Being female didn’t stop Yvonne Colacion from taking charge in Kuwait, at the headquarters of the Tamdeen Group
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2011 3:09:00 PM
Until 2007, Yvonne Colacion had never set foot in Kuwait. Or any Arab country for that matter. The next three years, however, saw her shuttling between her home base in Los Angeles and the outskirts of Kuwait's capital almost 25 times to design a headquarters for the Tamdeen Group, arguably the country's largest real-estate developer.
As for the fact that it was a woman spearheading a 55,000-square-foot construction project in a nation that had introduced female suffrage only a year before? Well, there's quite a backstory.
The project started out under the aegis of RTKL Associates, which had lured Colacion away from Gensler to build an interiors group, and that's precisely what she was doing when Tamdeen hired RTKL to design a freestanding luxury shopping mall topped by two levels of offices. Included was the plum interiors commission. "I flew to the Middle East for an intensive charrette, and the CEO and I discovered we had professional chemistry," she says. Then the global recession hit. In 2009, after RTKL shuttered its L.A. corporate interiors division, Tamdeen asked her if she'd like to go it alone. In a heartbeat.
Luckily, she wouldn't be flying entirely solo. Her newly formed Colacion Studio worked with Tamdeen's in-house architects and a local firm, SSH International, on "everything from the shell up," she says. That included the addition of a fifth story featuring a circular conference center and consolidating the majority of Tamdeen's 200 personnel, previously spread out in six locations. The level below, originally set aside for retail, was ultimately dedicated to executive reception and top-tier management.
"The program kept changing," she says. "That's what was exciting." How many other designers would second that notion?
As if an evolving program and a career transition weren't enough of a challenge, so was the perfecting of a complicated aesthetic mix: contemporary design, elements of Arab culture, and an allusion to "retail display style, with everything on show," Colacion explains. All had to figure into the office interior.
She also harnessed daylight, one of the region's most plentiful commodities, and inserted greenery, one of the most precious. "Building from the ground up, it was easy to incorporate a large skylight," she says-and to work traditional Arab motifs into its frosted film. "Otherwise people would fry." As for plant life, every desert needs an oasis. A green wall defines the main reception area, on the ground level. In the double-height atrium, capped by the skylight, two stacked plant walls connect the executive and conference levels visually.
Physically, she tied them together with a ceremonial stairway in teak and steel-think fashion shows and grand entrances. The top flight is partially veiled behind a suspended screen of honeycomb aluminum, its pattern simultaneously contemporary and traditional. She toggled back and forth similarly with furnishings.
In executive reception, a brown rug with a periwinkle-blue Islamic lattice pattern anchors swivel chairs by Rodolfo Dordoni, L-shape mohair-covered sectionals, and faceted acrylic tables, all in whites coordinating with the creamy limestone flooring. "It's soft with a residential feel," she says. The enclosure of the adjacent boardroom is paneled with quietly traditional olive wood. She saved her big statement for the table: Its granite top appears to be strewn with peonies.
She went unabashedly contemporary, meanwhile, on the level above. Take the conference center, where four rooms ring a roof terrace complete with two waterfalls. The rooms spin off the terrace's perimeter, petal-style, their free-form enclosures clad in white plaster or teak slats.
Leaving the neutral palette of the conference center behind, she splashed the nearby lunchroom in apple green. The room furthermore showcases Tamdeen's graphics program. Its signature element takes the atrium's suspended screen and reinterprets its honeycomb forms in two dimensions, rendered in frosted film on clear glass. "I'm always working with a positive-negative effect," she says. "How the graphics are read depends on the lighting."
Similar geometric graphics are emblazoned, this time in black and white paint, on soffits in the surrounding office areas, where long team islands break up the sea of workstations. Big, bold signage elsewhere is in both Arabic and English. For the international language of fashion, head downstairs to the mall-Burberry, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent are all spoken there fluently.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
mandy chan; dwoyne keith; nora lee; jason litt: rtkl associates. bliss fasman: lighting consultant. eye matter design: graphics consultant. patrick blanc: plant consultant. sadeer trading & contracting company: general contractor.
CARNEGIE: WALL COVERING (CONFERENCE ROOMS).
MATTEOGRASSI: LOUNGE CHAIRS (EXECUTIVE RECEPTION).
MAHARAM: SOFA FABRIC, PILLOW FABRIC.
EDELMAN LEATHER: PILLOW UPHOLSTERY.
HAWORTH: TASK CHAIRS (EXECUTIVE, MAIN RECEPTION), WORKSTATIONS, CABINETS, STOOLS (OFFICE AREA), CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOMS).
LOUIS POULSEN: PENDANT FIXTURES (MAIN RECEPTION, OFFICE AREA).
KORBAN/FLAUBERT: SCREEN (EXECUTIVE RECEPTION).
DECORATIVE CARPETS: CUSTOM RUG.
LZF SPAIN: PENDANT FIXTURES (CONFERENCE RECEPTION).
DESALTO: CHAIRS (LUNCHROOM).
BENE: TABLES (LUNCHROOM, CONFERENCE ROOMS), CREDENZA (CONFERENCE ROOM).
SILENT GLISS: WINDOW SHADE (CONFERENCE ROOM).
SELUX: PICTURE LIGHTS (HALL).
JOHANSON DESIGN: STOOLS (LUNCHROOM).
DUPONT: COUNTER MATERIAL.
SHAW: CARPET TILE.
ARMSTRONG: CEILING TILE.