Karen Konsal grew up in a small village in the west of Scotland and studied architecture in Liverpool. She worked in both the UK and the US, but didn’t formally pursue a career in interior design till her move to Dubai. While she may have initially settled here for some extra sunshine, she stayed to become a formidable force in the regional design world, and currently heads the interiors firm, LXA, with co-Director Sarah-Jane Grant.
On one my travels during my uni days, I visited the Petronas Towers (which was then the tallest building in the world), and noticed a plaque that credited Fred Clarke, Cesar Pelli as the architect. Years later, in 2008, I found myself working indirectly with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects on a large retail project for the UK’s City of Culture. It was one of those sliding doors moments when one day, I quite literally walked up to the Principal and asked if there was any chance I could join PCPA. I was interviewed there and then and offered a position at their Connecticut office!
Disenchanted by the cloud of gloom post the global downturn, I came to Dubai in 2012 and started working with a large architectural firm, leading their interiors department. I was excited by the opportunity to work in a place with so much sunshine, for a change. This was my first proper foray into interiors. It was also where I met my husband, (we worked together on my first job) and now we have a two-year-old son.
After a couple of years, I joined LXA, Luxe Interior then, to lead the design team. I could sense the vibrance of the office and loved the culture of the company. The focus was on design and creativity, and the emphasis on the people. I am still so inspired by the tempo of our design projects, especially in F&B.
Dubai is unlike anywhere else I have worked. The thing that stands out is the speed with which things happen. This is something I have had to adjust to, but now I see it as a really positive aspect of working here. Dubai offers so much opportunity for interior designers. The appetite to create something fresh and new, something bigger and better than the last, is second to none.
But this comes with its challenges…
With such high aspirations for great design, budget is a constant challenge, along with the build time to deliver projects (achieving quality is not an easy feat when the build duration is squeezed to within an inch of its life!)
Every project has its challenges, of course. For me, Jones the Grocer, Shanghai was exciting and challenging in equal measure. As design lead, I was closely involved in this project, from concept creation to completion, and down to the smallest detail.
As principal designers for Jones the Grocer, we had been developing the design with the brand for almost three years. Working in Asia was not a first for us (we had completed a project in Cambodia before), however, this was certainly the largest project outside Dubai that we have attempted. It would also be a Jones the Grocer with a wine bar concept.
The challenge here lay in the fact that we were working with a brand we knew intimately, but for a customer with whom we were unfamiliar. My colleague and I went to Shanghai to check out the restaurant and bar scene, which provided us with valuable insight into the Shanghai market, and the city’s appetite for design.
Shanghai is an incredible city, and we were truly inspired. As a consequence, Jones the Grocer, Shanghai took on a different design direction from the previous ones, assuming a more industrial and ‘unpolished’ aesthetic. The wine bar element was a huge success and the brand are looking to expand further in the region.
Professionally, we have such a diverse range of projects that I couldn’t possibly pinpoint a style. However, my personal design style is definitely modern minimalist – I lean more towards clean lines and minimal decoration. Even then, I do enjoy playful concepts where you can have some fun and take risks with your choices.
At LXA, we pride ourselves on not having a standard ‘studio style’. We approach each and every project with a fresh perspective. It is inspiring as well as professionally satisfying to continually refresh your approach, and challenge your creativity
The knowledge that before we begin, the design could go in any direction, keeps our creativity flowing and the tempo high! So my design style tends to be led by the project’s ‘story’; it could even simply be the idea behind the concept.
And inspiration for me never comes from the same place twice. Inspiration for me comes from the story that surrounds the concept, be it a prescriptive narrative or just the ideals of the client. For instance, one of our projects was inspired by the tassels from a cha-cha skirt!
It has to be hospitality. The designer in me loves the diversity of F&B, but the architect in me loves the scale of hotel work.
The best advice I have received wasn’t a quote or wise words, but simply career advice – ‘Gain real experience and push yourself in your choices’.
I have had some incredible experiences in my career so far, and even the bad ones have probably taught me as much, if not more, than the good ones. The best advice that I could give is to never stop growing.
In design, we have to continually grow, develop and push ourselves in every aspect of our job. When you stop growing, you stagnate and the creativity stagnates with you.
Take what is considered static and make it dynamic!
The interior design industry is forever evolving to one up itself at every turn. Technology and social media play a huge role in driving designers, and even clients, to want bigger and better designs. With the rapid exchange of visual information, the desire for ultimate flexibility, and the millennial leaning towards instant gratification, I believe transient design is going to be the next big trend – blurring the lines between function, allowing a space to morph from one function to another, or even manipulate the design to act one way in the day time and another at night. Hotels have already started adopting this trend, but this concept will really take hold across all sectors in the coming years.
I love to read industry magazines and articles online. I love design, so my eye is always drawn to pretty pictures, links to design articles, design pieces in showrooms and other people’s work. Plus, our company participates in conferences and events that explore the latest trends and technologies, and my colleague writes for Caterer magazine, so we are constantly throwing about ideas in researching for the next column, thereby keeping us all plugged in.
If money was not a concern, I would be travelling the world in luxury!
However, as a profession, if not interior design then architecture. I am an architect by trade, and still very much have a passion for this field. It was opportunity as much as intent that led me to interior design.
LXA have just branched out into the Indian market, and will be operating from our base in Bangalore, with projects in Bangalore, Mumbai and more. Right now, we are thrilled to be working with Palladium and Marriott on the Courtyard Marriott property in Agra. Home to the Taj Mahal, this is a real landmark project for LXA and a truly exciting entry into India. Watch this space!