When Atrio Café and Grill opened at the end of 2012, its rooftop was all the rage, making the tensile structure on the rooftop a landmark of Jinnah Super Market. The inspiration came from the Sahara Mall in Dubai, says Kazim Hassan, the brain behind its interior. “The one in Dubai is a huge structure with multiple cones. Atrio rooftop structure is a miniature of that concept. The rooftop floor design of Atrio is inspired by grapevine” His inventory includes projects with massive budgets ranging from commercial projects to interior and set designing for dramas, movies and morning shows. However he terms Atrio Café and Grill his favorite until now. He hints about an upcoming restaurant in F-7 with another rooftop and a project, salon and spa.
Back in the 90s, he embarked on his journey with a proper outlet having furniture, drapes and other accessories. This field presented him with a number of opportunities like working for Marriot and Serena Hotel, PTV Headquarters, Prime Minister Secretariat, Islamabad Club, Saudi Pak Investment Bank, OMV President’s office, RCCI, Data Focal, MCB President’s office, Atrio café & grill, Tayto, Fijji’s Grill etc., and a number of residential projects.
In addition to interiors, he has also done studio set designing for the movie Waar, the Nadia Khan Show in Dubai and Islamabad, PTV News, set designs for Lights Asia, ARY, Aaj TV, Rohi TV and Business Plus. Situated in Islamabad’s Blue Area, his showroom goes by the name Hassan Interiors. What he began with was a mock up guest room for Marriot Hotel. He recalls how difficult meeting deadlines were. Mr. Hashwani, the owner of Marriot Hotel, appreciated the concept and design. “In a turnkey project all the responsibility is on your shoulders. The interior design company has to engage workers from wall finishes, drapes, furniture, and polisher to carpets and accessories”, he says.
Soon afterwards he found himself designing the guest rooms of Serena Hotel in Swat. He incorporated the traditional motifs from Swat into the guest room furniture. The traditional theme of the region inspired the drapes and carpet. Even the guest room door was cladded with the motifs.
What scared him was the Fokker flight to Swat while the weather had turned bad, transportation cost being too high and assembling workers for such a project being difficult. “Excitement of a project is one thing but we should include extra cost for transportation and charges for workers. After all it is a business and you have to make profits at the end of the day.” Another window of opportunity cracked open in 2000 in the form of set designing when these satellite channels started airing. His first TV set design was for a drama Indus TV was shooting.
According to him, designing Nadia Khan Show sets in 2010 in Islamabad and Dubai was the highlight of his set designing career. He also got a chance to design sets for the movie Waar with the famous Bilal Lashari. In the film world, it is called art decoration because you develop sets on the creative brief of the film director. In a little tête-à-tête with him, we learn what his work is like.
MARIA KHALID: Tell us about your product line?
KAZIM HASSAN: My showroom features interior design products like wood floors, carpet tiles and carpets, wall papers, window dressings and accessories, specialized sports floorings, anti-static PVC flooring. Its sale constitutes 60-70% of our business. If someone comes to our showroom, we guide them and give free interior designing advice.
MARIA: Do you think our universities prepare students for professional life once they are out of the university?
KAZIM: I was a jury member of students’ final projects several times at National Institute of Cultural Studies, Lok Virsa in Islamabad and what I noticed is that students need hands on training because nobody gives projects just because you graduated in interior designing. Execution of projects and its supervision is most important in addition to designing. One of my internees from Indus Valley, Karachi, got a job in Middle East after this internship.
He always failed the interviews previously because he lacked knowledge about the materials used in designing. 3D and computer generated images has solved the problem because now you can show customers how it will look like at the end. However interior designing with 3D images is an expensive affair. To become a good interior designer one has to get hands on training for a few years in the in the industry.
Pakistan also lacks proper internship opportunities. Most of the institutes & universities give bookish knowledge to students and do not train for customer handling, proposal writing, fee and closing deals. On the other hand customers sometimes want to get free advice from the new interior designer they plan to hire in their first meeting. Customers invite fresh interior designers to their site and press them for answers to every question, which is unethical before the finalization of fee and awarding project. There is a need for professionalism in the field of interior designing in this country. What I recommend is that architecture firms add interior design department in their offices, so that new interior designers do not face problems in handling projects because they lack customer handling knowledge.
MARIA: Is the interior designing industry growing in Pakistan?
KAZIM: Interior design has, to an extent, lived under the shadow of architecture for many years. Clearer distinctions are now beginning to emerge between these two related professions that, once established, should help to define interior design as a well-respected profession with ethics, value, vision and purpose.
The profession as a whole will then be in a better position to address important questions about design ideology, lifestyle, comfort and human behavior, and to encourage the sensory and perceptual aspect on interior design in addition to function and ergonomics. Interior designing industry is growing in Pakistan with a number of universities and institutes offering courses for interior designing.
Residential interior designing projects aren’t an easy task because if there are too many decision makers in a family, then you can’t satisfy every individual. There should be a written proposal to secure all sides. My best residential projects were those with minimum interference.
MARIA: How do you see the future of this industry?
KAZIM: The future of the interior design industry looks promising. Many nations are now fully design-conscious and this is a situation that can only continue. In Pakistan we can see a trend for good design outlets, restaurant, cinemas etc. Now business concerns in Pakistan are following the trends which we see in Dubai and other developed countries.
New trend of business outlet’s interior in shopping malls are visible. Dolmen Mall Karachi, The Centaurus Islamabad and the Mall of Lahore are a few examples. Commercial bank, Telco offices, cinemas are all done by professional interior designers and architects. There is a common misconception that all architects are good interior designers. The knowledge of materials and esthetic sense counts a lot in interior designing. Architects are technically very strong and interior designers normally assist them in commercial projects in developed countries like Malaysia, Japan, and Dubai.
MARIA: Do a lot of people hire professional interior designer services these days or only the privileged do?
KAZIM: Now there is a trend of designer houses in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, where customers want turnkey solution from purchase of land, construction, and interior design to furniture, accessories and land scaping. Mostly clients living abroad want such type of turnkey solutions in Pakistan. The interior design services are considered fit for privileged class but when a person spends even for small house, it should be spent properly. Just like if you take medicine on your own without consulting a doctor, it may damage your health.
For commercial as well as residential projects, people spend unnecessary but do not consult a professional interior designer. They avoid Interior designer’s fee and spend on unnecessary items like heavy wood work, wrong flooring, false ceiling, wall finishes, wrong selection of light fixtures, furniture, drapes etc.