from other countries, especially India, he changed his plan. “This amalgamation of materials and cultural techniques is embedded in Qatar’s history as a remnant of Bedouin culture,” he says. The interior’s ample scale prompted Wolston to orchestrate what he calls “a visceral experience where one walks away with a deepened physical perception of materiality, scale, and craft.” He even set up a wicker studio inside the ground floor with the materials used in his hugging chairs. (it is also the subject of a documentary film, “Nalgonas,” which he recently shot with David Sierra about wicker’s history particularly in Colombia.)
Doha-based designer Aisha Al Sowaidi has interpreted the promise of a majlis as a site of pacing down to orchestrate a warm environment adorned with a low seating arrangement in alpacas wool, walnut coffee table, and brass architectural accents. “I was inspired to contemplate how life was and how culture, traditions, lifestyle, and artifacts could have been developed if given a slower pace through time,” Al Sowaidi says. The warmth she captures in hue and texture suggests a getaway from the hectic urban muddle in the middle of the city and offers a muted atmosphere. As an Arab designer, Al Sowaidi challenges the notion of maximalism associated with traditional architecture in the region.
A few weeks have passed since Culture Pass Club was unveiled during the city’s Qatar Creates programming in November, but the expansion is already on its way. Her Excellency and Robinson are planning an interior installation during the next Venice Film Festival where Doha Film Institute will participate with screenings. “The presentation will be a smaller and more intimate lounge experiment to explain our interest in curated design spaces and living experiences,” he says.
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