“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. I’m particularly drawn to the graphic nature of Islamic art and craft”.
Bethan Gray, winner of the prestigious “Best British Designer” award, has an extraordinary background. Her family hails from an ancient Rajasthani clan that over centuries migrated across Arabia and Persia before settling in the Celtic heartland of Wales. It’s a journey and heritage that weaves a rich pattern of influences and inspirations, which draw on craft traditions of both East and West. To this Bethan adds an innate ability to translate and transform a variety of cultural references into iconic contemporary pieces.
Her work has been exhibited in New York, Paris, Milan, London and Dubai, and her own boutique collections are available globally from leading retailers such as Harrods, Liberty, Le Bon Marche and Lane Crawford.
Having taught at Central Saint Martins, she continues to value the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent. Bethan works extensively in the Middle East, in particular on supporting the revival of traditional Islamic Art and Craft through Turquoise Mountain, a charity founded by HRH Prince Charles, as well as by direct collaboration with master craftsmen on exquisite commissions and collections.
Bethan will be both 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
How excited are you to be making your debut appearance at INDEX?
I’m really thrilled! I love the excitement of trade fairs, and am particularly intrigued by this year’s INDEX. It’s going to be fascinating to see for the first time all that is on offer across the show, as well as experience the fully-immersive features – I’m intrigued! We’ll be having elements from our Shamsian Collection on display both in the VIP Oasis, which was designed by our close partners Harrods Interiors, as well as on our stand in the Luxury Pavilion. I can’t wait to hear the feedback. It’s going to be a busy show!
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?
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’ve 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 inlayed brass. The result was also very textural, which added a sense of belonging and warmth. Finally wave music was added to really promote a sense of balance and harmony. It’s been very effective.
What is your own personal mantra when it comes to any product you design?
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.
As a first time visitor to INDEX, where we have more than 800 furniture and product exhibitors, what kind of items on show do you think will really pique your interest?
I’ve been working closely with master craftsmen from the GCC for many years now, from founding the Ruby Tree with Islamic Arts and Crafts Scholar M Abdul Karim Crites to working with renowned Iranian artist Mohamed Reza Shamsian in Oman. I’m really looking forward to seeing other elements of master craftsmen’s work on show that I may not have come across before.
What are some of your favourite 2017 design trends?
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.
The pieces you create have “a rich pattern of influences and inspirations, which draw on craft traditions of both East and West”, 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? What is your secret to combining the two in a way that seems so natural and organic?
In my work, I 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 ancestor’s journeys that influence and inspire me to look for these similarities.
At the heart of my design process is cultural referencing – through my travels and research I’m inspired to create original contemporary pieces that resonate with global, as well as local, audiences.
Where, for you, does the balance lie between style and functionality in both design and interiors?
For me, design itself is about finding the right balance. I like to create an atmosphere that is inclusive and comfortable, featuring symmetry, making it easy on the eye and helping balance the senses. It’s important to me though that this balance is carried through in terms of usage and practicality of the interiors, and with pragmatism and functionality important in the design of the pieces
What can you tell us about your latest range?
My latest range is the Shamsian Collection, created in collaboration with Mohamed 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 sixteenth century, on Italian stained birds-eye 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 detailing on the Dhow takes inspiration from the sails of the regional sailing boats.
Why INDEX Design Series 2017?
The 2017 INDEX Design Series will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre between May 22nd and 25th. Last year, the show – which is organised by dmg events and runs alongside Workspace and Middle East Stone and Middle East Covering – attracted more than 34,000 designers, retailers and high net-worth individuals from over 100 countries.
INDEX specializes in bringing trade and consumer customers together with leading suppliers of interior products from across the globe, acting as the bridge between manufacturer and procurer for fit-out and furnishing projects across the UAE and GCC. It offers design professionals from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia the opportunity to be part of the most extensive sourcing platform of interior focused retailers and wholesalers anywhere in the region.
Speakers including Henry Holland, Bethan Gray and Jo Hamilton will feature at our OFIS sponsored Design Talks, which will offer insight into all elements of design and the business behind it.
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