Inside The Mind Of… Carol Finnie

Carol Finnie hails from Saltcoats, Scotland which, in the words of Morrissey, is “a seaside town they forgot to close down”. From there to designing five-star hotels around the world, Carol has lived a full life, both as an interior designer and a human being. Chatting to us in the lounge of the Bonnington Hotel (where she also resides), she is in truth, the hotel designer who lives in a hotel. Carol exudes a vibrant energy and zest for life – she loves travel (she has lived and worked in nearly every continent), is a self-proclaimed petrol head who dune bashes in her free time, and was actually once in a rock band! Here is what we learned about her…


How did your design career blossom, and what brought you to Dubai?

As a kid, I used to love saving cereal boxes to build models of shops, garages and houses. This led to studying design in Edinburgh. My education there was based on the Bauhaus ethic, (a method whereby teachers and students challenged the conventions of fine art, architecture and design by advocating a return to individual craftsmanship). We would all sit in one studio and work with product designers, graphic artists and engineers. This method taught me my trade really well, both practically and aesthetically – you don’t just learn design theory and strong presentation skills, you learn how things are built.

Knowing how to physically build and construct with your own hands does make a difference and can give you that edge when creating and resolving design solutions.

After university, London was calling. I worked with Michael Aukett, a prestigious architectural firm, specialising in the refurbishment of Grade 1 listed heritage buildings, on the Paddington Railway Station – a fascinating project that spanned three years, and my Art History studies came to good use. I then moved on to F&B design and hospitality projects, where I also met my husband, an automotive designer and a specialist in Formula One hospitality paddock design. And so, for ten years along with my hotel work, I also designed the interiors of five-star hospitality units for the majority of the F1 race teams.

Ispanya Grand Prix Hospitality Suites

After another few years in the US, followed by a return home to Scotland to an ailing mother, I bought some land and designed and built our home in the south of Spain, which was truly a labour of love. We spent two years on it, and I personally oversaw the construction. Knowing how to physically build and construct with your own hands does make a difference and can give you that edge when creating and resolving design solutions.

I have worked with DWP for six years now, initially as a Design Director in Malaysia. Two years in, my CEO asked me to head up the Interiors department in Dubai. Leaving my design team there was heartbreaking, as we had developed quite a bond. But it was clearly the right thing to do as I love working in the Middle East.

I have been lucky enough to be handed some great opportunities in my career, which have had me traveling and working in Europe, Asia and the US. Most design roads usually lead to interesting places in the world. Also, working in a global firm allows you to explore the world and share your knowledge with different people from a variety of  backgrounds, which ultimately creates a satisfying life and work combination.

A bit about your regional work…

I landed here and immediately started work on the W on the Palm, a very challenging job due to the usual ups and downs in the UAE – payments, start-stops, etc. It was a complicated job to take on, as the initial design from a previous London firm was an inherited drawing package that required a detailed peer review and many adjustments and adaptations to get it to site.  I had a great team of designers working on it and they did a fantastic job. It has also led to us to acquiring the design for the latest W on Yas Island (previously Viceroy).

We have recently been working on a few interesting workplace projects in Dubai, in both the private and public sector. Our team have won quite a few design awards, the Smart Dubai office in d3 being a personal favourite.


Smart Dubai offices in Dubai Design District

What is most challenging about being an interior designer in the UAE?

Across the globe, in the design world, we have cost and programme constraints and delays. But when designing in the UAE, we also have to consider material selections carefully, particularly in exterior spaces, such as terraces and poolside areas, due to the extreme heat and sand in the atmosphere.

Your most exciting project…

My work in the US on the flagship Taj Hotel in Manhattan was both enjoyable and challenging. The project required the refurbishment of a 1930s heritage building on 5th Avenue, which was also partially occupied by private residences. The refurbishment of the hotel rolled over the course of three years, and the age and shape of the building led to over 47 room type variations and 10 signature suites. It was a challenge both as a phasing exercise and as a project team – the client was in India, the design consultant split between London and Singapore, and the work in the US.

Your design style and sources of inspiration…

For me, design is about keeping it simple and elegant. A successful piece of design work presents itself in an effortless way. The language should flow seamlessly, and have a connection with you as you move through the space. Scandinavians do this well.


DoubleTree by Hilton in Business Bay, Dubai

Favourite design sector…

Having spent many years in London working on F&B projects, this has to be one of my favourites within the hospitality sector. It gives a designer so much scope to create a language and a story – from the interior planning and exterior facade through to the tableware and menu graphics.

On the interior design industry five years from now…

I think that the main advancement in the interior design industry will be in technology, in both how we work in the studio and how we work on site. The challenge for designers is to keep on track with technological advancements.

Alternatively we may start to see a move back to a more handcrafted, simpler way. Only time will tell…

On staying abreast of ever-changing trends and technologies…

Carol indulging in her love of off-roading

Everything is cloud-based now, which makes working across the globe, and/or remotely, so much easier and accessible when on the move. Presenting in live time allows changes and updates to be shared straight back to the studio. The best thing to do is to select the technology that enhances and suits your design process and productivity. In addition, I like to stay involved on a human level, participate in roundtable discussions, design judging panels and global design reviews, as well as offer part-time lectureship in design schools.

If not an interior designer, what would you be?

I have always been interested in psychology and human behaviour in design. Perhaps I could tap into this field and somehow cultivate it further. If not this, then certainly a singer in a rock band!

If you could design anything without constraints…

I would love to work on an iconic contemporary museum, or design the airline interior for the Foo Fighters’ personal private A380 on their world tour!

What are you working on at the moment?

Mainly hospitality projects in the region, alongside a few exciting new workplaces for global headquarters. Quite a few of the projects require me to be on site in Bahrain and Saudi, so I am travelling a lot these days.

Best advice you have ever received…

Keep it real, and be true to yourself.

Pearls of wisdom for new designers…

Best advice I could give is to listen to the design brief, then own it and exceed expectations.

Your design dreams…

I say dream big! I would like to be the first to design a hotel for the Marriott on Mars!

Carol in the lounge of the Bonnington Hotel JLT

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