In a city where taste is contagious, the relationship between art and interior design is fraught with issues of authenticity, originality and, most importantly for the designers themselves, harmony.
Local interior designers are both aestheticians and educators: A lack of knowledge about interior design and all of its components means that clients overseeing the decoration of a new home have a steep learning curve. For many designers, more basic questions of form and function have led to larger, more tangential issues, such as art.
For an interior designer, being called upon to give a crash course in the fundamentals of the art world and the multitude of considerations to address when investing in a piece is a tall order. Many clients have an interest in art, but lack the background to move beyond aesthetic pleasure and into artistic appreciation.
This is where interior designers come in — or don’t.
For Nihal Zaki of Nihal Zaki Interiors, an aversion to paintings forces her to create more inspired interiors.
“I don’t normally incorporate paintings into my interiors. I like installations, sculptures and other art things but don’t like paintings in most circumstances. I gave up on paintings a while ago and started doing my own paint effects and stencilling to add interest to walls. I prefer this type of work that creates an overall tonal and textural effect as opposed to isolated pieces hanging on the wall,” she said.
Zaki relies on her own painting skills to adorn the walls in her interiors project; only rarely would she consider sourcing a painting for a client — and she leaves the art education process up to them.
Dina El-Khachab, managing partner at Eklego Design, also prefers to focus more on the structural and functional aspects of her interiors, but remains enthusiastic about sourcing art for clients and recognizes the need for further education about art in Egypt.
In most of her projects, El-Khachab views art as a finishing touch, unless a client is an art collector and or a specific piece they’d like to work a room around. El-Khachab keeps art in mind from the beginning on a different level: she likes to identify places where art can be integrated into her interiors by creating a bespoke fireplace or turning a wall into a three-dimensional art piece in collaboration with local artists.
As for more traditional art, El-Khachab and her associates tap into a wide network of artists, dealers and galleries to source the perfect pieces for their clients. They regularly visit galleries and even discover new artists through friends or by coincidence. This strategy works well for Eklego’s clientele, who look for a balance between aesthetic, price and value, but are not necessarily ready to invest in a major piece of art.
“We try to help our clients understand the value of art, particularly when they have the resources to invest in valuable pieces, but we focus most of our attention on educating clients about design concepts as there is also a lack of knowledge in this area,” she explained.
“More traditional and established Egyptian artists are very much in demand for interiors, but younger artists need more exposure and the market needs to become more educated about their work, especially when it comes to non-traditional media like collage and photography, which are generally considered to have less value than traditional paintings,” she added.
El-Khachab emphasizes that more public exposure to art will help the growth of the local arts scene, something she considers necessary for the survival of the numerous Cairo galleries selling modern and contemporary works.
Mona Hussein of Mona Hussein Design House could not be more enthusiastic about the privileged role of art in her interior design work.
“Art is extremely important. I usually consider it in parallel with design and dedicate walls and areas for art and sculpture from the very beginning of the process. Art is the focal point of the interior design concept,” she said.
Although she considers art as central and crucial to her designs, Hussein is remarkably open-minded when it comes to her suppliers.
“I source my art from curators and galleries. I always opt for Egyptian artists and materials when possible. What is important is that the client and I fall in love with the piece and that the art is authentic and full of passion, not who the artist is or how much the painting costs,” she explains.
Her eclectic taste, however, often requires translation for clients new to the art and design world.
“Sculptures and painting are the most popular pieces; I have to push clients to consider non-traditional forms such as photography and collage. Educating clients about the value of art is an important part of my work; I want the client to realize that art is important and it is more than just something to be hung on the wall,” she said.
Designer Mona Hussein sees art as the focal point of the design concept (Courtesy of Mona Hussein Design House)