Julia Dempster, Managing Director at Interior Motives, has quite the story to tell. Her portfolio lists names and projects not commonly found in most interior design portfolios. Saying that her impressive body of work is varied would be an understatement: she’s worked on sets of Paramount Studios as well as the palaces and exquisite properties of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of the UAE, during his time as the crown prince.
A transformative decision twenty years ago to venture from the west coast of America to a small but emerging city in the heart of the Middle East, proved to be the best decision she ever made. Not one to shy away from exploring new opportunities and ventures, her career has taken her across the globe, from her home in England, to the sunny beaches of Los Angeles, down under to Sydney, and now to our very own Dubai. Julia’s personality is the sum of her experiences and travels, among them what she calls her father’s “gypsy gene”, a reference to the number of times she moved homes as a child.
“Nothing happens without sharpening your selling skills. Some of the best-wrought plans have been lost in the presentation. Enthusiasm speaks volumes in the tone of your presentation – it is contagious.” – Julia Dempster, Interior Motives
Fairmont Bab al Bahr – Designed by Interior Motives
LTD: What made you decide to get into interior design?
When I was much younger, my family would relocate every six months, moving from one property to another. With every move into a new house, I watched my father transform the derelict property we were living in, into a warm and beautiful place we would call “home”. The extensive traveling has also had an important influence on my career choice; however, it has been my design training, that has determined the way I approach projects.
I now start my work thinking about function and circulation rather than focusing on singular elements such as rugs or fabrics. During the early days of my career, I was very concerned about how everything looked. Now I’m more concerned about how it feels. I’m more focused on telling stories and creating a particular kind of atmosphere, and this concern for “mood” and “drama” also derives, I think, from my time spent as a set designer for Paramount Pictures.
Fairmont View Room at Fairmont Bab al Bahr – Designed by Interior Motives
LTD: How do you compare Dubai with anywhere else you’ve worked?
I have worked in London, Sydney and Los Angeles, and am fortunate to have worked in the UAE on many prestigious hospitality projects. What truly amazes me about this place is the sheer speed at which projects get completed; the record times really deserve their place in the history books. I love the fact that we have diversity and clients who have the budget to complete projects in a couple of years.
LTD: If not interior design, what would you be doing?
As an avid reader and semi-literature nerd, I would be a writer, most likely in the thriller genre. I am fascinated by them – I love a story or a film with a twist and I’m enthralled by choices. I’d like to think I have a pretty steady moral compass, so when someone does something unethical or criminal, I’m always aghast, and I want to find out why. I’m convinced that everyone I meet has a unique story to tell; I just need the time to pry it out.
LTD: Why do you think clients prefer boutique design studios over large design firms?
It’s simple: boutique firms offer a level of personalized service and attention that a large firm simply cannot afford to give. As a small business, we can be less contractual and more flexible in terms of our deliverable. We have no problem under-promising and over-delivering to the client’s satisfaction. And most importantly, you get the attention of the managing director on every project. I personally review each submission and all the details that go along with it. I’m a hands-on manager and have no problem taking a call at midnight on a weekend if and when my client needs something.
Restaurant Area at Fairmont Bab al Bahr – Designed by Interior Motives
LTD: If you could design anything without constraints, what would it be?
You would think that constraints are the last thing I would want for a creative project, but they’re actually beneficial when it comes to designing interiors. If you’ve ever faced the common writer’s hurdle of the blank page, you’ll know what it’s like to be paralyzed by innumerable opportunities. What restrictions do is take away some of the choices available to us, and with them, the paralysis of choice that stops us from getting started. I find that having constraints make the process a little more enjoyable and the final output is usually something I am prouder of.
LTD: How would you describe your design style? Where does your inspiration come from?
My style is an eclectic mix of authentic, contemporary, ethnic and traditional elements. It’s not trend driven but I love to incorporate unexpected combinations like French with Indian, or fashion elements with tribal. I love black and white. I feel my look will stand the test of time and allow my clients to build on their interiors over the years. I would describe my design style in three words – clean, timeless and eclectic.
I am a huge fan of designers such as Vincent van Duysen, Axel Vervoordt and Christian Liaigre. In terms of art, I am a fan of Cy Twombly, Richard Serra and Motherwell. I’m also inspired by coffee table books, primitive antiques, fashion and textiles.
Reception Area at Fairmont Bab al Bahr – Designed by Interior Motives
LTD: What would be the most important advice you could give new designers?
Interior design is a wonderful profession, but what most people forget is the business element of it as there’s the obvious corporate and profit making element to it. Successful businesses are run by numbers. Nothing happens without sharpening your selling skills. Some of the best-wrought plans have been lost in the presentation. Enthusiasm speaks volumes in the tone of your presentation as it is contagious. However, keep your ears on the ground and both eyes on your client to see if you have exacted perfection in their minds. A mentor and former manager of mine, David Wrenn, gave me the most practical piece of advice that I tell my team every day: always overscale! In the grand scheme of a hotel, the smaller elements can often get lost in the background. It’s always important to ensure that every piece of furniture or fixture that’s selected is scaled up in size, so it’s beauty and value is easily noticeable, be it furniture, lights or even plants.
We employ quite a few interns and we always advise them to get experience in the field they envisage going into. I personally had the chance to design offices when I was at university. Now I know that corporate spaces are something I should avoid as it is not something that inspires me. It’s important to enjoy what you do. As Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”