Two Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar alumni – Kaltham Al Kuwari and Aysha Al Mohannadi – have been recognised for their work in interior design by the UK-based International Property Awards. They won the award under the category, Residential Interior for the Region of Arabia.

The award – often referred to as the ‘Oscars of the Real Estate world’ – celebrates the achievements and innovations of companies operating in all sectors of the property and real estate industry worldwide, and include categories such as architecture, real estate, interior design and development.

DHI International Property Awards winning project

Neither Al Kuwari nor Al Mohannadi had entered their work for the annual competition, but researchers working with International Property Awards spotted their projects online while scouting for outstanding interior design executions in the Middle East.

Al Kuwari said they received a phone call from the awards body around February, informing them that they had been shortlisted for the Arabia region awards. Both of them were amazed, as it was something they’ve always dreamed of, but didn’t expect to happen so soon.

They arranged to submit their portfolio upon the request of the awards organisers. Even if they didn’t receive an award, she said that getting shortlisted by itself was an achievement and a sign of approval that they were moving in the right direction.

So, we were beyond ecstatic when in September, they informed us that we had been awarded, and that though this year’s judging panel had a difficult time selecting the winners, our work really stood out.

The designer duo said that the skills they picked up and the mentoring they received during their time at VCUarts Qatar – a partner university of Qatar Foundation – were instrumental in giving them the foundation and the confidence to start their own studio called Design House Interiors, run their own business and subsequently, win this award.

We thank VCUarts Qatar for enabling us with the skills and knowledge that got us to where we are today – being recognised internationally by a discerning panel such as the International Property Awards in the UK.

Al Kuwari added that their professors taught them the value of partnership. She said that if you have a partner who can understand and support you, you face challenges with positivity. In their case, they complement each other’s skills.

I can research, analyse and design, while Aysha can visualise and transform ideas into presentations for our clients.

Over the last two years as they were building their team, they made sure to hire VCUarts Qatar alumni.

Design House Interiors

Al Kuwari and Al Mohannadi met while both of them were freshmen in VCUarts Qatar. Having discovered their common passion for interior design, they decided to set up their own studio after graduation. In 2018, they started out in a modest ground floor room in downtown Doha, under the label Design House Interiors or DHI.

VCUarts Qatar 2The first few months were challenging, given the tendency of clients to hire only international designers for their projects. Eventually, an opportunity came when an international designing group left a residential project in Doha midway. The client, keen to complete the interior of the house and move in, approached the duo with the request to complete the unfinished project.

It certainly wasn’t the launchpad we had in mind – but we seized it, recalls Al Mohannadi.

We poured our heart and soul into it. So, you can imagine our delight when the client took a look at our work and remarked that the results we provided were far superior to those promised by the international designers.

Al Mohannadi said that though most designers have taste, what makes DHI stand out in the market is the intensive research that goes into each project, before deciding on the aesthetics – a tried-and-tested strategy they learnt at university.

She said that while at VCUarts Qatar, they would start with a concept presentation where they studied the core aspects such as circulation, project needs, and the space in terms of functionality. They follow the same approach with their clients who enjoy the tactic as they feel they are heavily involved from the start.

What we would like to point out is that it didn’t happen overnight; nor is it purely an innate ability. It’s years of practice, and having the humility to be corrected and start all over again.

Al Kuwari and Al Mohannadi were Latin Honour students during their time at VCUarts Qatar, and graduated Magna Cum Laude. Al Kuwari is also a Qatar Academy Doha alumna.

For updates and more information about the different programmes offered at VCUarts Qatar, visit qatar.vcu.edu.