British interior architect Emma Stinson is the creative force behind Dubai-based Studio EM, which she co-founded back in 2011 with her husband Kristian who manages the business operations. In the past five years, the studio has gone from their spare room to now being this year’s Boutique Design Firm of the Year at the CID Awards. As the creative director, Emma oversaw more than 150 projects within this time, ranging from large-scale retail projects such as Candylicious store in the Dubai Mall to food and beverage outlets for clients like Five Guys and Wagamama.
Commercial Interior Design talks to them about the challenges of breaking into the interior design market, running the business together and why they decided to keep it small and within the family.
“It all started with just the two of us working back to back in a two by two-metre room in our house. We had just got married, and both finished our previous jobs and didn’t want to go and work for another company. It was something we were always talking about, and Kristian is great with sales, clients and getting the projects,” says Emma, admitting that in the beginning both of them were questioning whether they had made the right decision.
“We established our studio in the heart of the recession and had to build it up from nothing. It started with a lot of hard and often free work with people wasting our time and clients taking a chance on us. But that pushed us even more,” she admits.
Luckily, they worked with several clients who believed in Emma’s design talent and expertise and these projects eventually opened the doors to bigger clients.
“I never wanted to have a big company,” she says. “My dream was to keep it small and do projects I love and believe in. As a boutique studio, we are able to have a more personal relationship with our clients and they know that the person they meet for the first time will be working on their project from start to finish.”
Kristian adds that the studio takes only three projects at each stage (concept, detail and on site) so that the design team can manage it.
“We are now a team of seven, including Emma’s sister who is also interior designer. From the first day, we made a deal that I will handle everything except the design and that worked for us,” says Kristian.
“We’ve built a good portfolio of work because we hire exceptional designers and give them enough time to work on each project. We are fully in control of an entire design process. When we design something, we want to see it being built. We don’t want to see someone’s version of it since the team puts so much work into the concepts.”
Despite the competitive market, the entire team prides itself on refusing to do free pitches to win work.