10 Questions With... Abboud Malak of STUDIO M

After an eclectic, international upbringing in the Gulf and Europe, and a life-changing move to study in Los Angeles when he turned 20 years old, Abboud Malak relocated to Dubai in 2004, establishing Studio M just as the city was, as he says, “on the cusp of its unrelenting upward development.” In Dubai, Malak found himself at the forefront of an exciting new market: “The timing could not have been better,” he shares. “I wanted to express myself creatively on a larger scale and the city offered me the perfect setting to do so.” His practice now focuses not only on the interiors of high-end residential and corporate clients, but also on smaller, “fast-paced” creative projects where he is able to explore new ideas. The environments he creates incorporate cultural references unique to the region and showcase local materials, building upon the strong sense of place that resonates throughout his work.

Interior Design: When did you know that you wanted to work in design?

Abboud Malak: I grew up in construction. My father and uncle were both developers, so it was a world that I was extremely familiar with and comfortable in from a young age. Sites and clients were a part of my youth. The activity of imagining a space and experiencing it as a built environment always attracted me. I studied Fine Arts and Art History at Pepperdine [University] which was a strong base, then I attended the ArtCenter College of Design to study Environmental Design, which is where I discovered that I had an interest in form, space, materials, aesthetics and a strong sense for perfection—I am in great measure self-taught and the path that I have created is one of trial and error.

Chalk by Studio M (2019) For Chalk, one of the first unisex salons in Dubai, privacy was a main concern. To address this, the mezzanine is set in the center of the industrial warehouse to create encased spaces that provide privacy between the two floors while maintaining an open layout. Photography by Oculis Project.

ID: How do you describe Studio M?  

AM: I work intuitively and follow my senses. Ultimately, design is an instinctive activity with the purpose of achieving a positive emotional response. Studio M brings a simple sense of elegance and integrity to design, with a familiar and sober aesthetic. We recognize the importance of good design on our wellbeing—now more than ever—and strive to create pure, original, innovative, and enduring spaces.

ID: What is the focus of your practice? 

AM: Interior architecture plays a key role in the way we live and its impact on our wellbeing is immense. We don’t like to limit ourselves to a certain genre—rather, we prefer to focus on creating timeless spaces where form, function, and comfort are in harmony. We like to leave room for play and intentional experimentation.

The upper level of Chalk. “Physical distancing without enclosing spaces was the challenge here and we feel we resolved it in a subtle and clever way,” explains Malak. Photography by Oculis Project.

ID: What is it like working in Dubai? How has your practice adapted accordingly after living in Los Angeles? 

AM: Dubai has evolved in bounds and leaps since I arrived 15 years ago. Back then, starting out here was akin to going back to the basics. Everything had to be developed and taught. I would say that in many cases now, we are leaders in design detailing and construction quality.  The city continues to be a place of constant movement, development, and influx of talent from around the world. There are several designers who keep pushing their individual aesthetic to newer heights. The fast-paced rhythm of projects here is immediately palpable. One adapts to a shorter design phase and to working faster, producing a large amount of work in a more efficient manner. However, the limited access to interesting, tactile materials as well as the lack of availability is always an obstacle—searching and sourcing materials is key to our success. 

ID: Has working in Dubai affected your aesthetic? 

AM: As a designer, one can’t help but absorb and be influenced by the surroundings. A hot, desert-like climate naturally defines the way we design spaces; it dictates the choices of materials, palettes, and finishes. However, the basic principles of design and architecture, form and light, remain unchanged.

Espresso Lab Dubai Design District by Studio M (2017) The Espresso Lab is a specialty coffee house founded by Emirati award-winning barista and coffee connoisseur, Ibrahim Al Mallouhi, whose “purist approach necessitated that the space revolve around the art of coffee making.” The bar counter is clad with a dynamic terrazzo-like natural stone from a newly discovered quarry—a dramatic debut appearance. Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.

ID: What role does materiality play in your work?

AM: We are always in search of beautiful, tactile materials that evoke an emotional response.  We prefer distilling the finished palette to the key components to create quiet, poetic spaces. Contrary to popular belief, simple spaces are often extremely complex ones. Attention to all the details becomes a strict affair.    

ID: What is influencing your work the most right now?

AM: I am continuously looking to balance form, comfort, and functionality. I think that warm minimalism is the antidote to the stress of our fast-paced, digital world. I also think that remaining perpetually curious, exploring the world, investing in expansive experiences, building genuine relationships with interesting people from different cultures, and daydreaming are the keys to inspiration. Inspiration through social media is a means to an end. It doesn’t replace real experiences.

The soft grey walls and ceilings of Espresso Lab Dubai Design District result in a monochromatic muted atmosphere that enhances the overall architecture of the space. Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.

ID: Who do you admire most in the design world and why?  

AM: Vincent Van Duysen remains a master at work: original and elegant, innovative and timeless.

ID: What is your dream project? What kind of projects would you like to do more of? 

AM: Designing a summerhouse from the ground up appeals to me. Creating a discreet and pure experience—a charming, balanced, monolithic space for these moments in life where one is at their most serene and connected. The essence of luxury is in simplicity.

 

The rattan chairs in Espresso Lab Dubai Design District reference the region’s traditional coffee houses and add a wistful nod to the past. One of the challenges of the space was the long, narrow corner section. Not wide enough to place regular dining tables, Studio M integrated a long custom bench to serve as seating.  Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.

ID: What are you working on now?  

AM: A renovation project for a residence on the Palm Jumeirah for a high-profile client. It is a minimalist sanctuary of light-filled spaces and delicate forms, where the natural materials are left to speak for themselves. The spaces flow seamlessly while maintaining the option of privacy using partitions and sliding doors that disappear into the walls. The family wanted a home that would be an escape from their busy lives, so we made sure to give them immersive entertainment and relaxation spaces. We also worked with the landscape architects to achieve a true resort experience in their landscape that interconnects with the house to create spectacular indoor-outdoor space. We’ve been working on this project for two years and look forward to debuting it.

Espresso Lab Abu Dhabi by Studio M (2019) Similar to the chain’s first branch, Espresso Lab’s Abu Dhabi concept highlights the coffee making process by focusing on the striking Rosso Persiano stone-clad coffee bar in the center of the space. Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.
Espresso Lab Abu Dhabi by Studio M (2019) The furniture design references traditional coffee houses, adding a nostalgic element to the experience. Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.
Espresso Lab Abu Dhabi by Studio M (2019) The natural beech finish complements a warm color palette framed by black patina steel. Photography by Maha Nasra Edde.

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