Al Quoz: more than just art

Al Quoz may be an established haven for the arts community, but it's also a great destination for design fans.

Desert River, Al Quoz, Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
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Interior 360

If you’re making the trip to Al Quoz, we absolutely insist that you visit the newly opened Interior 360 showroom. Set up by Jurgen Herre and the half German, half Filipino artist Tini Meyer, Interior 360 is quietly challenging traditional perceptions of Asian design with its collection of quality, handmade furniture by a collective of predominantly Filipino designers.

Whether you’re looking for a sculptural statement piece (check out the Allegra swing chair or the Salbaro bench table), handcrafted ceramics (a hot trend for 2013), or an eye-catching coffee table, you’ll find it here. Meyer handpicks every item herself and has put together a stunning collection that playfully combines textures, shapes and materials. Each and every piece is brimming with character and soul, but is also functional, comfortable and competitively priced. We love the predominance of natural materials, from abaca, rattan and coco twigs to smooth, warm woods and colourful shagreens.

Featured designers include Vincent Padua, Vito Selma, Allan Murillo, Carlo Cordaro, Clayton Tugonon and Luisa Robinson, and we’re pretty sure that at least a couple of these are on the cusp of becoming household names, so this is a great opportunity to buy some of their pieces while they are still reasonably priced.

• Warehouse 46, corner of Street 8 and 17, across from Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1;

La Galerie Nationale

Nestled among the art galleries in Al Serkal Avenue is La Galerie Nationale, a unique space dedicated to 20th-century “art furniture”. Because investing in vintage furniture is something of a novel concept in this part of the world, Guillaume Cuiry, the gallery’s founder, has had his fair share of explaining to do. “People come in and say, ‘Where are the paintings? Where are the sculptures? There’s nothing here.’”

Cuiry often has to explain that the chairs, sconces, tables and other pieces of furniture dotted around the gallery are, in fact, invaluable design classics. There are armchairs by Warren Platner, Joe Colombo, Jean-Pierre Laporte, Franck Dieleman and Louis Durot dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, sconces by Raymond Subes and a towering Spider sculpture by Arnaud Rivieren, along with a host of other mid-century treasures.

Cuiry is not suggesting that his customers fill their homes with vintage furniture – but a well-placed statement piece from a golden era in design can do wonders for a space.

“I’m not an extremist. I’m not saying that you have to do 100 per cent of your decoration in vintage; just like you wouldn’t do 100 per cent of your decoration in 18th-century style, or only use wood or plastic. Art is the ability to mix materials, periods, colours and functionality.”

This is the place to come to if you are looking for a rare, one-off investment piece – something to love and treasure and then, with any luck, sell for a profit.

You can pick up a piece of vintage furniture for up to 30 per cent less here than you would in Europe, so if you have cash to spare it could be well worth the investment. But even if you don’t and just love great design, pay La Galerie Nationale a visit. And try to have a chat with Cuiry, who is as charming as he is knowledgeable and passionate about design. Just don’t ask where the paintings are.

• Unit 27, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1;

Objects & Elements

We’ve long been fans of Objects & Elements, with its extensive collection of south-east Asian furniture, accessories and artwork. It’s our go-to destination for unique, reasonably priced items for the home.

The 6,000-square-foot, two-storey showroom is home to everything from sinuous sculptures to antique coffee grinders and handcrafted wooden tables and chairs. This is also the place to go for affordable art, with prices ranging from Dh600 to Dh10,000 and an offering that includes everything from original African art to primitive art by Nicaraguan painters.

Objects & Elements has also recently extended its offering to include apparel by the local design brand Voluptu, jewellery by Hayet Zerelli and French-inspired home accessories, kitchenware and antiques by -VintEdge Décor. “I want to create a space where you can find art in all its various forms – whether it’s furniture, jewellery or apparel. So we have now established a design house within Objects & Elements,” explains Claudia Granberg, the company's managing partner.

• Street 8, across from Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1;

Sofa Studio

Osca Blom’s Sofa Studio has moved to new premises in The Courtyard, which is also now home to the weekly Ripe Market, making it a great Saturday morning destination for the whole family.

A new location has been matched by new additions to the Sofa Studio line-up. There’s now Create!@ Sofa Studio, a space where people can make their own art, take part in workshops and courses, or host private events. There is also a pop-up studio where, every week, a new company or individual showcases their wares, which means there’s always something new to be discovered here.

The showroom is bright and cheery, with a host of unusual soft furnishings, wallpaper, fabrics, art and accessories on show. We love the colourful collection of carpets from Turkey and Afghanistan, which present a modern, vivid take on traditional styles.

There are also quirky accessories by Color Industry and Life According to Vita, which include everything from Kikoy towels and Hipanema bracelets to dandelion lights and cutesy tableware.

This is definitely the place to go if you’re looking for unusual gifts, so if you’re behind on your Christmas shopping, head down to The Courtyard now. You can thank us later.

• The Courtyard, Street 6a, Al Quoz 1;

Desert River

Desert River is another old favourite here at House&Home. The company’s portfolio of contemporary European brands is fun and innovative, and includes everything from outlandish lounge seating to blow-up sofas and gently glowing plant pots. We’re particularly keen on the Imagilights series, a collection of LED-powered products that includes seating, Tron-style serving trays and table lamps in every conceivable shape and colour.

In addition to the widely recognised Fatboy, the company represents brands such as Blofield, Bloom, Cool Finds, Design of Love and Moonlight, and is constantly expanding its offering.

All Desert River products can be ordered online at but it’s also worth visiting the company’s warehouse in Al Quoz to have a nose around. Don’t forget to head upstairs and check out the discount corner. There are plenty of bargains to be had up there.

• Street 12b, Al Quoz 1;

J+A Gallery

The J+A Gallery can be a little tricky to find – but it’s well worth the effort. Tucked into the back of a row of warehouses near the Noor Islamic Bank Metro Station, it offers a selection of industrial and mid-century design items and salvaged goods from Germany and Central Europe.

The gallery is the brainchild of Sebastian Jaroslawski, a German national who studied Arabic and has spent the past 10 years in the Middle East. The son of a violin maker, Jaroslawski grew up surrounded by art and music and was looking for a way to reconcile his love of the arts with his love of the region.

A visit to the gallery offers a fascinating glimpse into a not-too-distant past. The space is refreshingly different – as Jaroslawski points out: “It’s the opposite of Egyptian baroque”. There are scissor lamps by the Bauhaus designer Curt Fischer, pendant lamps by another world-famous Bauhaus-er, Marianna Brandt, and a rare cabinet by Robert Wagner Chemnitz, dating back to 1924. There are art deco lamps, a giant factory clock by Siemens-Halske from 1899, a row of four old cinema seats and a fully functional periscope from a German tank.

But it is the salvaged items that really capture the imagination – a 1960s industrial trolley from East Germany’s textile industry that has been converted into a throne seat, a Wella hairdryer from 1927 that has been transformed into a lamp, or an old camera projector stand from the 1930s that has been combined with a wooden workbench to create a table.

“The main point is that the designs from the last century are still there. Some are gone but some are still there and we can do something with them. We don’t have to throw them away or destroy them. We can – and this is the term we want to bring to the region – upcycle, which means taking a piece and giving it new value," Jaroslawski says.

"We live in a plastic world where you throw something away after two years and buy something new. And we know that we can't go on like this. There are many things that already exist; we just have to look at them creatively and transform them. Everybody is tired of short-term things. People are looking for something real, with history."

Because Jaroslawski is positioning the gallery as a centre for contemporary German art, he is also using the space to promote a series of related events, including an exhibition of photographs by Bertram Kober entitled Carrara and More (on until January 9 and definitely worth checking out), last week's screening of the famous German silent film, Metropolis, by the director Fritz Lang, and a performance by the German singer and artist, Heike Buelau, which will take place on December 18.

• Warehouse 15, Street 4a, Compound 5, Al Quoz 1;