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Feb / Mar 2011
Coupled Craft

WRITER: Polly Sweet

The ability for couples to successfully work together is so mired in pitfalls that it’s rare to discover people doing it prosperously and harmoniously. Dubai-based interior designers, Paul and Ellen Bishop are doing just that.


By their own admission, Paul and Ellen Bishop are “parents, spouses, lovers, partners” – the potential for overkill is ever looming. Yet somehow they have struck a harmonious balance between all these components, an accomplishment that is reflected in their timeless, elegant designs, and has seen them execute some of the most iconic spaces in the Middle East. 

Bishop Design Associates was founded in 2007, bringing together Paul and Ellen’s experience in the field of interior design, of which they have over 20 years between the two of them. The impressive client list includes the Fairmont, Jumeirah International, the Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Islamic Bank, Franck Mueller, Aston Martin and the Emirates Golf Club. Their projects to date have spanned the hospitality, residential and commercial sectors - a remarkable success for a boutique firm entering only its fourth year of business. 

By all accounts, theirs is a working relationship that is reflective of their marital one, or perhaps vice versa. While Paul talks passionately about his early design days, Ellen gently steers the conversation, bringing structure and clarity to the table. It is no surprise to hear that Ellen is drawn to ‘quieter’ projects, while Paul prefers to focus on the large-scale challenge. 

“There is a misconception that we charge extortionate fees or will only work with large brands. But the truth is that if we believe in the concept and it speaks to us on some level then we will take it on”. Thus familiar F&B outlets all across the region bear the BDA hallmark, from salad sensation Zest to refreshment giant Coffee Republic to the Kuwaiti concept Slider Station, which is soon to be propelled across the Middle East. 

Their knack for refusing to be pigeon-holed has kept BDA in good favour. It is easy to see how tempting it might be to become snobbish in their choice of clients, but there is a refreshing earthiness to the Bishops that has won them a variety of clients, and serious recognition from the prestigious Commercial Interior Design Awards. Incredibly, over the past two years, BDA has garnered nominations in no less than 14 categories, along with prizes in retail and commercial segments as well as the prestigious designer of the year award. 

Such acclaim is obviously beneficial, not least because it reinforces clients’ conviction that BDA is a genuine authority on interior design. French epicerie Fauchon, set for Middle Eastern expansion, is one brand, which has found BDA’s leadership in the market to be invaluable. In spite of its own identity, Fauchon has relied heavily on BDA’s understanding of Middle Eastern architecture to enhance the Fauchon experience.  “We treat each space individually, and work with it to maximum effect, making specific suggestions for specific locations rather than applying a more blanket approach,” says Ellen. 

A similar approach was adopted when renovating the award-winning Le Classique fine dining restaurant at the Emirates Golf Club. While a less evolved firm might have allowed the golf club’s substantial cachet to set the tone for the restaurant’s identity, BDA applied its mature understanding of the space to create an outstanding ambience, reflective of the sophisticated cuisine on offer. 

Marrying understated elegance with fanciful flamboyancy, BDA successfully transformed the dining area into a soothing and intimate room, where the use of sombre tones, natural fibres and masculine shapes is juxtaposed with the feminine wiles of the Champagne bar.  

Delineations between floor and wall are deliberately blurred so as to inspire a sense of serenity, which is beautifully shattered by the sharp lines and angles of the up-lit bar. The effect is as dazzling as it is quieting. 

Beyond the commercial, residential projects have become an integral part of Bishop Design Associates. Despite the recent economic downturn, which saw the local property market all but implode, high net-worth investors still look to the Emirates as a quell of future income. Emirates Hills in particular holds the foreign interest, and these are the customers that Ellen, in particular, likes to deal with. “These people know what they want, but it is an entirely un-emotional transaction. A lot of them won’t even suggest a brief – all they want is a return on their investment, and they trust us completely to facilitate it.” Discretion in these matters is key, and it is company policy not to reveal the identity of any of their private clients. Even when pushed, the Bishops remain immovable. 

Their tact has clearly been an invaluable asset over the past few years, when negotiating the UAE residential market has required enormous skill and dexterity. And integrity. Integrity, according to the Bishops, has been a key component in their ongoing success. 

Having witnessed the furore of the now infamous Dubai property boom, were they not tempted to follow suit and cash in on the good times? Absolutely. But both remained convinced that to steer away from their abilities as interior designers would result ultimately in the demise of themselves and their business. “We would have made a lot of money offering turn-key or architectural services. But we refuse to out-source, and we don’t use contractors and we’ve always been honest about what we can do,” says Paul. A simple approach, with outstanding results. 

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