Northern lights

When Ellen Bishop came to Dubai nearly 10 years ago she stepped off the plane, having left the freezing dark weather in Norway, to look for challenging interior design projects, which she heard were all the rage in the Middle East.

Her brother, who works in finance, played a big part in her decision to move to the UAE because he was and still is established here.

It was after Bishop visited him for Christmas in 2002 that she returned to Norway, sold everything she owned and moved back to the country, all within a period of nine days.

As a graduate of interior design at IDS (Technical Institute for Interior Design) in Oslo, she spent time during her studies designing kitchens for the Scandinavian furniture chain IKEA .

She admits she found her passion late in life, after taking a Bachelors degree in business development and marketing. But has since found both degrees to be useful and got her first job in the region at Presotto Middle East (an Italian furniture manufacturer) in the interior design division.

At that time, Presotto was still growing, with only five to six employees so Bishop was thrown into a challenging environment, which proved to be a solid learning curve, working on everything from sales, project management, site coordination to marketing and finance.

She remembers taking her toothbrush to work and sleeping overnight in the showroom and credits her mentor Rami Kadri, managing partner, Presotto, for honing her skills. It was this that gave her the incentive to set up her own firm and after almost three years moved on to pastures new.

Tell us how you set up Bishop Design Associates?

In 2005, I was ambitious to start my own company and luckily I found three other partners to open a design studio with me. I still felt that my expertise was limited in some ways and suggested to my partners that we bring a consultant into the team who had been working in the Middle East for at least 10 years and who had solid experience.

I googled ‘best interior designer Dubai’ and Paul Bishop popped up. We met and he started consulting for us three times a week to help build up the team, expand the library, gave assistance and guidance on some of our first projects.

We naturally went head to head in the beginning as we both have strong characters but strangely enough everyone around us thought there was a growing attraction between us. It wasn’t obvious to us at the time
because we are both stubborn and would not admit to it.

I can still remember saying ‘no way, he is amazing at what he does but rude and impolite’. Eventually though we had to admit there was a connection and we married in 2006.

At this time, Paul had just started Bishop Design Associates and had three to four staff working for him out of a small office in AMBB’s joinery factory in Al Quoz. We felt strongly that we should build a future together both professionally and on a personal level so I moved over to join him.

We started our company focusing on three key principles; small and manageable, low overheads and no third partner with financial support. As we had both had our fair share of challenges in the Middle East and also knowing how a small mistake can ruin everything you have spent years building up we luckily agreed on our strategies and future ambitions. In addition to this, Paul and I focus on different roles in the company, which makes it easier not to go head to head.

By 2007 -2008 we had about 20 employees and 40 projects ongoing at any time so you could say that there was a rapid growth and Bishop Design Associates became a well known firm in the media and all around the Middle East.

In 2007, we also won our first award in the prestigious ‘Commercial Interior Design Awards’ for best Retail Design, in 2008, for best Residential and Retail design and in 2009 we were awarded ‘Interior Firm of the Year’. In 2010, we won best ‘Leisure and Entertainment’ for one of our restaurants in Oman.

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