Nada Debs opens her heart and home to MOJEH, revealing how her belief in craft as ‘a feeling that goes beyond geography, language and culture’ is part of everything she lives and breathes
Stepping into the home of Nada Debs in Jumeirah, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d been transported to a paradise in harmony with nature and luxury all at once. Flanked on both sides by an outdoor garden that encircles the traditional Arab villa, there are elements both traditional and modern, such as the breeze blocks and palm trees, cobbled pathways and fountains, that connect the old and new. “My personal style is very minimalistic and pure,” says Nada, “But I also love intricacy, and I love the contrast between something bold and pure.”Seeking balance and differentiation in everything she does, Nada Debs is unapologetically aware of the tension she enjoys between detail and form, chaos and simplicity. In fact, this is exactly where her unique approach comes to the forefront. “It’s finding duality — a balance between opposites,” she says. And that’s what her second home in Dubai, after Beirut, feels like.
Reflecting her signature style of handcrafted furniture, it is a place that is filled with memories from all over the world, including some of her designs that bear the trademarks of her approach, which she calls ‘handmade and heartmade’. “I first learned about the importance of craft in London, somewhere between 1992 and 2000, and everywhere I turned people were talking about preservation of craft techniques,” recalls Nada.
Growing up in Japan, her love for Lebanon was a deep-seated longing to belong to a place that held the sentiments of her heart, and this is how the meaning of traditional crafts took on a new form for her. “I realized people wanted to preserve antique pieces from their grandparents’ homes, but it wasn’t something they could use. I thought this was totally unexplored andI wanted to make it relevant and functional in this part of the world.” Some of her most popular collections include hand-crafted furniture and accessories, featuring mother-of-pearl and tin inlay techniques, marquetry and geometric patterns with Middle Eastern influences. Creating customised furniture that is reflective of her unique style, Nada has decorated the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the UAE, the Arab League Headquarters in Cairo and the UAE’s Mission to the United Nations, showcasing what she describes as a ‘neo-Arabian’ identity in all of her design approaches. “My work represents who we are today; a mix of East and West,” expresses Nada. “We have the spirituality aspect and we are open to modernity. I like what is happening today, because we are still trying to preserve our identity on a global scale.” Aware of this sense of belonging and identity that is innate in every human being, Nada’s mission has been to preserve time-honoured traditions and crafts, working with marginalised communities and craftsmen to explore and create patterns that can be linked both to this part of the world as well as across cultures.
“Local is the new global, and global is the new local,” she declares with an audacity that comes from over 20 years of experience. She makes a point of connection to her collaboration with IKEA for the LJUVARE collection which was well received by her clientele all over the world, although some were frustrated with its Middle East-exclusive availability. Growing up in Japan and studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States, Nada seeks to find connections between cultures and people through contemporary craft design with meaning, purpose and memory.
“Carpets make a space a home,” she points out. “It started with the Arab Bedouins. From the minute they put the carpet down in a tent, it becomes home. For me, carpets have such a strong value and, inherently, it is about identity and creating that sense of belonging with every piece I create. But it is also about customising everything to preserve the identity.” In her home in Dubai, several pieces reiterate this sense of belonging, coming together to tell the story of a home filled with global culture, memories and traditions. Working with marginalised craft communities is close to Nada’s heart, and also her true passion. She sees this as a way to keep the crafts alive, building bridges between people and connecting craftsmen to their innate talents and the wider world. She recently visited Pakistan for a special Carapace table created in collaboration with Studio Lel which is inspired by the city of Peshawar, one of the oldest cities in South Asia.
“When you’re talking to the craftspeople from the marginalised communities, they are so eager to learn and do things,” Nada explains. “I always find it exciting to work with them, because not only do I motivate them, but they too start using their creativity which means I am tapping into their mental horizons. That gives me an immense sense of satisfaction and pleasure.”
In her living room, the Oculus Carpet attracts attention for its distinctive texture, pattern and Arab orientation. Similarly, the Transcendence carpet or the YOU and I Collection of carpets have garnered much admiration due to their detailing and storytelling. Made in collaboration with Zuleya by FMBI to support young carpet weavers in Afghanistan, it is a perfect expression of Nada’s vision to create crafted heirlooms out of objects that have souls, stories, and meaning; preserving tradition for the new generations and igniting as park that connects conscious consumers to marginalised communities in all corners of the world.
“I am a big believer in passion,” she says with a smile. “Even when I look at children, I want to find that one thing that they are special in. That is what I see in those craftsmen, and when you give them suggestions, they suddenly open up and there’s that sparkle in their eye. Once you’ve found this passion, it is like having found your raison d’etre.”
Eager to explore new opportunities, Nada ventured into sustainability with Kohler WasteLAB to create Transcendence — a range of hand-crafted custom tiles for a traditional hammam experience, which was displayed at the Design Miami/2022 exhibition. Made from tons of landfill waste, the tiles reflect an arch aesthetic and capture Nada’s view of culture and craftsmanship, giving her signature approach to design a deeper meaning. “Sustainability is a very important subject to me, but it has lost its meaning,” Nada explains. “I love the Kohler WasteLAB tiles because of the circulatory aspect of the product. These are made from faulty and wasted tiles, which are redesigned to give them a new life.”
It is this circle of life that Nada seeks to find when she gets to work. Leading a team of 20 designers in Gemmayze, Beirut, there’s always something to create. But in addition to products, accessories and furniture, Nada also enjoys the interior design of commercial and residential spaces. Friends, family and clients seek out her innate ability to add warmth and richness to any space and she effortlessly adds her signature touch, which is evident in everything she takes on. Her home is a true ‘home away from home’ where she brings the essence of the world together, with a variety of cultures and stories that come forth from every piece of furniture, accessory or element.
From the paintings on the wall to the furniture on the patio, and from the consoles that are functional, versatile conversation-starters to the scent that welcomes you when you walk in, everything has a story waiting to be shared, retold and revived for its nostalgic memory. It’s these memories that linger in your mind and heart after you’ve spent just a few hours at home with Nada Debs. “When it comes to my work in design, I see sustainability as the sustenance of work where we use our hands, instead of machines,” concludes Nada “This preserves our identity, and with heirlooms that we create, it can be cherished and not thrown away. This is the sustainability of life, family and memories.” Explore Nada Debs’ creations here
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- Words by Odelia Mathews
- Photography by Ausra Osipaviciute
- Styling by Daniela Correia