Interview with Helen El Mettouri: Keeping it candid

Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic speaks to Helen El Mettouri, regional director at Keane, about the importance of being recognised not only for award-winning designs but projects that work operationally and commercially. 

Interior design carries the responsibility of creating environments that can welcome, inspire and captivate everyone who walks in. In short, this is an ethos that emanates throughout all of Keane’s designs delivered by its teams in London, Dubai and Singapore.

Recently, we caught up with Helen El Mettouri, its regional director in Dubai, to learn more about the company’s latest hospitality projects, including Aji restaurant on the Palm Jumeirah and Gold on 27 in Burj Al Arab.

“We recently completed Besh Turkish Kitchen in Sheraton Mall of Emirates, Gold on 27 in Burj Al Arab, Aji at Club Vista Mare on the Palm, Pret a Manger, Hudson’s Coffee and Wolfgang Puck at the Changi International Airport in Singapore.

“We are currently working on a great mix of projects including several F&B outlets in the W Dubai – The Palm, Tiger Beer Bar in Changi International Airport and creating the design platform for the world’s first Jelly Belly ice cream stores,” says El Mettouri.

Working with Keane in the UK since 2002 and for more than a decade in the region, we were curious to hear her thoughts on everyday challenges of managing the local team of designers, which is known for its quirky, hip and cool concepts. But, we also asked her to share her views on design and the industry in general.

“We have too much of everyone else’s ideas and concepts in the region, and we genuinely want to start creating concepts here that belong here, start here, and represent here. Every great food and beverage market globally has the range, and that is what we lack. Too many high-end hotel style restaurants and the usual mall-based suspects, and not enough fast and quirky mad things. The spontaneous combustion of a mad F&B idea coming to market almost by accident. That’s what we lack, and it is a culture that allows this, that is a big issue.”

She, however, feels that Dubai provides a great opportunity for those who work hard at it and produce great work. She says: “At Keane we strive to be commercially creative, meaning we want to be recognised not only for an award-winning design but associated with projects that work operationally and commercially.”

El Mettouri didn’t pursue an education in interior design but business and marketing, working the entire way through her education in the food and beverage industry.

“It is all I have ever known, and when joining Keane one year after I graduated, I was exposed to branding, concept development and interior design purely in the F&B arena. It was a huge baptism of fire, and in line with the company’s vision you just keep pushing yourself to be more and do more and get to the next level.”

Although she is not a designer by trade and doesn’t produce designs herself, El Mettouri understands it. From a design point of view, she describes her role in the company as being “an internal client filter”, making sure that all designs that Keane produces are to the brief and within the budget.

“I can articulate a design package and most importantly a design brief. It’s been quite a stint of ‘on the job immersion’ that it now just becomes instinctive, you know what a brief needs to deliver for all stakeholders and who the end user is going to be.

“I know whether our response to a design brief will hit the spot, or not,” she says.

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