Pallavi Dean, design director, Pallavi Dean Interiors, tells Rima Alsammarae her secrets of success for the firm’s recent growth
Pallavi Dean Interiors is a Dubai-based, boutique interior design firm that’s known for delivering tasteful interiors throughout the region. Established by design heavy-weight Pallavi Dean herself in 2013, the firm has experienced a wealth of success marked by the doubling of annual profits in just one year.
What can the firm’s quick rate of success be attributed to? According to Dean, members of the PDI team subscribe to the same design philosophies that allow the firm to stand strong in the face of the growing amount of design firm super dogs.
“The idea is that I never want to be more than just six people. It’s a boutique consultancy and that is what sets us apart from the GAJs and the Bluehauses of the world. They are excellent and brilliant at what they do, and we are not trying to compete with them.
But we are trying to keep it small and boutique, so it’s not about expansion—it’s about the company growing organically. We’re just gaining momentum in terms of the scale of projects we’re doing lately, rather than by the number of staff,” explains Dean.
Currently PDI is working on a number of big scale projects, such as two hotel apartments on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, as well as government offices in Dubai, corporate offices in Oman and luxury residences for political leaders in Uganda and Tanzania.
Going international is a new development for PDI, as Dean has always considered herself a ‘Dubai-girl’ of sorts, someone who was raised here and who would strive to contribute to the growing design scene. However, as Dubai’s identity on the global scene expands, others are beginning to source interior schemes from designers based and established in the UAE.
Dean explains: “That for me is a shift. Whereas I thought, ‘I’m home-grown, I studied in the UAE, this is my home, and I’m going to work on projects here,’ but it just evolved and I had people coming in from outside asking if we can work internationally.
And I was blown away by that because it was really flattering. It was the first time that PDI went international as a company. So people are taking notice of a little company like us, which says a lot about the industry as a whole.”
According to Dean, awareness of Dubai’s flourishing design scene can be chalked up to locally-based media outlets, leading design events in the region and of course, the undeniable local talent that’s quickly rising to prominence.
She adds: “People are coming here to resource their projects as opposed to staying local. I think it’s because of the quality of work that we’re all doing sort of collaboratively and as an industry. I also think it’s because of the media. With publications like CID or Harper’s Bazaar that are circulated in the wider North Africa and Middle East regions, people are taking note of us, whereas before they wouldn’t have been able to find me.”
Marketing oneself as a boutique design firm is, arguably, difficult to do when approached as an objectifiable task. However, for PDI, the team managed to do so almost effortlessly. By getting involved with research and development, design events and industry conversations, PDI was able to put itself at the forefront of design theory in the region.
According to Dean, by getting involved in the region’s design scene, PDI was able to develop a different strategy for making itself known among the design industry.
She explains: “We’ve never done active PR and marketing and part of the reason is because we’ve never needed to, but also our strategy is very different in terms of how we make the company known.
Our strategy is that we’re going to create content, so we do a lot of research and produce content and give it away for free. We give it to our suppliers, our clients, our collaborators. If I put together a 1,000-word article on workplace psychology and how that affects productivity—that’s going to be available to everybody.”
While PDI outsources CAD work as well as its visuals production, Dean maintains that its consultancy work will always be done in-house. And its ability to manage a small amount of projects at a time allows it to deliver high-quality work for clients.
According to Dean, PDI operates on an intense business program that focuses on limited projects before moving on. And in maintaining the firm’s original business scheme, its annual profits have more than doubled since last year.
“Our annual profits are off the charts,” says Dean. “We only take in six projects at a time, so six projects which are each at a fee that’s comparable to any of the big firms, but what we end up doing is intense. We condense the program.
We end up making a higher margin when we do that, because rather than spreading ourselves thin, each of us is heading up two projects at a time.
So each is focusing intensely for two months, and then we hire the CAD firm to quickly mark them up. Because of the process, we’ve been able to do that, that’s why I don’t want to go big and that’s why I’m really happy with the rate of success.”
At the moment, PDI is working on two hotel apartments in Dubai along with a string of corporate office designs throughout the GCC area. One of the hotels from Palm Jumeirah, The 8, was previously featured in CID as a case study. Since reporting on the new project, Dean confirms that they have broken ground on the site and things are starting to come together nicely.
As PDI’s scope of work expands to include massive hospitality projects as well as international residential work, Dean confirms that she hopes to keep the firm operating as is. The self-proclaimed learner is in favour of maintaining time for research and development, as well as mentoring young professionals.
“People give back to society in terms of money, but I think that’s an easy option. I want to give my time,” she concludes.
“And I think if I grow the firm, it’s just going to be about the projects, and I think the reason our projects are so good is because of this side of things—the education, academic research, community side of things. I want that time, and it has to be a balance, so I’m not going to say no to expansion.
“Somebody might come on board and offer to help take care of things. But it comes down to individual preference, people are drawn to different things. Some like the power of being in command, but I’m happy just researching and writing papers. That’s my thing and I want to be true to who I am as opposed to who I’m not.”