Sense of Chi

An Asian transformation has occurred at Dubai's oldest nightclub, The Lodge.

The resin sculptures flanking the entrance are designed to represent the old spirit of the nightclub leaving the building
The resin sculptures flanking the entrance are designed to represent the old spirit of the nightclub leaving the building

In a continuation of our ‘Question of Quality’ feature last month about the benefits and pitfalls of choosing custom-made furniture above high-end ready-made products, CID visited Chi at The Lodge nightclub to see the transformation of Dubai’s oldest nightspot into the city’s flavour of the month, in which every element of the design was specially designed in the Far East.

Freelance interior designer, Roia Jabari, has been based in Dubai for six years, after establishing herself in the retail, residential and hospitality industries in her native California. The refurbishment of The Lodge was her first foray into nightclub design, which was actually the major factor for the owners commissioning her. Owners Waseem I. Qazi and Syed Salman Ahmed both felt she was perfect for the job.

Co-owner, Ahmed explains: “We wanted to create something different, and I wanted a designer that would design something fresh and new, which is why I asked Roia if she had designed nightclubs before and when she said no, I hired her on the spot.” He adds: “Early on in the design stages I was in a hotel room in Las Vegas watching a TV program about the world’s best nightclubs and I called Roia and it was early morning in Dubai and we sat on the phone to each other and watched the whole program talking about what was good about each design, what we liked, and what we wanted to interpret for Chi at The Lodge.”

As The Lodge was the oldest nightclub in Dubai, Jabari made the nostalgic decision to maintain the original architecture, and change the facade solely by painting the exterior white to encourage a mausoleum feel.

The entrance is flanked by resin ‘ghost’ sculptures, which took two months for a Balinese sculptor to complete. Jabari explains: “[The sculptures] are designed to signify the old soul of the Lodge coming out and the Buddhas in the reception represent the new spirit coming in – the feeling of Chi entering the club.”

Jabari reused the glass doors from the previous incarnation of The Lodge to separate the entrance lobby from the reception. The entrance wall is stone, but in order to cut costs, large glass squares are imbedded into the wall to decrease the amount of stone needed. On the opposite wall, 30x30cm sheets of small stone mosaics create an interesting feature wall.

The principal inspiration for the design was the European trend for having beds and lounging areas within a club, such as the concept for the Supper Club chain devised by Rob Wageman of Concrete Architectural Associates. Ahmed says: “The original concept came from wanting to experiment with the bed concept inspired by our visits to Duvet Club in New York and The Supper Club in Amsterdam.” Jabari adds: “It is quite a foreign idea to have beds in a nightclub, especially in Dubai – many people don’t know how to sit on them and they perch on the edge of them.”

In the first room, the flooring is Sparkle Slate and a French wallpaper design adorns the walls from the American company Salah Interiors in Dubai. The toilet doors and walls are clad in black leather quilting, and Jabari explains that the limited budget meant she had to prioritise spending: “I thought that door handles were an unnecessary expense.” The onyx sinks were made in Java, and the mirrors and glass mosaics are Indonesian too, despite having a European feel.

A heavily carved century old wooden door with brass handles leads into the VIP room, with the five foot stone statue, ‘See no evil, hear no evil’ placed directly outside the entrance, which Jabari explains is a humorous nod to the nightclub industry. She chose champagne as the colour scheme of this area: “This is a rich colour – befitting the most exclusive part of the club. It creates the right image.” Everything in the VIP room was custom-designed and made in the Far East. The mother-of-pearl tiles embedded onto the bars are actually drinks coasters that Jabari re-interpreted. She explains: “Price was a major consideration in this project, and even taking into account the trips Mr. Waseem and I did to Indonesia, and the shipping costs, the price was still ridiculously cheaper than buying the products locally.” She adds: “It’s not about going cheap on the materials, it’s about spending the money wisely.”

The outside part of the nightclub is one of The Lodge’s key attractions and Jabari used a lot of natural stone and concrete in creating an Indonesian garden feel. There is a huge stone waterfall behind individual wooden gazebos, but after a feng shui expert came into the club and explained that this water was in the fire sector, and the energy would not flow right, the stone wall will remain just a stone feature. The outdoor furniture is mainly made from synthetic rattan to cope with the climatic conditions in Dubai.

Being a nightclub first and foremost, most of the budget was allocated to the sound and lighting. Desert Beat installed the LED lighting and the KV2 sound system was chosen, which Ahmed explains is regularly voted the best sound system. “The international DJs say it’s one of the best clubs they’ve played in, which is what we wanted.”

Boasting a total area of 37,000ft² having segregated areas makes designing and fitting out the areas not seem so overwhelming. Both Jabari and Ahmed agree that the major difficulty actually lay in refurbishing a 25 year old property. Ahmed explains: “It was a constant battle to work with a structure that was outdated. No-one believed in this place and when we went to the municipality and asked them for the architects drawings or the floorplans, there were none available as it was built so long ago by Dubai standards.”

Jabari adds that by sourcing all items from the Far East introduced further intricacies: “We had continual challenges as nobody really understood the materials. These are simple materials that in the Far East, India or China would be common and easily handled, but in Dubai, everyone is used to dealing with the top products and very high-end materials, and when you’re dealing with imperfect materials, no-one knows what to do with them.”

Jabari is no stranger to Indonesian design as last year she completed the Somerset Apartments in Dubai, which has a very similar theme. She says: “Bali is never going to go out of fashion, it will last longer than other designs, all I did with The Lodge was put a bit of bling into it.” She continues: “It took just 95 days to complete, which has never been achieved before. Ever. Decisions had to be taken very quickly.”

Ahmed adds: “I had to trust Roia’s decisions, and give her a completely free reign. It was quite stressful waiting to see what she had purchased on one of her many trips to Indonesia, but it worked out.”

Her spontaneity became legendary with the owners, in one shopping trip she even shipped back 50 Balinese bongos. She explains: “I’m trying not to be an interior designer, I think of myself as more of an interior consultant and commercial interiors need to generate income and make the maximum use of space – to provide the whole package for the client.”

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