My delightful encounters with Khashab Design Studio are numerous. The first time, was during a visit to the historical area of Dubai, my favorite part. I went by the Heritage House to see what they had in terms of art and nick-nacks and to say hello to Anne Marie the bright, warm and talented Italian manager of the Al-Serkal family non-profit project. After receiving a warm greeting from the friendly and intelligent team, Anne Marie took me for a walk through the gallery rooms. Immediately, I was drawn to a table with an abstract Islamic design, made of reclaimed wood. I LOVED it! Anne Marie noticed and told me that the artist was a Yemeni Architect and a woman, who was the owner of the Khashab Design Studio. That made me fall in love with it even more and that night I left with the piece, placing it right by my balcony door. The table became the centerpiece of what is now one of the most loved corners of my home.
Fast forward to my first visit to Design Days, which is hands-down one of my favorite events in Dubai and who am I greeted by? None other than the Khashab Design stand. I walked over excitedly and was welcomed by a young man who turned out to be the proud husband of Miaser, the artist. When he spoke, you could see his enthusiasm for his wife's work. He proceeded to fondly explain, in a teasing manner, how the kitchen at their home was really a workshop for Khashab! I greatly appreciated seeing the obvious admiration and support he felt for his wife. Miaser came over while we were talking and he introduced us. I liked her upright and positively grounded energy right away. We chatted for a bit, took a photo together, then I took her card and walked away happily, as it gives me such joy to meet the creative souls behind pieces of artwork that I like.
The next encounter came at the SIKKA Art Fair, the fringe festival that happens right alongside Art Dubai. I love the fair, simply by the virtue of its subject matter and its location in the historical area of Dubai. I found out that Miaser was offering a workshop, but it was full so I stopped by a couple of times just to say hello, observe and document with photos. I have been wanting to do a workshop since then, but I always hear of them once they are full or done. I am now following Khashab Design on Instagram, so in sha Allah, I will not miss the next opportunity that comes up while I am in town.
The last encounter was a sit down chat with Miaser herself, at the charming Roseleaf Cafe, which is tucked away inside the Dubai Garden Center. She graciously agreed to meet me so I could hear more about the story behind Khashab Design.
Miaser was one of those fortunate souls who knew from a young age that she wanted to be an architect. Sure enough, she went on to study architecture in Cairo. She followed that degree by a masters in social entrepreneurship in London. She married and moved to Dubai to be with her husband. She initially had a job with a startup and after a year and a half, she decided to leave. Her lovely spiritedness would show in comments like: “I like to throw myself into challenges.” and “I don’t follow the rules completely. I respect them and hold their intent constant but add a bit of myself to the application”.
She said yes to different opportunities like interior design freelance work. Yet what she loved most was to work with her hands and to work with reclaimed wood. Her idea was to start there and go on to reclaim many things on a big scale. So she sourced the wood and bought basic tools and made basic products like wall art in early 2015. Her husband and sister-in-law encouraged her throughout the period of self-doubt that she experienced because she had embarked an uncharted path. It was also a tough period on Miaser as it was a time of war for Yemen, her homeland. Miaser makes it clear with a charming forthrightness that she was self-taught and her work was really a take on simple DIY, not professional carpentry work. Her sister-in-law and friends again encouraged her to place her work on social media and she did and people loved it.
Eventually, Little Majlis, which I like immensely, contacted her asking her to display items. This was a pivotal moment, as someone saw that her designs could be sold and had market value. Miaser shared that she didn’t choose this path. It was given to her while she was still unsure and considering the need to return to working for a company, in a full-time job. Those words were like music to my heart as I was reading a very powerful spiritual book by Michael Singer on his life called “The Surrender Experiment”. His whole life was a testament to what happens if one surrenders to the Will of God and what He Brings to you rather than holding on to likes, dislikes and preconceived notions of what should be. Miaser’s story is one more witness of how the simple act of surrender paves the way for the Divine magic of destiny to unfold. She didn’t see it at the time but she feels like she grew greatly from this path and learned so much from the people she met. The alternative, she described with a humorous chuckle, would have been to work at an architecture firm and become one of the 20 pairs of eyes staring at screens and clicking away. Her reaction brings home, again, that Miaser loves to use her hands as that’s part of where her gift lies.
Miaser spent 2017 listening to the market and working on small projects that clients commissioned. She learned a lot from that. Again this was nothing that she developed on purpose, she would just get the orders, and take on the work that came her way. But, by then she started to feel like the work she was doing was more like interior design work than product design. She experienced all the problems of dealing with both supplier and client issues. One of Miaser’s favorite projects was creating pieces for the Alma Retreat in the UAE. Miaser realized that she much preferred to work on products commissioned by individuals as the process was more personal and open, gradually making and tweaking the product until the client was content with the created piece. That was a beautiful experience.
Miaser, by then was displaying her items in Heritage House, where I found them, and with every event they would ask her to make new pieces. Bless their hearts for fulfilling the mission of supporting creatives to do their thing. Miaser re-discovered the joy of crafting pieces and even planning how to display them. She would look at their photos and show them to her friends. This was the beginning of another tipping point for her, deciding that she would commit to the right projects at the right time which truly add value. Therefore, 2018 was about designing and making smaller items that could be sold versus being made to order. She began focusing on pieces that were easy to transport, such as home accessories.
When I asked Miaser how her pieces came to include inspiration from Islamic geometry, she spoke of how she didn’t really care for Islamic architecture back in university, but that a course she took on it opened her eyes. The course was taught by Ahmed Hamid who taught them well and would take them to old houses to sit and savor every detail. She said she does the exact thing now when she goes to Cairo and has the time to do it. Blessed are the true teachers.
The first piece that acquired an Islamic appearance happened by accident, lol. Miaser had a number of scattered pieces and remnants of projects, so she started playing around with them and lo and behold she started to see Islamic geometric patterns. It wasn’t intentional but people liked it, as did she. Miaser doesn’t follow the strict rules of Islamic geometry but follows the broad lines of creating a grid and following it but in her own interpretation. She puts a little of herself in it. The purists don’t like that Miaser bends the rules. She thinks that’s ok as they have a right to their opinion and so does she. She liked how one viewer, who liked her art, expressed that it was deconstructed Islamic geometry, with a bit of rebel spirit in it.
Now, Miaser is focused on developing a clear brand that expresses the kind of work that comes from inside of her. And she does her work at the Origin Base Workers’ Space, so her kitchen is a kitchen again with plants and a tablecloth. She goes there and works away to understand the different wood and what it can do. She always makes sure that her artistic experiments are conducted safely, keeping herself, her materials and her tools in mind. This is where Miaser’s beautiful groundedness kicks in. She is aware of the potential of her explorations and asks experts before testing what she is thinking about. Thanks to her explorations, she is then able to work with other craftsmen, like carpenters with confidence. When she asks them to do something for her, even if they says it can’t be done, she is able to show them how. I Love that spunk again, masha Allah. When the craftsman is finished with their part of the work, she often does final, finishing touches to the piece. It’s a delicate dance of design and craftsmanship. So far, Miaser has worked with reclaimed wood and beech wood that has passed FSC standards, taking sustainability into consideration. She is curious to try bamboo and I just can’t wait to witness her creative path unfold from deep inside, adding beauty to our world. I wish her all the best and send a nod of acknowledgment and gratitude to her professor who connected Miaser to the richness of Islamic art and architecture and to her husband and her sister-in-law for being her staunchest supporters and rightly so.
LEARN more about..
Khashab Design Studio
Khashab means wood in Arabic, and for Miaser Al-Habori and her team, it is the story and history of which only a rustic and salvaged wooden piece can narrate to their imagination.
They produce handmade up-cycled furniture and art pieces that are inspired from the middle-eastern art, with minimalist and articulate forms, fitting into our modern minimalistic lifestyle and small spaces.
Heritage House, Al Serkal Cultural Foundation
Alserkal Cultural Foundation (ACF), the jewel located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (AFHN), was founded by Mr. Ahmad bin Eisa bin Nasser Alserkal. It started its work in 2015 as the first platform to support emerging artists & designers, with the aim of highlighting the AFHN with its rich Archeological Heritage and intangible history. ACF holds a vibrant environment featuring 5 Exhibition Rooms, Creativity Corner, Rooftop, Make Art Café, Fashion Corner, Book Corner, Home Corner, and Workshop Room.
Design Days, Dubai
Design Days Dubai is the leading fair in the Middle East and South Asia dedicated to collectible and limited edition furniture and design objects. The fair presents design from leading international designers and galleries alongside up and coming design from across the world. The fair also presents a strong non-commercial programme consisting of education, workshops, installations and live performances.
Sikka Art Fair
SIKKA Art Fair is an annual event created by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority in 2011 as a commissioned art exhibition to showcase emerging artists from The United Arab Emirates. Originally focused on visual arts only but later widened its scope to cover film screenings, music, talks and workshops.
Roseleaf Cafe, Dubai Garden Center
Fresh, quality, healthy, crafted goodness that is kind on your wallet. Add into that a little bit of creativity & innovative touches to traditional recipes from a dedicated kitchen team, you can be sure to find something special to brighten your day. Roseleaf is an independent cafe in Dubai serving single origin specialty coffee, heritage cakes and bakes, homemade and original cafe food.
Little Majlis is an online creative community. Whether you’re a maker, a merchant of unique things or a lover of the hard to find, Little Majlis is a place where you can connect, interact and shop from people with the common interest of a love for creativity and beautiful things.
The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer
From the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller The Untethered Soul comes the astonishing true-life story about what happens when you just let go.
• A thriving spiritual community on over six hundred acres of pristine forest and meadows in Florida
• A cutting-edge software package that transformed the medical practice management industry
• A billion-dollar public company whose achievements are archived in the Smithsonian Institution
• A book that became a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah favorite
• A massive raid by the FBI that would lead to unfounded accusations by the U.S. government
Alma Retreat, UAE
The ALMA concept helps you achieve your goals by inspiring your MIND, changing your BODY and unlocking your CREATIVITY. Personal happiness and growth needs to be more than a one-sided approach - we design our programs to motivate and inspire your personal journey to success. Our holistic approach focuses on the mind, heart and body in order to instill long lasting changes and create a 360 view of your personal Wheel of Life.
Ahmad Hamid, Egyptian Architect
Ahmad Hamid is an Egyptian architect who, as a young professional, collaborated with Hassan Fathy between 1978 and 1985, in The Institute for Appropriate Technology. Hamid’s architecture firm designs thought-provoking projects for diverse parts of the world. He has taught at various architecture departments in Cairo, including the American University, and served on numerous international architectural juries. Hamid was awarded a Fulbright Design study grant at Pratt Institute in 2006, the Frank G Wisner award in 2007, the Nadia Niazy Mostafa award in 2010, and The World Architecture Award in 2010. The American university Media Design Award 2011, and again The Word Architecture Award in 2013.
Origin Base, Makerspace
OriginBase was established in Dubai as a product design company in 2014 and then inaugurated the first makerspace in the UAE in 2015. They believe in the unlimited potential of social innovation and we strive to be a hub for collaboration and co-creation amongst makers from all walks of life. Our community is our backbone resource and their success in innovation defines our own.
To Heba, Ahmed, Khashab Design and Alma Retreat for the contribution of images to this post.