Twice as nice: the interior designer behind Dubai’s new Ethan Allen store

As Ethan Allen launches a second Dubai store, we meets its interior-design chief.
The new Ethan Allen showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. The outlet will feature a wider display of products and more insight into the company’s range than its Dubai Mall store. Satish Kumar / The National
The new Ethan Allen showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. The outlet will feature a wider display of products and more insight into the company’s range than its Dubai Mall store. Satish Kumar / The National

George Foster-Vincent had always wanted to study interior design, but his father, a politician, suggested that he take architecture instead. “I said yes. Anything to not to have to become a ­politician,” Foster-Vincent says, with a hearty laugh.

Although he did as he was told at the time, the Panama-born, United States-bred Foster-Vincent is now the head of interior design at Ethan Allen ­Dubai. He completed a degree in architecture, before joining a firm in San Diego, California, where he worked for two years. It was there that he had his watershed moment.

“I worked on this project where we did the architecture for an ultra-modern house in La Jolla, California. Once it was ready, we were invited to a party to see the end result. When we got there, everything inside the house was in this really classic Tuscan style. We had designed this ultra modern house, with a little river running through it, which was really amazing, and they had filled it with really heavy furniture that didn’t fit. That’s what inspired me to move into interior design. So I went back to school.”

Soon after he finished his second stint of studying, Foster-­Vincent was approached by the American furniture brand Ethan Allen. He was initially hesitant about joining the team – “I didn’t really want to do a nine-to-five” – but that was 10 years ago and he has been with the company ever since. A year or so ago, he came to Dubai to help set up Ethan Allen’s second showroom in the emirate, which was officially unveiled at the end of November.

It’s five years since Ethan Allen opened its first store in Dubai. At the time, as a brand that was new to the market and keen to establish a name for itself, it made sense to have a presence in The Dubai Mall. This time around, the company has opted for a two-­storey, 9,000-square -foot showroom in a contemporary-style structure on Sheikh Zayed Road.

“Our customers want to see more options,” explains Foster-Vincent. “When Ethan Allen was first introduced to the Dubai market, the best location at the time was The Dubai Mall. But a lot more of our local clients don’t necessarily want to go to a mall to shop for furniture for their homes. And as people drive up and down Sheikh Zayed Road, they will be constantly reminded that we are here.”

The Dubai Mall location will be remodelled and become the first Ethan Allen boutique. It’s aiming to be more of a “cash-and-carry”-type set-up, with people popping in to buy a couple of cushions or the odd platter for an upcoming dinner party. The new Sheikh Zayed Road showroom will, on the other hand, feature a more extensive display and give customers better insight into the range of options at Ethan Allen. There will also be greater focus on Ethan Allen’s interior design services, which have been on offer since the brand first came to the UAE, but are now being ­highlighted.

“It’s a complimentary service,” Foster-Vincent explains. “You have to put down a Dh5,000 deposit for every two rooms, which goes toward your purchase.”

Ethan Allen, which was launched in 1932, prides itself on creating products that are “easy to live with” – the interior-design equivalents of a favourite pair of jeans. Its products are solid and dependable, focusing on timeless design with an American twist, versatility, quality and craftsmanship – at a reasonable price point. The Sheikh Zayed Road showroom is home to all types of furniture, along with wallpaper, rugs, window treatments, lighting, artwork and smaller accessories. There’s also an extensive fabric library on the first floor, which will enable customers to personalise and customise their purchases.

Selecting the wrong fabric is a common design mistake, ­Foster-Vincent explains. “One of the biggest mistakes I come across is people falling in love with the wrong fabric, even if it doesn’t support the rest of their design. The other thing is clients not being able to understand that interior design is personal. I take the time to interview my clients and find out all about them – it’s not about trends. Even homes in magazines have been designed for someone. So let’s try to find out what works for you.”

Having moved to Dubai from another desert city, Palm Springs in California, Foster-Vincent immediately felt very comfortable in his new home. And while there are some differences between the clients he works with here and those that he dealt with back home, it has not been too much of a culture shock, he says.

“In the US, people want more of a casual setting. The style might be a little different here, and clients might take a little longer to understand when you are trying to push the bar. They always ask why. But it’s just about introducing different design elements and theories to the market. Overall, customers are pretty much the same.”

The effusive Panamanian made a point of immersing himself in local culture when he first arrived, in an attempt to better understand the market and his potential clients. “I’ve been here a year or so, and I’ve been in close contact with both locals and expats and made an effort to find out how everything works in Dubai. To connect with local clients, I’ve been to their homes for tea, to weddings and birthday parties, conversed with them over dinner and worn the kandura. I have fallen in love with this culture. And that face-to-face contact was the inspiration behind this new ­location.”

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Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM


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