The Saudi designer discusses her role in redefining the regional aesthetic
Words by Laura Beaney in Design & Architecture · Aug 8th, 2023
Interior designer Urjowan Alsharif casts a contemporary gaze towards the Gulf’s aesthetic traditions, establishing an entirely new and compelling visual language. Her Hijazi heritage has been just as influential to her approach to design as her global travels. Urjowan’s environments always start with a story. The history of a family or their land often serves as a point of departure from which the designer configures elegant and individualistic environments that evolve over time. We sit down with the designer to discover how Urjowan Interiors came about and what her favourite project is to-date.
Urjowan: I’m Urjowan Alsharif, a Saudi Interior Architect with a Masters degree in interior architecture from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I have over a decade of experience in the design field from international design firms in the UAE.
I established my own boutique design firm in Dubai in 2018. I combine the global influence absorbed from my studies and travels with the visual culture I experienced through my Saudi heritage to deliver a fresh understanding of the regional aesthetic, one that speaks to the new generation in the Gulf.
Urjowan: My grandmother owned one of the first traditional bridal boutiques in Saudi, the heavily gilded textiles and vibrantly hued gowns fascinated me. I loved spending hours with her, discovering the region’s traditional garments. Every area in Saudi has a different costume; every dress has its own historical significance.
I was drawn to art early on and knew that I wanted to do something in the creative arts. After graduating from Dar Alhekma University in Jeddah I went on to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study for my Masters in Interior Architecture. I later moved to Dubai and started working at international design firms before launching my own boutique studio.
I draw much inspiration from my Hijazi heritage. The Hejaz region is on the western coast of Saudi Arabia and is a site that has long embraced influences from all over the Islamic region. It’s a melting pot due to its crucial geographic positioning that made it a host to Muslims from all over the world. I also draw influence from global travel. I get lost in antique bookstores and old streets. Historic buildings inspire me as much as modern architecture does. I regularly attend design fairs and art exhibitions - there’s so much inspiration to be found outside of the studio.
My studio specialises in high-end residential projects across the Gulf that are typically protected by NDAs as our clientele are prominent families from the region. We have ongoing projects in Kuwait, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh. The studio delivers contemporary spaces that reflect the local aesthetic in a contemporary sense.
Each project comes with its own story, we build on an existing narrative whether it’s the spatial program, geographical location or the family’s history as such, no two projects are the same. Fundamentally, the studio’s design philosophy is rooted in research and exploration to provide bespoke solutions for each space.
We’re not limited to a specific style, the studio pioneers a balance between forms, textures and materials.
I’ve always been drawn to natural materials. I love their unique characteristics, and how they adapt and change over time with the project. For me, the wear and tear and flaws just add to the charm.
My favourite project would have to be a private boutique resort in a Kuwait farming area. The studio was involved from the outset and supported the conceptual architectural planning in 2019. The project is a 12-bedroom private farmhouse that features four courtyards, a gym, and a cinema room. Working with a challenging climate like Kuwait’s has been a beautiful learning journey that continued until the handover during Q1 of 2023.
2023 has been quite busy for us so far. We’re currently working on two private residences in Kuwait as well as our first project in my hometown, Jeddah, a private villa which I’m excited to work on.