Talkin' blues

As senior design manager and a partner in Bluehaus, Ben Corrigan talks about the value of being organised and the projects that put his company on the creative map in Dubai.

Ben Corrigan
Ben Corrigan

As senior design manager and a partner in Bluehaus, Ben Corrigan talks about the value of being organised and the projects that put his company on the creative map in Dubai.

With 10 years of design experience in Dubai, Ben Corrigan has seen the city's interior design market evolve. As the market has grown in strength so has Bluehaus, the company in which he is a partner.

Having started out doing a lot of corporate work, Corrigan is now pushing more for hospitality projects, as well as bringing aspects of hospitality design into the office. He tells CID about some current projects and the work that helped him make his mark.

What is your first memory of being interested in design?

I'm not going to tell you that my first memory of being interested in design was at three years old, because honestly it wasn't. Ironically I didn't do very well at art in school, but I think it was looking at retail and then later on, at bars and clubs, that got me interested in design.

I thought it looked really exciting and something I wanted to be involved in. I actually started off doing graphic design, then fashion design and then went to interiors, after a lecturer at college pushed me into it.

What is your formal training in the interior design field?

I did a course at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art & Design, on the south coast of England. This was followed by post-graduate work and, as with a lot of students, I probably stayed there longer than I needed to.

It was a fantastic course and I really enjoyed it, but I still kind of feel like I fell into it though.

I'm still surprised I'm in interior design, maybe I should have been a project manager instead.

Do you excel at the organisational side of the business?

One of our company's strengths is process. We are a very structured company and design is something I feel shouldn't be hard. A lot of design companies are quite chaotic. [The project] side of the business is almost set up like clockwork, so the designer can get on with the job.

Although I'm a partner in Bluehaus, first and foremost I am a senior designer. We have a general manager who takes care of the management side of things. The whole point is that regardless of what we do, we're still a business.

I like to be very structured and organised. Our clients like that and we believe in designing to build. In the Middle East, where the market is fast moving and competitive, cut-throat almost, you don't have time to mess around with designs that need to be engineered.

Tell us about your first design job...

My first design job in interiors was cosmetic work for a nightclub. One of the things that colleges are getting better at, but weren't particularly good at then, is teaching designers about the reality of business: lessons in budgeting and programming and actually making a design buildable.

I won't say it was a horrendous job. But when I look at it now, it was a bit of a joke. But I suppose they were paying a freelance wage and it was really cosmetic work.

What have been the highlights of your career thus far?

I think having the opportunity to set up my own business has got to be my biggest highlight. It's something I always wanted to do.

The job on the Dubai Bone and Joint Centre was a real career highlight. It was an unlimited budget project, if I get another one of those in my life time I'll be very happy.

When did you realise that having your own company would work out?

It took a few years. I felt like I was still working freelance, even though we had a few people.

It has probably only been the last three years where I felt we started to be taken seriously. Bluehaus used to do a lot of work as a subcontractor.

It was only when we started to win big projects under our own name that we felt we could make a real go of this.

What projects have you got lined up regionally?

We've got new offices for Davis Langdon, a concept for Emirates Leisure Retail, a new area for the Abu Dhabi food court, a Barclays in Riyadh, among others. We're also working on the Dubai World HQ.

That's interesting because we developed Dubai World's standards, so when you walk into one of the offices, it is recognisable as belonging to Dubai World.

What challenges are particular to the Middle East and how are these overcome?

Procurement is a big issue with us. I think if you speak to any designer and contractor and it's the same for them.

I don't think you're ever at the front of the queue for any particular product, unless you are ordering 400 000 of a particular item.

However, we've got good relationships with our suppliers and I like to think they look after us. Another challenge is that some projects are not given the time they really need.

There's nothing worse than doing a fantastic design and seeing it ripped apart because time won't allow it to happen.

How would you say that your ‘style' can be described in a few words?

As a company you desperately try to be designing without a particular style. When a client walks through the door, we should take their brief into consideration and do what they ask us.

I think though it's actually impossible to do that and all design companies have a particular style. When a client comes in and asks for something completely different it actually ups our game.

From a personal point of view I don't like over designed interiors.

Contemporary is probably my style; simple, I don't believe in fluffy design.

Where do you get your inspiration from for each individual project and how do you keep your ideas fresh and innovative?

Can any designer honestly say they don't get any inspiration from the media. I think we also get a lot of inspiration from hospitality designs and try to inject that into our corporate work.

For instance, we're designing a reception area at the moment, which is actually a kitchen.

What are the key trends that are emerging in the commercial interior design industry that you have witnessed?

What we're experiencing at the moment is a much more open-minded attitude toward new ideas.

Everyone is trying to do something different.

There are ten year old offices where people know it's not working and they are looking at new models where it's a much more open environment. We're looking to be a lot smarter with how we do things.

Clients want us to be clever with how we spend money, allocate budget and choose finishes.

What is your favourite project that you have worked on? - And the most challenging?

The Dubai Bone and Joint Centre. It's three or four years old now, but it's one of those projects that at the time was probably bigger than I may have thought we could handle.

Most challenging is a project for Barclay's Wealth.

If the Dubai Bone and Joint Centre was the next milestone from being set up, Barclay's has pushed us to the next level.

What three objects define or illustrate your design personality?

The Eames Chair for its extravagance, a Panerai watch for its quality yet simplicity and a Jaguar E-Type for its timeless style.

And finally, if you could have worked on the design of any project worldwide what would it have been?

It's still the Gherkin (the Swiss Re building) in London, for its iconic, but amusing stature and its sustainability.

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