Inside The Mind Of Stuart Allen by Love That Design
Stuart Allen of AAID has lived a full life with no regrets – he toured in a band, worked on a ranch in Texas, and hobnobbed with A-listers in his design career. This designer slash architectural engineer has travelled the world extensively, loves to cook, and is brimming with intriguing and inspiring stories. So we decided to spend a morning in his beautiful Dubai home, being happily regaled.
My childhood was spent in Kent, Southeast of London, and in my teenage years, the family relocated to Texas, as my father was in the oil business. At a very young age, I was exposed to a completely different environment. After school, I still needed to sow my oats, see the world and have fun. I moved to Brighton to study art, went back to Texas and joined a band, toured, made some records, and then started working on a ranch in Texas. I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I always had a love of art and design.
I finally enrolled in a university to study Engineering Technology because I liked Mathematics. And eventually, combining this with my love of art, it was clear that architecture was the way to go. I went to the University of Texas to study Architecture and Architectural engineering, because I wanted to know how buildings stood up, and learn about the structural aspect. During that whole time, I was also working at an architectural practice doing commercial interiors.
The turning point in his design career
‘Why am I still in Texas?’ was the question that set the ball rolling. I moved to New York, lived in my sister’s house for a couple of months, and found a job with an architectural firm. That was the turning point in my career. It opened my eyes to what was out there and what could be done. The possibilities were endless.
In New York, I worked for Stephen Miller Siegel Architects for several years – he was my mentor. All the things that I hold special and apply in our practice today, I learnt from him. In this job, I got to travel the world designing high end, residential projects, selecting materials and being incredibly inspired. My first, true retail project was Escada’s 17,000 square foot flagship store on Fifth Avenue. I then moved to a branding company where I worked with celeb names, such as the Lauders, Ivanka Trump, and Jay Z. What followed was an extensive interior design project on a 17,000 square foot, classical Georgian house in Ireland, handling the interiors from start to finish, including furnishing it with art, linen and silverware. The project lasted three years, and allowed me further opportunities to travel the world, visiting auction houses and gaining valuable experience.
From the Big Apple to Dubai
In 2008, when the global downturn hit, I was living near Wall Street and actually saw people walking around with boxes, not knowing where to go. A few days later, I too was made redundant. I freelanced for a while, working on a boutique hotel in Puerto Rico, and then decided to visit one of my sisters in London. She was employed as an architect with Artillery who, ironically, offered me a job too, and on my third day there, asked if I would like to go to Dubai. They had just opened an office here and needed someone to take over. The idea was to stabilise the company over three months, and see what happens next. Eight years later, here I am…
In 2015, I purchased the company, (my sister manages the London division), and we rebranded it Allen Architecture Interiors Design (AAID).
AAID is about a bespoke, personable, not ‘one size fits all’, approach. We like to really get to know our clients and make them part of the design team, which is not always efficient, nor cost effective, but the quality of work is very good. We go above and beyond to provide the best possible result, and normally exceed expectations.
On working in the UAE
As designers we spend more time in the office than we do in our home. And in the UAE, people have left their country to come and work here. So I have created a family environment in our office with a definite lifestyle element, one that people can call home.
Also, as we all know, Dubai is a village, and everyone knows everyone in this industry. It is a fast-paced environment, and you are only as good as your last project. Networking is key, and I have enjoyed developing relationships, both professional and personal. As a firm we are transparent and fair. We like working with the talent pool that Dubai offers, and as the business grows, we greatly appreciate the continued support of our supply chain and contractors. This also extends to the project managers that often recommend our services, and introduced us to our client base. We are known in the marketplace for our reputation, and for what we do. And the region has been very good to us.
If not a designer, what would you be?
A cook – I absolutely love cooking. It’s the most therapeutic thing, and the only time when I completely switch off from work. And for me, it’s all about cooking for people. I like hosting, setting the table, the whole pomp and circumstance. Also, I’m fearless at it – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Best advice you have ever received
I have been told that I am very closed up in terms of my personality. And my father-in-law once asked me to ‘adjust my flaps and get off the ground a little’. When I heard this, I laughed, but it was probably the best advice I have had in my life… to be more approachable. He said, ‘the more you expand your horizons on who you meet and what you do, the more the world will open up to you’. And he was 100 percent right.
If you could design one thing without constraints
It would be a place of worship – a synagogue, church, mosque, anything. Because the boundaries in terms of design are limitless. Nothing is predefined and there’s no precedent to what you can do. If you look at temples through time, they are all about spirituality and acknowledging the presence of a higher being. And they are all very, very different, plus groundbreaking in terms of the technology of that time. Another project that I would love to design would be a museum because you are creating an experience for people, and design , for me, is all about creating that experience.
Personal design style
Your client is your end user, and you are designing for them, so they determine the style. If someone wants something more traditional or detail oriented, then you cater to that. What I find is that you can put your own impact on that design by how you put the materials together, your attention to detail, how you create the functionality, and eventually the experience of a space.
Advice to newbies
Always have an opinion. That does not mean that you are always right, but everyone should think for themselves, and always have something to say. And my most repeated phrase would be, ‘if there is a problem, make it an opportunity’. If you make a mistake, learn from it. If there is a delay in a project, use that opportunity to make something even better.
The design industry five years from now
The pressing question on everyone’s mind is, ‘What’s happening after 2020?’ We know that big hoteliers are coming over, and there are some mandates about more residential work, but I don’t know what that means. Dubai has an extremely high cost of living. And property prices need to go down to possibly attract more buyers. However, what we do know is that it is foolish to rely on one area or sector. So we are opening our boundaries and taking on more work from other regions, some local and some afar.
In this industry, you have to love what you do, because if you don’t, you’re not going to enjoy it, and you’re never going to be good at it.