From Beirut to Casablanca and Dubai, Fady Chams and his company Prospect Design International have left their mark on a number of global hotspots.
Born in Lebanon, Fady Chams was raised in Saudi Arabia due to his father’s profession in the construction industry. By the time he was 10 years old, he was sent to the south of France to attend boarding school. It was a childhood that, marked by crossing borders, created a pattern that would ultimately help Chams build his career.
In university, Chams wandered between subjects trying to find a secure foothold. From design, to law, to theatre, the designer had a taste for many different subjects.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. In the meantime, my brother, Samy, opened Prospect Design International in France with very small projects. First it started with small restaurants, but gradually over time it started to take on bigger projects like the VIP Room,” says Chams.
Having relocated to Lebanon after his studies, Chams felt that there was a void in the region that Prospect Design International could fill.
He adds: “I wanted to open a branch in Beirut, but you know how Beirut is…it’s unstable and I felt I couldn’t rely on it. So while I was in Lebanon, I worked for Skaff where I used to take care of the interior design for clients’ homes.”
While waiting for the right time to launch Prospect Design International in the Middle East, Chams notes that a number of night clubs and hospitality projects were starting to gain momentum in Lebanon as the civil war was strictly considered in the past.
“Places started to open, like Zinc, Pacifico and Crystal, and the guys opening these places were my friends. They wanted to put together the money and open clubs, but I really wasn’t involved yet.
“Then, one day I got approached by the CEO of Green Line Interiors here, but I didn’t want to come to the UAE. [Yet] the CEO asked me to come and take care of the furnishing department, so I said to myself why not?”
In 2004, Chams made the move from Lebanon to Sharjah, where his first office was located in the industrial part of the emirate. While working for Green Line Interiors, Chams continued to keep his eye on opening Prospect Design International in the Middle East.
While in Sharjah, Chams noticed the rise of commercial projects in Dubai and felt that it was finally the right time to bring the family business to the region.
He says: “When I saw all the places that were opening in Dubai and I felt the vibe of the city, I spoke to Samy and told him, ‘Let’s open Prospect Design International in Dubai.’
“First, I was on my own. I did the set and worked with one freelance interior designer. So I got my first job, and then the second followed shortly after that.”
While work started to snowball for Chams, he still had to face certain challenges that were particular to Dubai’s environment.
“In the beginning of Prospect Design International, it was difficult to get any restaurant or nightclub projects because all these places had to be in hotels to get the liquor license. And at that time, the whole hotel came as a package. You could not design the hotel and just keep one space empty.
“When the crisis came in 2008, the occupancy in hotels dropped, and they turned to bringing international franchises. This is when it changed for us. People started saying, ‘we’re a hotel, but let’s lease our space for people who know the business, [because] they’re going to bring us more footfall in the hotel. ..So this is what everyone started doing and when we started having more business.”
When Chams was just launching Prospect Design International in Dubai, he had travelled back to France to learn a bit more about the trade from his brother. However, he quickly realised that the approach to design and project construction varies between the two regions.
“In France, there are smaller companies than there are here. Also, for the execution of a project, you don’t hire a contractor there, you hire a carpenter whose father was a carpenter and so on. But we don’t have the same way of working here [in Dubai]. It’s a different approach,” says Chams.
He adds: “At the end of the day, Europe used to be ahead of Middle Easterners, and Middle Easterners were always trying to catch up, but not anymore. I don’t think you can say this today because Dubai is really on the map in terms of design. All the franchises that want to open here open much better branches than the original places. So we cannot claim to be followers anymore.”
Chams follows a strict process that focuses on the layout of a project before applying 3D visuals. “We understand functionality, and that is the most important thing in designing a restaurant. It needs to be functional and comfortable. We focus on providing the best layout possible. This is the first thing we do and we continue working on it until the client is happy,” explains Chams.
He’s all about the big picture, Chams says, as he recognises that a big part of being a successful designer is client discussions and presenting a likable, trustworthy character during initial meetings.
He says: “Understanding the client’s brief makes you better for next time, and we always learn things from clients. Whether we like it or not, you have to accept what they want unless it’s a big mistake.
“So there’s a very thin line between what they want and what we can implement. But we have our ways…at the end of the day design is a lot of talking. If you don’t like me and I wasn’t able to seduce you, you aren’t going to like my design. This is how it is in the beginning.
“[Clients] are hiring you because they don’t know what they want or they don’t know how to put the idea together….When they like you, your job is easier and they trust you. They’re happy to see you and they want to hear what you have to say. There’s no wrong or right design, so it’s very personal.”
As designers go, Chams comes off as one of the more practical ones. He understands the importance of interpersonal relationships and the effect of good communication between a project’s collaborators.
Most recently, Prospect Design International completed 40Kong, a rooftop lounge in H Hotel. With a natural colour and material palette, 40Kong displays the designer’s ability to keep things simple, while still mixing in some high-end design elements like the Archittetura Sonoma speakers.
Other notable projects from Prospect Design International include the VIP Room Dubai, Movida Club London and Dubai, Claw in Souk al Baher, and the Palais Club by Crystal in Beirut.
With many projects on the horizon like Cielo on the Creek, Chams maintains the hopes for boutique hotels to become a trend in the region. Such goals really speak to Chams’ character, as he’s someone who is sincere in offering his friendship and neighbourly approach to colleagues.
He concludes: “The only thing that Dubai misses today is boutique hotels. And when you say boutique hotel, it’s not only the size of it, but the boutique hotel’s most important element is that on the second or third visit, the people there know you. You’re going to a boutique hotel where you feel at home.”