Interview with Christian Merieau, MMAC Design on design that speaks to hoteliers

Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic speaks to Christian Merieau, managing director and partner at MMAC Design, a Dubai-based boutique design firm specialising in hospitality design.

With more than three decades’ of experience in interior design, Christian Merieau relocated to Dubai as managing director for Samuel Creations. After spending nearly 20 years with Samuel Creations and designing projects for brands such as Hyatt, IHG, Millennium, Rosewood, Marriott, Starwood, Forte Hotel Group, and Accor, three years ago he established MMAC Design, a boutique interior design consultancy in Dubai that specialises in hospitality.

“Samuel Paillat, who was the company founder and owner, gave me the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the trade by allowing me to work over the years as a draftsman, an FF&E designer, a site engineer, an interior designer, a project manager and, finally, as director of the Dubai office,” he says.

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Merieau set up his own design company, alongside his former colleague, Anil Mangalat. Soon, several other members of the team joined them.

“The true challenge was not to create the company, but to start by working on a very large project with a very tight deadline, without any equipment or a team to support me. I very quickly got to realise how immensely talented my previous team was. The first month offered very few hours of sleep, but thankfully Anil, who is now my business partner, decided to join me. He also urged me to remain involved in the design process, and offered to carry out some of the administrative duties. This definitely makes me a much-satisfied man today.”

The first year, they kept the cost very low by working out of Merieau’s villa, but as the team rapidly reached 10 people, they decided to move to Dubai Design District (d3).

In the past three years, Merieau and his team developed 40 hotel concepts in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Jordan, including the four-star BarMuda Rotana, five-star Luxury Collection Aqaba, and four-star Mercure Sohar.

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His team is currently working on 16 hotel and restaurant projects in the GCC region and Asia, and has just been appointed as interior designer of a 250.000m² mixed-use project in Saudi Arabia that includes four- and five-star hotels.

STAYING NICHE

When asked if he is limiting the business by staying too niche, Merieau says that he doesn’t plan to expand the scope of work and wants to remain specialised in mid-scale and luxury hospitality design.

“I’m sure that we are missing out on some other projects, but on the other hand, we are a very small team, and we have found that we are far more efficient this way,” he says. “Everybody knows exactly what they are supposed to do. We have processes that are very streamlined, and we are able to deliver our projects with more precision and within a shorter period. It has also helped our team, our suppliers, and our clients to understand who we are and what we can deliver.”

Merieau has found that plenty of clients now prefer to work with smaller design companies, due to the closer relationship they can establish with the design team.

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He continues: “The economic crisis made it easier for us to do business, creating more demand for smaller companies like ours. I don’t think that we are the best or most talented designers, but we have always been very honest about the work we do, and we always deliver. I would say that we are a safe bet.”

Discussing the pros and cons of delivering projects in the Middle East, Merieau says that creative freedom and a strong project pipeline are some of the advantages. However, a reduced number of qualified fit-out contractors, a poor value-engineering procurement culture, and inconsistent project management quality are often struggles his team faces.

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