CID Interior Designer of the Year, Maliha Nishat, talks about balancing the family and work she loves and why designers should never try to be trendy with their designs
The role of a designer is not to take the safe or predictable option. It is imperative to sometimes challenge and redefine a project, to explore possibilities and open our minds. For Maliha Nishat, associate design director at DWP and CID Interior Designer of the Year Award winner, this approach sums up her professional career. Today, after 15 years in the interior design industry and still with the same passion for design, Nishat proves some women can, in fact, do it all.
After abandoning her childish dream to become a pilot and obtaining her degree in Interior Architecture at The American University in Dubai in 2000, Nishat soon relocated to Melbourne and very quickly grew to specialise in food and beverage outlet design. She worked for HBA in Australia and Hong Kong where she built up a diverse portfolio of work in hospitality design. From there, she moved back to Dubai where her passion for design is matched by her current leadership role at DWP. The Doubletree by Hilton at Bay Square, The W hotel residences and the luxurious One Zabeel Residences are just some of the projects Nishat has been recently working on – during her office hours and late at night when she puts her two-year-old son Zayden to bed. That is the time, says she when inspiration usually knocks on her door.
“Let’s put modesty aside for just a second. I really enjoy when people say, ‘I don’t know how she does it’… so I literally do try to do it all. I love the feeling of accomplishment on a daily basis. I do not compromise on time with my son, but I do spend a lot of time working and I enjoy it. I never felt I had too much on my plate. The day I do, I will slow down, but for now it’s exhilarating. Being a mom, being a designer and being good at what you do is a blessing,” explains Nishat.
Her parents are both talented artists, who also encouraged her to chase her passion for design. As she remembers, from a very young age, her artwork was always on display.
“I love creating and displaying so design felt like a natural path. When I moved to Melbourne, HBA had just opened its office and I was the second person on the payroll. At the time, HBA Melbourne had a boutique F&B specialty offering. It didn’t take long for small F&B projects to expand into full-fledged hotels and multi-use developments. I started doing more and more hotels and I developed a real love for hospitality design. I worked on some of the most amazing projects, mostly in Hong Kong, Macau and China, where the clients always wanted something better. It was definitely a challenge, but I soon realised I didn’t need to always outdo myself. When clients appreciate your previous work and ask for something better, what they are really saying is they like your style and want something different. This was great because it helped me think outside the box and develop elaborate stories that were told through interiors.
Although very different culturally, I find Dubai quite similar in its approach to design – bigger, better and wow.”
Nishat says that she was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to have great mentors that guided her along the way.
After moving to Dubai, the designer says it didn’t take her long to fall right into place with DWP.
“The people are lovely and a the company spends a lot of time looking for the right candidates who will not only bring their exceptional talent but also fit in well into the culture of the team. DWP’s lifestyle projects are amazing too with some of the best hospitality brands being part of the portfolio. The work I am doing right now, in this very short period of time, has led to me winning the CID award. The award doesn’t by any means represent a one-man show. It represents the tremendous pool of talent that DWP has from management, the designers, the 3D visualisers and technicians who all work together as a well-oiled machine to generate some exceptional work.”
Nishat and her team worked together on the DoubleTree by Hilton at Bay Square development in Business Bay district, which is one her favourite DWP projects. The 238-guestroom hotel, developed and managed by Dubai Properties, will cater to business and leisure travelers while providing further F&B, retail and leisure facilities to residents.
“The thing I most enjoyed about this project was pushing the boundaries of the brand and creating a truly unique, young and stylish hotel. Both client and operator love what we’ve done and the design process felt effortless.”
Besides her current designs at DWP, the Sheraton Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka is one of the projects she enjoyed working on the most.
“It is currently under construction and I can’t wait for it to open its doors. The process of working with the client and operator on that project was flawless and Starwood is a great group to work with in general. This project started as designing a small rooftop bar that overlooked the city and the ocean. It was a great venue with an indoor and an outdoor terrace and the clients see the space pulling in a lot of Colombo’s young and trendy crowd. The client loved the proposal and asked us to redesign the remaining F&B areas, then the rooms and, before we knew it, we redesigned the entire hotel. The Sheraton hotel needed to appeal to the young Sri Lankan and global travelers alike, so the design is simple, elegant and in my opinion timeless, yet it has a certain freshness that could be classified as trendy – even 10 years down the line.”
As Nishat focuses on various hospitality projects, she advises that designers shouldn’t jump on board a trend, because trends come and go.
“Why design something on trend knowing that trend will live the span of its life by the time a venue opens, making the space look dated before the doors even open. People need to visit the venue today, five or 10 years later and still feel like it’s a brand new venue with an edgy vibe. I often draw my inspiration from nature. No one ever seems to get bored of being in nature.
Smart technologies undoubtedly add to luxury, but Nishat believes human interaction will never go away. “I think there has recently been a huge shift in technology with hotels, but I think you can only take technology so far before it starts getting silly. Hotels need to be simple, friendly, human scale and comfortable.
“A hotel needs to exude the comfort that people would find in their own home, only much more so. I would love to see the evolution of technology in hotel rooms, but keeping things simple with ease of use in mind. People should never walk into a hotel and feel overwhelmed not knowing which switch to use and where to put the card… if there even is a card. From being greeted at the door to climbing into bed, the end user needs to feel important and comfortable, and just know what to do,” concludes Nishat.
How does it feel to be CID’s Interior Designer of the Year 2015?
I’m over the moon! To be nominated in such a talent pool of great designers was an honor itself, but to win the award was very special. A recognition like this is extremely motivating and rewarding. It’s a proud moment to be able to represent DWP in the short period of time I’ve been part of the team.
What do you think it was that the judges saw in your designs?
It is hard to say, but perhaps they saw a newness and difference in style and approach. Like every designer over time, I have developed my own identity in design. It was probably the 15 years of exposure to design from all over the world that helped develop my style and approach. Perhaps they saw and appreciated the freshness.