If you’ve been in the EP for a while, you’re probably pretty familiar with Desert Designs (DD). Whether you know it as a gift shop, a coffee shop, a gallery, or just a place to buy antiques or bedouin handicrafts, it is hands down one of the best shopping experiences in Dhahran.
My visits to the store usually consist of walking in and heading straight for the second floor coffee shop – Cafea Arab – where I order a super tasty cafe mocha. I then spend the rest of my time browsing the first floor, the gallery, and Juman Pearls, while chatting with the friendly and seasoned staff about “what’s hot” this month.
However, what most people may not know or really realize about Desert Designs is that it is, what I would consider, an “artist’s incubator.” It’s a store full of rare and precious items – made with love by local artisans and artists – that have been transformed into unique and functional accessories for your home. The owners of the store seem to thrive on trying to figure out how to translate these often neglected traditional products into pieces that can be displayed as beautiful works of art in the modern home. It’s an incredibly innovative business for this market.
Meet the Masters…
Part of what makes visiting the store such a special experience is also being able to have a chat with the amazing Qamar Ahmed/Qim, who owns and founded the store with her husband Farid Bukhari over 20 years ago. She is truly an entrepreneurial spirit and a visionary – unique qualities for a woman in a country where access to opportunity proves to be a huge challenge. It probably helps that she’s incredibly entertaining and an inspirational person to talk to!
As an artist herself, her vision for DD has always been about promoting the work of local artists and craftsmen.
I’m inspired by people who work with their hands… how they use specific materials or types of wood, and how they even make the joints. I mostly fall in love because it’s an original piece of art, and I appreciate their work for what it is.
She specializes in incorporating the work of these artists and craftsmen into custom furniture, such as ottomans, sofas, coffee tables, etc. Almost 50% of the store’s items are either Saudi made or made by the people “from the deserts of the world.”
I do this so that I can give people a chance to continue with the work that they’re already doing, and not to stop doing it because they didn’t earn enough from that life skill.
I actually love the values and thinking behind this store. It’s amazing to think that you could purchase an item from a store that actually means something more, and that has been made with passion and love.
Qim is also well aware that most people think that the store is “expensive,” but she strongly believes that not only is it worth every penny, but that you’re getting one hell of a deal!
Cheap is what you pay for! I feel like it’s an insult to me and the crafstmen when people say it’s expensive. You’re comparing these products to something that’s made in a sweatshop. To pay SR 2000 for a 100 year old door is practically free! I’d actually prefer people don’t buy it if they can’t appreciate it…
Not only is DD full of unique furniture and decorative pieces inspired by local craftsmen, but you can even see artwork by national artists in the gallery on the second floor.
I believe that art is for everyone, and we don’t want to be elitist or exclusive about it… I understand that art can be a career, and something that helps bring out a person’s individuality. We have the names and the unknowns in our gallery, and I pray that the unknowns get famous. I feel like the more exposure they have, the better for everyone!
In true DD fashion, many of these pieces are then translated into modern household items, such as pillows and mugs, so that you can incorporate the artist’s work into your home even if you don’t have the wall space or the mullah!
I recently bought a set of pillows with artwork by Tagreed Baghshi – I’m totally obsessed!
For updates on current exhibitions, scroll to the bottom for a link to DD’s Event Calendar.
You can even buy items made by local fashion designers and interior designers, such as… Fyunka (one of my personal faves), HAMSA, Annada, and Ya Balady, as well as many others!
Saudi Design Week
DD even participated in this year’s Saudi Design Week, a fair that helps raise awareness on the importance of design as well as promotes upcoming local and regional talent. They presented many of their Saudi-made products including this beautiful stool made out of a camel saddle. It was also painted blue for a more modern twist!
Also, check out some of my current DD-designed faves in the store… I’ve listed some of the prices, but wasn’t able to get all of them!
I really admire the way that the owners run their business, and what that means for the “artists of the deserts.” Unfortunately, there will come a time where many of these trades will die out, only to be replaced by the mass-produced commercial products that exist in most of the global markets. I just hope that more places like this will pop up, reviving the love for the soon-to-be lost arts.
So, if you appreciate individuality and uniqueness, it’s worth stopping by the store. While shopping there can get slightly overwhelming, since there are just so many things to see, take the time to browse… You’re bound to find something you’ll fall in love with.
I always do… 🙂
Visit & Contact Desert Designs:
King Abdullah Street (Next to AlJomaih Showroom)
Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
Tel: +966 13 889 4747
Sunday to Thursday 09:00-12:00 and 16:00-21:00
For updates on Events, visit their Events Calendar
Follow Desert Designs… Their social media presence is incredibly awesome with updates posted almost every day!