A new shisha lounge, Nar, opens in City Walk and showcases local firm Brand Creative’s raw talent
When a good partnership happens that allows creativity to breath, while also seeing business ends tied up, you don’t let it slip away. And that seems to describe the underlying relationship between local design firm Brand Creative and business ally Al Khayat Investments.
The two previously worked on the award winning design for Mall of the Emirates’ Bin Sina Pharmacy and Fournil de Pierre, and now the team has completed Nar, a hip new shisha lounge in the heart of City Walk.
While Brand Creative is at first a design firm, it also delivers complete branding services, which seems to attract AKI time and time again. When the business company decided to launch a new shisha lounge and restaurant, it turned to Brand Creative with a brief that called for an environment where young professionals and the general local population would feel at ease. AKI also requested the entire branding of what would ultimately become Nar.
“We actually were commissioned to do the entire branding from scratch,” explains Carla Conte, creative director, Brand Creative. “So that meant coming up with the name, plus the logo, packaging, staff uniforms, place mats, menus, and of course, the interior design.”
She added: “So when it comes to the branding work itself, we obviously have Arabic speaking people in the office and we wanted something easy for English and Arabic speaking people, as well as something catchy. The word ‘Nar’ means fire or hot, and it can be used in a number of contexts, from calling someone [attractive] to calling someone over to add coal to the shisha pipe.
The owners liked that because it meant a lot of things, so that was the reasoning behind it—the ease of it and the coolness. [AKI] instantly fell in love with it.”
With a brand identity that speaks to younger consumers, Nar’s interior design required a trendy vibe that could at once combine the Middle Eastern social tradition of shisha with modern and contemporary design. In bringing the two elements together, Brand Creative delivered a special environment complete with graphic imagery, colourful geometric patterns and customised design features.
According to Conte, once the team had the name and identity set for Nar, the interior came together with fire, smoke and heat being core aspects of the interior.
Upon walking into the shisha lounge and restaurant, guests are greeted with a number of private and public dining areas that range from shisha to shisha-free zones.
The dining area that’s immediately accessible through the main entrance can accommodate up to 70 guests and consists of fire pits, majlis sections and traditional seating.
Brand Creative wanted to create a place that was relaxing while at the same time honoured traditional Middle Eastern culture and dining. The majlis areas are situated in intimate corners of the restaurant, where graphic imagery of Arab icons known throughout the region animate the walls and adds a touch of regional pop culture to the space.
Conte notes that the wall imagery “honours the Arab culture itself,” while still bringing, “a different edge to these people.”
She adds: “We gave a selection of icons to the owners; [It was] a list of different celebrities, basically people who had different significance in the Arab world. We wanted to pick the coolest, I guess, [and provide] a representation of the Arab celebrities of the past—and not just celebrities, but people of importance, like singers politicians and writers.
“It’s a celebration of these people; it’s not an exploitation of them in any way. We thought they were cool and important and we wanted to make them the forefront of the design.”
Completed by Brand Creative’s star artist Hicham El Yagoubi, the icons applied throughout the interior include Omar Sherif, Fayrouz, Oum Kalthoum, Asmahan, Ibn Duraid, Rushdy Abaza and Yasser Arafat.
Separating the main dining area is a traditionally shaped arch that borders a transparent glass doorway. When closed, the handles on the two glass doors display the shape of an arguileh (waterpipe), which is an unexpected and playful touch that maintains an innocent connection to the interior theme and concept.
Through the glass doorway, guests are invited into a smaller dining area that can accommodate 65 guests. The colourful seating and graphic imagery continues throughout this space, in which other design features take centre stage. These elements include the customised bar and the single black column meant to represent the coal holder on top of an arguileh.
The bar starts low on the left side before gradually rising toward the right and eventually twisting into an upward spiral. Intended to reflect the shape of exhaled smoke, large silver ringlets extend from the ceiling behind the spiral tip.
The facade of the bar also displays an ombre transition from black to gold. Conte explains: “The bar is basically to bring a little bit of a gold aspect to the Arab brand itself. So we took [the inspiration] from burning coal and it gradated into a sparkling gold at the top.
“And that’s not about fire—that’s more about coal and when it’s lit how it has that sparkling effect. It was all hand-done by an artist that was commissioned by the client.”
In addition to the bar, another stand-out feature is the single indoor column which evokes the shape of the waterpipe’s coal holder and whose stark blackness contrasts to the space’s vibrant use of colour. When combined with the many fire pits within the restaurant, one gets the impression of nights spent in remote Bedouin gatherings.
The second dining area which contains the bar and column is a non-shisha zone in the restaurant and further consists of multi-coloured privacy screens that display geometric patterns in line with the design printed on the textiles.
Conte says: “The geometric patterns totally vary. And what we didn’t want to do was use traditional geometric patterns. If you look at the screens—they are just geometric, but they’re combined in such a way that it gives that appearance that they’re mashribiya, but they’re actually not. There’s not one Islamic pattern and it’s intentional.
“It’s something from the West, but with an Arab flair without being too literal. We took a normal pattern—geometric patterns that you would find now in graphic design—and made them seem like mashribiya.”
Throughout Nar, the separate dining areas and stand-out focal elements might sound like the space isn’t united, when in fact the interior is pulled together quite well by the graphic imagery, colours and as lighting fixtures found throughout.
The clustered lighting trend comes to life in Nar, contributing to the Bedouin feel and traditional shisha ambiance. And to provide a contemporary twist, the subtle lighting fixtures are sourced from internationally acclaimed brands like Tom Dixon and Fabbian.
Brand Creative and AKI have plans to continue their blossoming work relationship. With Nar completed and open to visitors, we look forward to a fitness retail concept that is currently in the works.