Design & Architecture

In The Studio: Styled Habitat

Styled Habitat Rabah

Founder Rabah Saeid blends natural materials and thoughtful design to create spaces that are meant to be lived in

Words by Janice Rodrigues in Design & Architecture · Nov. 30th, 2022

Rabah Saied, the founder of Dubai interior design company Styled Habitat, believes that design is a luxury that shouldn't be restricted to a few. The interior designer has a passion for natural materials and spaces that are as functional as they are beautiful. Her Dubai Design District studio, which opened in 2019, is a good example of this. We catch up to learn more about her space and Saudade, a stunning new project that creatively imagines a private home.

Rabah: I didn’t grow up in a creative household, nor did I understand the possibilities in the creative world. Growing up in Sudan, like in many emerging markets, success was becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer, and anything outside that deemed having "settled down." 

As someone bright at school, I gravitated towards biology and the plan was to go to medical school. But I met my husband in my freshman year, and we put that on hold to move to the US, where medical school meant an eight-year program and possibly being in debt for the rest of my life. 

 At the time, I worked different jobs and one was as a receptionist at an interior design company. My boss told me I was the worse receptionist he'd ever hired because I was rarely at my desk – I was in the back, rummaging through products or asking designers questions. 

So, he gave me a cheque and told me to study interior design. It's been a real journey and took longer because I had my family too. But it's a testament that we don't always know our passions right away.

Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat

When I launched Styled Habitat in 2016, I wanted to create spaces that people felt, no matter the budget, were luxurious to them. When we say the word luxe it can feel like only a select group of people has access to it. But that's not true. In fact, your ideal space is one created for you, as that's what's going to feel luxurious. In that narrative, I think luxury is for everyone and it's why our motto is design is a luxury for all.

My aesthetics are a lot about learning to use natural materials as much as possible. Being honest with the materials you use will always create a timeless interior, make an item more cherished, and last longer. 

 For example, when I use stone, I like natural stone. Granite, marble, that's as tactile as possible. When using wood, when you can actually feel the grain and texture. This creates more attachment to an item than a pristine element would. 

 These days we've started looking at homes as almost utilitarian, unused spaces and I find that quite disheartening. Spaces are meant to be lived in. Invest in that corporate meeting room but invest more in the station where your team is working every day.

Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat

When people walk into our Dubai Design District studio, the most common comment is, "can I move in here?" And, to me, that's the biggest compliment you can give because you didn't ask, "can I work here?" 

When designing the space, I thought about all the things that made me feel calm when I come to work. I didn't want a corporate look but like I'd walked into someone's apartment and so I catered to that aesthetics, with natural materials, things that made me comfortable, without it looking too sterile. 

 We've used a lot of brands we love and contractors that we work with. The more connected the space is, the more at ease you feel because it's not pretentious or stuffy in any way. At the same it, it's a very functional space for us, and the fact that it won the Office Design Award of the Year in 2020 by Identity Magazine was just a cherry on the cake.

Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat
Styled Habitat

More recently it's been transformed thanks to Saudade, an exhibition that's part of Dubai Design Week 2022. If you see the studio pictures before, it is quite the contrast as, when we designed the studio, I wanted to invoke feelings of calm. But with Saudade the journey is different. In a city so transient and fast-moving, we wanted to create an escape that provokes an emotion, a memory, a sense of belonging. 

If you had that connection, that sense of nostalgia mixed with longing, to any of the rooms then you've captured the meaning the word "Saudade" has in the Portuguese language. We tried to put together this rich apartment that documents a life that has evolved over time. As you move through the rooms, the shift of colours, the collection of furniture and art, exaggerate the passing of time. 

 It was well-received and there would be visitors just sitting around, no social media, just reflecting, and I think that was its biggest success. It was truly rewarding to see interiors experienced in such a way.

Photography credits : Sebastian Bottcher