#RisingStars: Meet Gillian Blair from Godwin Austen Johnson

“The best advice I have been given in my career is to be inspired by a concept, and use the interior to tell the story; to look for inspiration not in existing interiors, but in moments and experiences,” says Gillian Blair, a Scottish-born interior designer currently working at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ).

Blair was the winner of this year’s Young Interior Designer of the Year title at the 11th edition of the Commercial Interior Design Awards. The judges were impressed by her portfolio and the mature thought process that is evident in her work. They described her design aesthetic as “elegant, sophisticated and timeless”.

Blair left school at the age of 16 and continued her studies at Glasgow Metropolitan College in Scotland. This two-year course provided her with a technical-based knowledge in interior design. Following her graduation, she gained a second-year entry to Glasgow School of Art, transferring her technical design drafting skills into computer-designed software presentations. During her studies, Blair had to present to an audience where her design would often be challenged. “This has prepared me to be receptive of others opinions, defend design where necessary and have a thick skin,” admits Blair.

However, graduating during the peak of the construction recession in 2012, Blair soon realised that staying in Glasgow would not be an option.

“At my university degree show, I was introduced to Marc Dorrian, associate design director at Design Worldwide Partnership based in Bahrain. Discussions of a potential opportunity quickly realised, and within one month, I was moving from Scotland to the Middle East,” she says, adding that her first taste of the real design world was a 186-room hotel.

“I was given ownership of the rooftop bar and pool area, which, as a recent graduate, I took great pride in,” adds Blair.

After several months of working on the project, the design team with whom she closely worked was leaving the country. “Fully supported by my company, I quickly took ownership of the design project, liaising directly with the client/operator, and making weekly visits to the site to coordinate with the construction team. This offered me extremely valuable experience, which cannot be taught in an office,” she says.

The biggest challenge she has encountered in her professional life is the ability to balance work and life. “When you feel so passionate about your job, the ability to switch off after leaving the office is impossible,” admits Blair.

When she moved to the region five years ago, Blair recalls how her early designs were rejected as not being receptive to the local market. “However, I now question exactly what the Middle Eastern market is? We live in such a diverse country, which caters for all walks of life from every corner of the world. Dubai is a thriving city driven by a very creative and forward-thinking approach. It is a cosmopolitan, fast-paced and spontaneous city where nothing is impossible,” she says.

One of the multiple projects Blair is working on at the moment is a Pod Hotel – challenging the status quo of travel. “Designers must not design from but for social media and for that ‘Instagram moment’,” she says.

Blair is confident, however, that timeless design will always be present in the region, but as the country gets more experimental with design, it will get more competitive within the industry itself.

Read more: In conversation: Millennials on designing for their generation

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