28 February 2018
At the Top of the Game
Bishop Design is one of the most popular companies in the region. Based out of Dubai, this design firm is run by highly talented couple – Ellen and Paul Bishop
In a highly competitive market like Dubai, it is not easy to stand out from the crowd and carve your own niche. Yet Paul Bishop has made his mark in the world of interior design not just in Dubai but also the region as well as Europe. The immensely talented designer is one of the leading names in design in the Gulf and has some of the top names from the retail, hospitality and commercial businesses in his client list. The company also has many exquisite residential projects under its belt.
Bishop’s design firm, Bishop Design, has won many award over the years that includes International Property Awards Arabia for the exceptional and top quality work the company has executed in different markets. Bishop along with his wife, Ellen, lead a team of talented staff who have been creating timeless designs, which they believed is the DNA of the firm. Among their top clients are the Fairmont Dubai, Jumeirah Group, Fauchon Paris Café, Al Tayer Group, Aston Martin, Blackberry, Dubai Islamic Bank and Franck Muller, to name a few.
In Oman, Bishop Design has the credit of designing the eclectic interiors of Slider Station in Shatti Qurum as well as the maiden outlet of chic patisserie, Fauchon that will be located in Opera Galleria. The Bishop duo take time from their busy schedule to talk to Crème de la Crème about their hugely successful business.
What led you to enter the world of design?
From an early age, I had a genuine interest and was fortunate to have the ability to draw. After graduating from High School, I was accepted into a school of art to undertake a foundation course. From there it was more or less a natural progression into the field of design although it took a little longer to decide upon the chosen vocation of Interior Design as my first Bachelor’s Degree was in Furniture and Product Design. Couple with my love for theatrical and film sets I decided to pursue another degree within Interior Design. Upon successful completion of this degree undertaken at Kingston University along with the winning of the Royal Society of Arts Student Design Awards I embarked upon my Masters of Arts degree at the Metropolitan University of Manchester where I graduated with distinction.
How did you choose Dubai as your work ground?
Upon graduation of my Master’s degree in 1995, I was fortunate enough to be offered a design position in Dubai so I guess Dubai chose me. The rest as they say is history.
What is challenging setting up your own business?
Bishop Design was significantly smaller in the days when I established the business in 2004 as it was just myself and a smaller team of around five people. Although I had been actively involved in the region since 1996 it was somewhat of a new history for myself, as in addition to being the Principal Designer I also had to find time to deal with the daily running of the company. This was indeed still the case until Ellen joined in 2006 establishing the infrastructure and setting into place the foundation of which Bishop Design has been built upon to this day. Although Bishop Design is a boutique practice, we number around 18 employees and have been fortunate enough to have to our name a myriad of design awards and accolades to which we are always looking to add too.
What inspires you?
It would be negative to limit inspiration to one given thing so I would like to think that I draw my inspiration from all around.
Since setting up business in 2004, what kind of changes and innovations have you seen in the design field in the Middle East?
The biggest noticeable changes have been the development of people’s general attitudes and understanding towards the latest trends and styles associated within the field of Interior Design.
Along with selective high end residential projects we are currently working upon the development of some very exciting restaurant concepts including the likes of Fauchon, Koi, Boa, Caramel along with two highly exclusive Michelin star restaurants both within the GCC and upon an international platform.
What are your current projects in Oman?
As of date our projects in Oman have been somewhat limited although we have designed and completed some inspirational works there such as Fauchon and Slider Station to mention just a few.
Do clients demand Arab or Islamic elements in contemporary designs?
Yes, clients frequently ask for these elements to be incorporated as they are an inherent integral part of our demographic although they do not have to be literally translated.
There seems to be a general trend for the understated elegance of style and material finishes, stripped back, raw and urban are becoming increasingly popular and the desired design aesthetic especially within the hospitality and commercial sectors.
What is Bishop Design’s business philosophy?
Our business philosophy is to be constantly evolving and expand on different business concepts yet we prefer to stay as a boutique practice in order to continue to have ‘control’ over our company and in order to provide the personal service we do now.
Tell us about the new and unique design showroom that Bishop Design has launched in Dubai.
The business idea is quite simple, but unique, and built on a concept which to our knowledge has not been done before in the Middle East and these are the main reasons:
First of all, Paul and I realized that the suppliers we as designers deal with on a daily basis and who make our designs come to real life does not get enough exposure and the chance to display their products well enough. Often they invest money in showrooms which the end users and designers rarely visit. Therefore, we sat down with selected few after we had signed 3000 square feet and simply said: ‘Would you be interested in displaying your products with us and we will display them in ways you might have thought of before, incorporate them in our Retail Showroom design and it would give our clients a great opportunity to see and appreciate your products/finishes/quality first hand’. We were extremely pleased by the results as 10 out of 12 suppliers agreed on coming aboard with us providing full sponsorship and of course it was important to them to be able to have some say in what products we selected (such as new ranges, products that they feel has a great potential etc.) Some of our selected partners are; JAB Middle East, Maison D’Art, Stepevi, Casa Mia, Ohpopsi, Planika, Vitra and Ashtaar Interiors for Joinery and Contracting.
Secondly, we wanted our clients to get inspired by design and also to be able to ‘touch and feel’ our design solutions not only on a material board but in real life. It is often difficult for Clients to visualize your design even with the help of state of the art visuals, material and furniture boards. The Retail Showroom is also not open to the public and strictly by appointment and the products are only exclusively sold to clients we are designing for or have designed for which gives our services a touch of uniqueness that most Clients appreciate.
Thirdly, Paul and I have over the many years of being in the Middle East, managed to identify gaps in products offered in the market. As a result of this, we traveled worldwide for 2-3 months sourcing and set up business deals with different suppliers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, the UK and Scandinavia to be able to offer our Clients products that they might not have seen before and would like to have in their projects or homes.
Last, but not least, we think it is incredibly important to give our Clients unique pieces and design and not just selected items from a Catalogue. Once a Client pay a designers fee I would think that they would expect to get an edge, an uniqueness that will surprise and thrill them and items that the restaurant next door does not have or the neighbor next door etc. We also felt that people in general had lost their thrust in local Contractors, instead outsourcing most production to Europe and we wanted to readdress this, and show that actually, it is possible to custom-make items in Dubai to an incredibly high standard. It is a common misconception that good steelwork, in particular, cannot be done locally.
Therefore, Paul and I designed few unique pieces of furniture, which we also display in our Showroom for sale. This has turned out to be great success both in retail and for our projects, and we are now expanding on that idea. WE want to prove that with a carefully chosen mix of sophisticated locally made pieces it is possible to achieve an enviable interior design without leaving the Emirates and without spending a fortune.
What are your responsibilities within the business?
My role in Bishop Design is primarily on the business development side and day to day operations. I am also in charge of the Showroom and its design. I also design the Residential projects that comes through the studio.
Spouses and work partners. Is it easy to work together?
Paul and I met I 2005. After our wedding in 2006, we decided that I should join him in Bishop Design. At that time, Paul had just started up and had three to four staff working for him out of a small office in AMBB’s joinery factory in Al Quoz. We felt strongly that we should build a future together both professionally and on a personal level so I moved over to join him.
We started our small company focusing on three key principles; small and manageable, low overheads and no third partner with financial support. As we had both had our fair share of challenges in the Middle East and also knowing how a small mistake can ruin everything you have spent years building up we luckily agreed on our strategies and future ambitions. In addition to this, Paul and I focus on different roles in the company, which makes it easier not to go head to head.
Bishop Design has won major awards. Tell us about it.
In 2007 we won our first award in the prestigious ‘ Commercial Interior Design Awards’ for best Retail Design, in 2008, for best Residential and Retail Design and in 2009 we were awarded ‘Interior Firm of the Year’. In 2010/2011 we won best ‘Leisure and Entertainment’ for one of our restaurants in Oman ‘Slider Station’ and now in 2012 we won for our Sikh Temple ‘Gurudwara” the ‘Best Design Public Sector’. This year we have won 5 awards in the famous ‘International Property Awards’ competing for not only the region of Arabia but for ‘World’s Best’.