Inside the Mind Of

Inside The Mind Of… Ben Corrigan

1 Oct , 2017  

As both an interior designer and a business owner, Ben Corrigan, Founder & CEO of Bluehaus Group, has seen his fair share of projects. Standing on both sides of the wall that divides the creatives from those responsible for the physical manifestation of the project, experience has conditioned his mind to strike an ideal balance between creativity and pragmatism.

Although the majority of his firm’s work falls under the corporate sector, his formative years’ involved F&B projects via Hybrid Concepts, his first business based in the UK straight out of university. That, and Sodabar (a bar-lounge concept run by Ben and his brother for a number of years) are perhaps the main reasons for his admittedly justifiable bias for the F&B sector. After a successful run with Hybrid Concepts came the economic recession of the 90’s, his first experience with the realities of a market slowdown and the not-so-fun side of the business. In 1998, an opportunity presented itself with the Copenhagen Group; the decision that brought him to Dubai.

Ben took on an entrepreneurial role relatively early in his career and has never looked back. He sensed in the early 2000’s, an opportunity for a small boutique design practice – one that focused its investment on people and technology and was not weighed down by expensive real estate. Running a lean yet effective, quality driven operation is one of his core beliefs, and is what has helped Bluehaus Group weather the many storms that have passed through the region.

We decided to catch up with Ben for a chat to know more about his work, his take on the A+D industry, and what excites him.

“Innovation rarely, if ever, happens in isolation.” – Ben Corrigan, Bluehaus Group

What made you get into Interior Design?

I originally studied fashion design, then moved to graphic design and eventually onto Interior Design. Truthfully, and this is the business side of me speaking, I didn’t think there was any money to be made in graphic design in the early 90’s so I moved to Interior Design. Having spent some time in different design sectors, and finally Interior Design, I think it all helped. With Interior Design you do need to consider every aspect of the environment so the exposure to other areas of design was helpful.

Ben Corrigan
Dubai Airports

What’s your favorite design sector and why?

I’m biased towards the F&B sector. I developed a passion for F&B during my undergrad studies, and I spent the first few years of my career in that sector. My final major project was a night-club called ‘SoundHaus’ based in the UK, a time in the 90’s when clubbing was a very different version of what it is today. Years later, my brother and I developed and opened a bar-lounge in Cardiff that ran for a number of years called ‘The Sodabar’. I was a silent-partner and based in Dubai, but it was certainly an interesting experience that both of us learned a great deal from. We sold The Sodabar and it’s still going strong. Since arriving in Dubai in 1998, I fell into the commercial and corporate sector, and although it’s considered very different from the world of F&B, I thoroughly enjoy and have a passion for it.

As a business owner though, I have developed a particular bent for commercial interiors as well. I’m a big believer in developing a macro strategy before the micro, as I believe this should be true of life, so I think the reason I like the commercial and corporate sector is because of the need to work in that way: develop the macro first, and then the micro strategy for the design.

What have been your favorite and least favorite designs that you’ve worked on, and why?

That’s rarely an easy question to answer, especially when the list is so long.  We did a project many years ago, in 2006 I believe, which still has a place in my heart. The Dubai Bone and Joint Centre on the 50th floor of the Emirates Towers:  it was the first of its kind in the region from a Health Sector perspective. The Health Sector was starting to boom in Dubai, and they were looking to offer a high quality hospitality experience to patience and guests, combined with world-class health and medical treatment and facilities. It was truly out of this world and was lauded in many magazines.

Ben Corrigan
Orbi by Bluehaus

More recently, we have recently delivered a private Jet Lounge at Dubai World Central called Jetex. We have truly created something special there and is a very unique experience for its users across. The project is also up for an award this year in the United Kingdom and the CID awards in Dubai.

Least favourite… now that’s even harder as we would not want to offend any of our clients! What I will say is that I fundamentally believe that projects are not generally difficult; it’s people’s egos and politics that make projects difficult – often unnecessarily. It truly is unfortunate when ego or politics taint what should be a pleasurable experience. Ultimately the client does not receive the value they should, and it’s regarded as a disappointment and a missed opportunity.

As a business owner though, I have developed a particular bent for commercial interiors as well. I’m a big believer in developing a macro strategy before the micro, as I believe this should be true of life, so I think the reason I like the commercial and corporate sector is because of the need to work in that way: develop the macro first, and then the micro-strategy for the design.

Where do you find your inspirations for your designs? Are there places where you’ve found numerous inspirations or sources that you’ve used many times?

Collaboration. Innovation rarely, if ever, happens in isolation. I’m a big believer in getting people in a room, or out for lunch or down the beach to brainstorm ideas at the front end of projects. We really try to drive a culture of pulling-together periodically throughout the life-cycle of a project. When it comes to projects, if they start well, they tend to run well, and we like to put a great deal of effort on the front end to set the project off on the right course. We are fortunate being in such a diverse society, so it makes sense to pull people together and brainstorm ideas. The key to a project I believe is development first of ‘The Big Idea’, or ‘The Common Thread’ and that gives the project a personality.

What would be the most important advice you could give new designers?

‘Great design is only as good as its delivery’. Seeing your project delivered is why we chose this career path  so be creative, be innovative, be crazy! But learn how to deliver projects through a disciplined process whilst respecting the project drivers of budget, programme, etc. Learn to compartmentalise the various stages of a project’s life. By following a process your projects will evolve in a structured and logical way. Spend time on site, go to the factories to learn (contractors will not mind) and never stop learning!

I am 20 years in this industry and I feel I learn something new every day. Don’t be afraid to go out and get your hands dirty and learn on the job. One of the most fun parts of a project is getting on site and seeing it come to life. And lastly, don’t feel the need to have an ego; there are too many architects and designers with egos. What we do is supposed to be enjoyable. Projects are important, but it’s also important to enjoy what we do. Smile, be nice and show respect to everyone that makes up our industry – most of the best architects and designers I have met, and the most successful people I know, are always smiling!      

How do you compare Dubai with anywhere else you’ve worked? What do you feel is the toughest part of being an interior designer, especially in the UAE?

I worked for five years in the UK before moving to Dubai in 1998, so most of my career has been in the Middle-East. I love the UAE for its ‘can-do’ culture;  there is a real sense of making things happen here. Often this can be under incredibly challenging circumstances – sometimes unrealistic – but I find this far better than the opposite problem of nothing getting done which you see in other economies. Perspective is so important. I believe the toughest part of being a designer in the UAE, and this is a double-edged sword, is that due to there being so many different nationalities on a project, there are often different and very misaligned expectations of how things are done, what process we should follow, how a project is ‘supposed’ to be delivered – because there is no set-precedent. Individuals often fall into the default of doing things the way they are done in their home country. Yes, you could argue a project team in London, New York or Melbourne might also be considered multicultural. However, they are working on a set of rules and expectations shaped from within that particular context. Here, on the other hand, there are so many misaligned expectations because there are no rules, standards or expectations. I truly see this as a major challenge, although as I note this is a double-edged sword and there are positives to this.

Ben Corrigan
Dubai Chamber of Commerce

What's exciting at the moment?

Bluehaus Group has entered its 15th year this year! What’s been exciting for us in our 15th year is that having spent the past five years diversifying into new and interesting sectors, we are now beginning to enjoy the fruits of our labours, somewhat. We are currently involved in some exciting architectural projects, a number of hotel projects, and an exciting new retail concept store in Kuwait. We have some interesting partnerships in the F&B sector and are seeing the return of the automotive sector after a difficult period. We also have a number of very interesting corporate workplace projects on the drawing boards, set for the end of a promising 2017.

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