A furniture design created by Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) Interior Design student Maryam Yacoub AlKuwari has been chosen by world-renowned fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, for her apartment in Msheireb Downtown Doha.

AlKuwari’s design was handpicked from among other proposals submitted by her classmates in response to an invitation to collaborate with Olivier Gelbsman, von Furstenberg’s interior designer, to decorate the New York-based fashion designer’s Doha apartment.

The Interior Design student said she still remember her emotions when their class first heard the brief – and who the client was. She said they knew they had to bring their ‘A’ game. And it turned out to be a tough competition, with many other beautiful designs created by her class.

Today, given all that anticipation and excitement, the cherry on top is knowing that – despite all the delays and doubts that COVID-19 threw in our paths – my design has already been implemented and installed in an apartment in my hometown Doha.

Liam Cloquhoun, Interim Chair of Interior Design at VCUarts Qatar, noted how such projects add value to the overall experience of pursuing a hands-on programme such as interior design.

Experiences of practice such as these are a vital part of the programme, says Colquhoun. And such initiatives would not be possible without the support of industry partners such as Diane von Furstenberg and Msheireb Properties.

To have already been part of such an initiative that culminated in the custom-design of a bespoke furniture piece for von Furstenberg’s personal apartment – while still a student – really is quite an extraordinary achievement for AlKuwari, but one that is richly deserved.

This project was a great opportunity for students to experience developing shop drawings to fabricators, says Dr Haithem A El Hammali, Assistant Professor of Interior Design at VCUarts Qatar. He said that the experience provide a necessary detailed explanation about fabrication and installation to realise their design intent.

This major achievement by Maryam and all of our students is a perfect chance to remind them how talented, hard-working and deserving they are.

Earlier this week, von Furstenburg herself thanked the students of VCUarts Qatar on her Instagram account, and posted a photo of the winning headboard design.

The headboard designed by Maryam Yacoub AlKuwari, in Diane von Furstenberg's Msheireb Downtown Doha apartmentThe opportunity to select a proposal from the next generation of designers is always an exciting and refreshing experience, says Gelbsman. And this was no exception.

He said that the students from VCUarts Qatar really stepped up to the task that the brief presented, and it was a challenge to choose between so many elegant proposals. In the end, they chose AlKuwari’s design for its functionality and sophistication.

The project began around February 2020, with AlKuwari and her classmates provided a brief to custom design a piece of furniture – either a sofa or a headboard – for von Furstenberg’s Doha apartment.  AlKuwari said that right from the outset of the project, she knew the years of training and mentoring she’d received during her undergraduate studies would stand her in good stead.

We had the opportunity to visit the apartment along with Olivier Gelbsman (von Furstenberg’s interior designer) to envision the space.

She said that the first thing that struck her when she entered the bedroom, were the dimensions. It wasn’t spacious, and she immediately knew that her design would have to be creative – and clever. She would have to design a multi-functional headboard that would allow her to minimise the need for additional furniture in the room.

AlKuwari said she studied images of von Furstenberg’s apartment in Manhattan and was inspired by the glass-based design there – multiple triangles that add depth and meaning to the space. To make the design tasteful yet multi-functional, AlKuwari chose a colour scheme comprising of matte black and neutral tones, and further complemented the headboard with three night-shelves on one side, for von Furstenberg’s personal use, as well as book shelves on the other.

As she savours the moment, AlKuwari says she owes her success to numerous people who have supported her through her formative years – especially her father, Yacoub AlKuwari.

My father has been there for me, every step of the way. His belief and faith in me, and in what I could offer – even during those moments when I felt like giving up – are what pushed me beyond what I perceived were my limits, and helped shape who I am as a designer today.

AlKuwari also thanked her professors at VCUarts Qatar. She said that at the moment, her achievement feels like a dream.

But knowing that I got this recognition so early on in my design career, I feel it’s the beginning of what I hope are years of exploring and creating exciting projects.

To learn more about the various design programmes offered at VCUarts Qatar, visit qatar.vcu.edu.

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