Local but Global

Australian firm, Saunders Creative, has teamed up with one of Dubai’s prominent hospitality designers to create SaundersYoung. One half of the partnership, Mark Young, talks to CID about Profitable People Places and how Dubai measures up in the style stakes

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  September 4, 2006

|~|Young-body-1.gif|~|SaundersYoung directors, Mark Young (left) and Paul Saunders (right).|~|CID: What is your background in interior design?

I first did a Foundation Course in art and design at Brighton Art College, which had a fantastic mix of architecture, 3D design, interior, furniture and product design. My father is a civil engineer, my uncle is a theatre set designer, so I knew I wanted to learn a combination of the two. That was where I actually met Paul Saunders in 1977.

CID: And after graduation?

Straight after university I went to work in Hong Kong for Prescott Stutley Design Group, which was essentially an architect’s practice. I wanted to be involved in 3D aspects of design and it was a great grounding for me — my first major project was the redevelopment of the old Hong Kong Club followed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Hong Kong Country Club.

CID: You then focused on retail design, why was that?

I returned to the UK in 1984 as it was an incredibly exciting time in retail design and Paul Saunders enticed me back to work for his father’s interior design firm, Saunders Design. It also had a very strong graphics dept and had carved for itself an impressive reputation; we went from 24 people to 96 in three years. The retail market started to take a massive dive at the end of the 80’s and so I moved to David Hicks to take on the role vacated by Khuan Chew who moved to set up KCA — it’s amazing how interconnected the design community is, everyone knows each other and we’ve all moved about between all the key companies and therefore crossed paths a lot.

CID: What kind of projects were you involved in with David Hicks and how did your time there influence you?

My favourite project was Kensington Palace Gardens – 3A Palace Green, which is one of the most prestigious addresses in London. At that time it was certainly the highest-end residential development you could get. In 1991, a three bed apartment was being marketed at a staggering 13.5 million pounds (Dhs94,500,000). There was a very strong house style at David Hicks, with a focus on quality and symmetry. You can’t help but fall back on that kind of grounding in your subsequent projects.

CID: So what brought you to Dubai?

Paul went to Australia in 1990 and set up Saunders Creative and I came to Dubai in 1991 because the market in the UK had dropped considerably. I joined Swedish Design as design manager with Lars Waldenstrom (founder of LW Design Group) and I was responsible for the Creek Golf Club, Hilton Beach Club and even a hilltop villa in Tanzania which was 6,800 ft over the Serengeti. I have also worked on a lot of palaces for the Maktoum Family, and had an integral role on the iconic Emirates Towers Hotel project. I then joined Wrenn Associates, which is now WA International, in 1997 and I was with them for eight and a half years, concentrating mainly on hospitality projects; Al Maha Desert Resort, was a great watershed in hotel design for the region. We also did hotel projects for Accor, Hilton, Marriott, Meridien, Radisson & Sheraton. I then left WA in 2005 to set up SaundersYoung.

CID: Tell us about this partnership?

After meeting at university and working together in the 80’s, Paul and I stayed in touch and over the last couple of years started musing on the idea of an alliance between Saunders in Australia and WA in Dubai. WA at that time wanted to concentrate on hospitality design whereas Saunders were specialists in other forms of commercial design — retail, corporate etc. and so we had the idea of linking the two companies and therefore the two areas of expertise. Unfortunately right at the last minute the plans were changed, so Paul and I then decided to set up together, combining the Saunders experience in retail design and my knowledge of designing in Dubai, this is the key thing about us; we’re local but global.

CID: What is designing in Dubai like?

From being 4-5 years behind the trends emerging in New York and London, Dubai is now only 1-2 years behind, taking over from Kuwait and Bahrain as the leader in the region, which is essentially down to the driving force of HH Sheikh Mohammed. The success of expos like Cityscape prove that the world’s best designers and architects are actively doing projects here which is great for the region; Lord Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid etc. The formation of APID is an excellent advance for the industry as well.

CID: How would you describe your designs?

I don’t believe it’s good to have a house style. The end design should be the result of solving a unique set of problems every time. We use design as our tool to solve these issues. Every business is different, so each design needs to be too. That’s how we set ourselves apart from our competitors. We believe in ‘Profitable People Places’ i.e. people spend more time in places they enjoy, they spend more money in places they enjoy, and people return more frequently to places they enjoy, plus they recommend it to others.

CID: Why should clients choose SaundersYoung?

We really understand the client’s need for commercial return on their outlay. Commercial interior design is not just a case of creating beautiful places, it’s about increasing our clients revenue and building their brand. Paul has a saying that’s, ‘we never practice with other people’s money’ — that’s not to say that we don’t innovate, that should happen without saying, but we need to be armed with a thorough understanding of both the strategic levers and consumer insights from which we can develop thoughtful and innovative ideas.

CID: If Paul is based in Australia how does the logistics of the partnership work?

We have offices in Dubai, Sydney and Adelaide, each with their niche areas of expertise. Dubai will be the Centre of Excellence for hospitality and commercial residential, while Adelaide will handle master-planning and shopping centres, and Sydney is the headquarters for retail design, strategy, branding and graphics. Sydney is currently handling the Sahara Centre in Sharjah, and Adelaide is in charge of the Galleria project in Riyadh. Each project is redirected to the best office to deal with its specific requirements.

CID: What are your views on the current state of the interior design industry?

I did a speech at Index a couple of years ago called ‘The Cushion Scatterers are dead. Long live the Cushion Scatterers,’ which caused a bit of an outcry, but I didn’t mean to be derogatory, my point was that interior design has grown up and it’s not just about choosing nice curtains anymore. That’s not to say that the finishing touches to a project aren’t important, they’re imperative to a project’s success and what makes interior design the challenging business that it is today. But that’s the point, it is a serious business, and we must use our interior design skills to benefit our client’s business success.

CID: What have been your favourite projects?

The Hong Kong Club is a very memorable project for me as well as Kensington Palace Gardens, which really opened my eyes to the bespoke market and top quality materials. Likewise, I enjoyed the level of detailing in the royal palaces, and the co-ordination of everything coming together. In Dubai, I would have to say the Dubai Creek Golf Club. Every time I go over Garhoud Bridge I still think about it. I firmly believe that you leave a little bit of yourself in each project.

CID: What would you have wanted to work on if you could have done?

Just before I left the firm in Hong Kong I had the opportunity to work on the Hong Kong bank building designed by Norman Foster. I was asked to join the client advisory team and sometimes I still kick myself that I didn’t take that opportunity to work on his project.
I also wish that I’d seen Emirates Towers through to its final completion. Hypothetically, I wish I could work on the interiors of a Frank Gehry building, that would be a challenge. ||**||

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