Last March, in the parking garage of a five-star hotel in Dubai, with just the faintest smell of gasoline hanging in the air, Traffic Design Gallery unveiled Bidoun, a distinctive line of layered ottomans, tables, and sofas. Rami Farook opened Traffic in 2007 as a showcase for international designers and as a platform for launching local talent. But the 15 pieces on display in the provisional theater (as part of Art Dubai) marked Traffic’s initial foray into manufacturing, as well as the city’s first range of locally designed furniture.
For inspiration, Farook looked past Dubai’s rapidly expanding boundaries into the Bedouin tents dotting the caramel-colored sands beyond. “I was drawn to reinventing the decor inside these tarpaulin structures, which is traditionally very basic, low-lying cushions,” the 28-year-old Dubai native says. Crafting the furniture line was the first task of Traffic’s newly hired German-born industrial designer, Katrin Greiling. Taking her cue from Farook’s brief, she embarked on a series of desert tours, which landed her inside the tents of native Emiratis. Two weeks later, she returned with the concept for stackable mattresses fixed with a rope.
“Bedouins hold their tents together with cords,” Greiling says. “We chose to use it, particularly for this furniture line, because it expresses the flexibility and mobility of the design. With each piece, the seating height can be adjusted by adding or removing mattresses, and the appearance changed by flipping them to expose a different fabric.” Kvadrat Maharam Arabia provided the textiles that wrap each spongy layer in midnight blue, chocolate, turquoise, or brick red.
Though Farook has sold big-name pieces such as Zaha Hadid’s Mesa and Marcel Wanders’s Knotted Chair since opening his 7,000-square-foot gallery, he always intended to create his own brand of furnishings. “It all hit me when I was abroad,” he recalls. “Looking around, it seemed that designs originating in the Middle East just didn’t exist. I knew then I wanted to be someone who gave designers in the region a chance.” But it was ultimately Dubai’s rapid economic downturn, and the attendant expatriate exodus, that provided his boutique operation with an opportunity. “We are lucky to have started production in 2009,” Farook says. “If it had been 2007, or even 2008, it wouldn’t have been possible. There are production gaps now, and we are jumping in and taking advantage of that.”
The early response to the collection, which includes placement in the United Arab Emirates pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, has been good. “Our Bidoun line is on back order, and we are already prepping for a line we’ll debut next year at Milan’s Salone Internazionale,” Farook says. “I’d say this is a great start.”