After starting out on the Cannes interior design circuit, Prospect Design International’s Managing Director, Fady Chams set up the second branch of the boutique design firm in Dubai in 2005. The firm’s work has been ogled by the eyes of the jet set, with a portfolio that includes the VIP Room in Saint Tropez, to world-famous Movida and Maddox in London, to the iconic art deco Sass Café in Monaco. Closer to home, Prospect left their mark on Beirut’s La Plage beach and Palais nightclub. Though the firm has worked on high-end projects from Casa Blanca to Kazakhstan, the Middle East’s highly hospitable climate remains the focus for their well-secured niche within the interior furnishings market.
How did you become a high-profile interior design company so quickly, designing interiors of exclusive high-end clubs and restaurants in Monaco, London, France, and the like?
My brother Sami, after having worked with Ralph Lauren Interiors and many other brands in the south of France, set up Prospect Design in Cannes in 1996. Several friends asked him to design restaurant interiors, which became very successful, and we became specialists in that domain of hospitality design. We were thinking to open Prospect Design in Beirut but security and investment-related factors didn’t allow us to do that.
Do you position yourself as designers in the luxury segment?
Not necessarily. We do high-end and we can provide a mid-end French classical Provence house, which is rich in natural materials, [such as] French antique wood, without having necessarily the highest technology and the expensive marble and so on.
Wasn’t Palais the biggest budget project in hospitality at the time?
No, not at all. To tell you, it was approximately half a million dollars, which is acceptable when you consider they already had the services, electrical, mechanical, air conditioning and so on. There is big competition in Beirut, especially for [design in] hospitality. Now, we have a lot of private clients for residences… and hope to design a boutique hotel but that is all related to the political and security situation.
When you compare the market for luxury hospitality design in Beirut with the regional market, do you see major differences?
In Beirut there are no limits compared to the rest of the Middle East. You can open a restaurant and club wherever you want and you are allowed to sell alcohol and open from very early until very late. In Dubai, [if you are a restaurant that sells alcohol] you have to be in a hotel, which affects our design.
What makes it so demanding to work on a luxury restaurant?
You cannot just design a very nice restaurant [based purely on aesthetics]. When it comes to operations you have a lot of problems with the lighting, the seating or the circulation around the tables. Also, going for a contemporary style or a classical style will definitely last much longer than something futuristic with a lot of LED lighting and changing colors.
Did the economic downturn impact your business?
Yes and no. Back in 2008, some clients started to freeze their spending. But we do not have a lot of overhead… Before the crisis in Dubai, we were approached by maybe 20 people a week; 90 percent of them were…wasting our time. Now, if we get approached by four clients, three of them are very serious and have the funds.
What was the most expensive project you ever worked on?
There were some private residences… that included an indoor swimming pool, a nightclub, a basement tennis court, you name it. In hospitality, it is a business with projections and a feasibility study and goals to meet. They don’t care if I put a gold-plated part in the ceiling or something that looks like a gold-plated part. But the private client would want gold-plated.
How did your strategy develop to combine luxury items with mid-range items in your designs of hospitality spaces?
It comes naturally since in most projects no one has an open budget; we are therefore quite skilled in mixing-and-matching a very expensive sofa with a less expensive table and a chandelier that is not a Swarovski one…to create a unique design. If you want a wall covering, I can find you five similar coverings at very different prices.