A Dubai-based tastemaker looking to revolutionize production and customization in design.
Words by Saul Taylor in Design & Architecture · Jan 21st, 2021
For the second instalment of our “In the Studio” series profiling the region’s best design talent, we meet Amy Mill and discuss her unique approach to bespoke interiors.
Founded and run by Amy Mill, Custom No. 9 aims to end mass production in interior design with its bespoke furniture and interior brand. Combining a marketing background and passion for a more creative approach to curating furniture for the home, Custom No. 9 aims to put the customer in the driving seat; the brand uses steel, wood, marble and glass to offer the region customizable and unique furniture designs. Describing their style as ‘retro minimalism’, this marriage of nostalgia and modernity is key to Custom No. 9's designs. Here we find out how Mill realized a gap in the market for a design-led and locally born furniture brand, with a focus on customization through a digital experience.
How did you end up doing what you are doing?
My professional background is in marketing and communications, having previously held roles at various comms agencies in the region. With an innate passion for design and interiors, I thoroughly enjoyed a role in brand activation that saw me take on more of a design and production role for experiential event concepts. Here I learnt a lot about production. Personally, I have always liked to curate unique pieces for the home and discovered a few years ago that I couldn’t find specific styles I was looking for in the market. Designed and commissioning a dining table for our home a few years ago, I realized there was a gap in the market for a service-focused custom furniture brand with its own aesthetic and designs. We’ve been incredibly lucky to receive a lot of support and guidance from interior designers in the industry, and the brand has grown organically over the past 18 months. I am intensely passionate about our fast-growing brand and enjoying every moment of the journey. My vision is to offer the region unique and fresh furniture designs that are customizable, with a truly personal approach.
Why start Custom No. 9 in the first place and where does the name come from?
I set the business up in 2018 as a passion project, with the aim of helping people design and produce unique furniture for their homes that they couldn’t find readily available here in the UAE. I had many conversations with industry leaders and interior designers, who I owe a lot to. They gave me a lot of insider advice on a market that I was a relative newcomer to, and their positive feedback on my concept drove me to focus all my time and effort into Custom No. 9. I realized that there was a real gap in the market for a design-led and locally born furniture brand with a focus on customization through a digital experience. With that in mind, I reinvested earnings into creating the ultimate online custom furniture concept, giving our customers the opportunity to design their own piece of furniture online. In terms of the name - call it clichéd - but I have this thing for the number nine. It comes up everywhere, in important and non-important everyday moments and as logic would have it, our workshop is also number nine (by chance).
How would you describe your personal style?
Casual. Laid back and as effortless as possible.
How would you describe Custom No. 9’s style?
At Custom No.9 we stick to minimal form combined with retro shapes and materials. A style we have coined as ‘retro minimalism’. A mix of angular, rounded and geometric shapes combined with nostalgic materials like Terrazzo make up our collections. Whilst bold in their own way, they are all rooted in a very simplistic design ethos. Our ‘Meaghs Bed’ is a perfect example of this, with its 17th century colonial style cane headboard option; a material at the height of a mini-renaissance, paired with our simplistic and contemporary black steel frame. As another example, our ‘Joni’ dining table embraces a sleek curved steel frame paired with our natural stone tops including Terrazzo, an old-age flooring technique at the height of popularity in the 1960s. This marriage of nostalgia and modernity is key to our designs. We believe less is more. With curated statement pieces for the home and an array of accessories, you can create a style that is individual to you and tells your story.
What sort of clients do you work for?
We work with an array of residential clients, whether it’s helping to create custom pieces for their home or working with them to curate their furniture from our collections. In addition to this, we’re extremely lucky to work with a number of the region’s top interior design firms, working with them to bring their projects to life through furniture and steel interior feature work. Since operation we have delivered a number of successful projects directly with retail, F&B and hospitality clients, working with them on furniture consultation and design through to fabrication.
Can you describe a project you have worked on recently that you are particularly proud of?
We recently completed a café for one of the region’s fastest-growing local based gym brands, The Warehouse Gym. The brief was to design furniture for a café area that would maximize the use of the space, have a contemporary feel and stay completely on-brand. We used our signature ‘Joni’ leg frame design, with custom sourced Terrazzo tops from India, to encapsulate the full concept through to design and build. We designed two long communal tables with 8mm lipped steel edges, filled with beautiful black and white terrazzo to match the overall gym aesthetic, paired with black steel benches to match. The mezzanine perimeter of the café was completed with long steel standing and high tables looking out over the impressively designed gym. The table designs were complete with seamless built-in plug points for gym café goers, giving them a space to extend their gym visits. The project was one for the books, having given us the challenge of combining functionality with the brands aesthetic, whilst using our own signature furniture designs.
How big a part does local craftsmanship play in your work?
I’m very lucky to be working with a team who I deem to be the most talented stonemasons in the country. Their skill allows for an array of possibilities in design and production. Working with this particular team inspires my designs and pushes me to think out of the box when it comes to manufacturing possibility. We recently launched an array of Off Cut Drop products for the festive period. Working with their team, I was able to launch four different unique home décor products in various materials and colorways, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without the right people.
Tell us a bit about the materials you use and how important materiality is to Custom No. 9.
At Custom No.9 we focus on steel manufacturing with all sorts of natural stones. Materiality is everything to us, with the majority of our customer base coming to us when they want something truly unique and personalized in their home. When designing our first collection our focus was to separate table top and table bottom, whereby customers could select leg design/color and top material across a wide range of pieces. We have a curated selection of natural stone ‘table top’ materials that are available across our collection. Whether it is dining tables, side tables or desks, our ethos was to push the boundaries in terms of customization for our customers. The original pink, beige, black and brown Terrazzo that we launched as a top option has become our signature. This material took us months on end to find in the local market. We have also handpicked various Terrazzo patterns for specific projects overseas. Many people will order a dining table with a specific selection of stone top, following that with a matching side table. On top of Terrazzo, we buy and hold stock of particular marble pieces that are available across our collections. Not only does this help us to maintain market price, but we also handpick specific vein patterns and ensure quality by carefully selecting each slab. As we hate wasting any of our much-loved stones, I came up with a program in June that utilizes our small off cuts, turning them into limited edition products for the home.
How would you describe Emirati design or the Emirati design aesthetic?
What are your favorite places in the UAE to get design inspiration?
I get a lot of inspiration each time I visit the hustle and bustle of Satwa’s tailoring stores, as well as Alserkal and the Deira gallery area like Bastakiya.
All images courtesy Natelee Cocks Photography