International Women's Day and the women designing Dubai: Ellen Søhoel

Ellen Søhoel, founder at XDB Collective

Ellen Søhoel, founder at XDB Collective

…a brief introduction:

I’m Ellen Søhoel, the founder of the newly launched architecture and interior design firm XBD Collective (previously known as Bishop Design Residential), alongside my business partner Lee Nellis. Throughout my 15 years in Dubai, I have designed for some of the most prominent names in the commercial, residential and hospitality sectors, including The Fairmont Dubai, W Hotel, Emaar and Dubai Properties, amongst others.

Talk us through your average day at work:

There’s never really an average day here; Monday I’m visiting residential sites in Dubai Hills, Tuesday client meetings in our office, Wednesday I’m in Milan for Salone del Mobile. I work closely with a team of almost 30 talented individuals in our two offices in D3. We have weekly, and sometimes daily meetings with our architect team, as well as interiors and design teams. In between all this, I could be judging design awards or pitching for a new commercial projects, all whilst doing the school run!

How do you feel your work and the work of other female designers has changed Dubai?

I aim to inspire. We have won many regional and international awards and received a great deal of recognition for our designs. XBD Collective is now working on the world’s first environmentally friendly floating Casino in Macau, a truly innovative, ground-breaking project. I feel proud as a woman to have won this outstanding piece of work. These kind of projects really add credibility to the firm and position us as leaders on a global scale.

What other female designers/architects do you particularly admire?

Bethan Grey – who appeared at INDEX last year – is very elegant. I admire her simplicity, clean lines, colour combinations and neutral palette; I find this approach to design very interesting. I like her balanced composition; this is vital for timeless, sophisticated designs. Zaha Hadid, may she rest in peace, is an inspiring architect. I have always found her organic shapes exciting.

 

What is your philosophy in terms of architecture and design?

I continually have elegance and subtlety in mind and try to keep all my designs timeless, yet I always aim for the wow-factor. This is often a tricky combination to perfect. Furthermore, when designing, the extra details added to a feature often make the design, I always look for an added twist, to bring out the mood or create extra atmosphere in a space. Most importantly, I put great prominence on the interior elements that truly matter to any interior such as feature claddings, carefully selected hard finishes, lighting, ceiling design etc, and then add the furniture more to accessorize at the end.

How does Dubai and the UAE fare in regards to career and growth opportunities for women in architecture and design?

I feel the opportunities are fair in the UAE, I have been met with positivity from the region and a lot of great opportunities have come my way since I started my interior career in 2003. We are living and working in a young country, and as long as you can bring diversity and move with the times with your work, there are fantastic opportunities for women here. Architecture and design is rife in Dubai, and the industry is expanding, along with the growing skyline. There are a lot of female designers in the market right now who are doing a fantastic job, shaping the future of Dubai. Some of my favourite I mentioned above, but there are lots more who are up and coming!

What, to you, has been the most defining moment of your career to date?

The Launch of XBD Collective – it has been an incredibly journey. We have just launched the new website, I am working with a fantastic team of talented designers. I am excited to see what the future has to offer. Our most recent projects include The Dragon Pearl - Macau, the world’s first floating casino and The Alef Residences Signature Apartment - W Hotel, Palm Jumeirah. I am very grateful for everything on a daily basis, but the launch of XBD is truly the highlight of my career.

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