Hussein Nassar: Egypt’s Interior Design Guru

Mere months after graduating from Ain Shams University in 2003 with his architecture degree in tow, 23 year-old Hussein Nassar completed his first project from start to finish. He successfully upturned Andrea restaurant’s waning Zamalek branch into an oasis of Mediterranean elegance that was to become the new Sequoia. Since then, as the CEO of his firm, Hussein Nassar Designs, Nassar has continued to get rave reviews in both the commercial and residential fields. eniGma’s Farida El Sayed sat down with the design maven to uncover his journey to success, while also securing some useful design advice.

Raised and bred in a family of engineers, Nassar was destined to be an engineer himself.  However, growing up, he was always more attracted to the creative side of the field. “When I went into architecture, my studying skills were not really great, but I was the best at anything related to design or drawing,” Nassar jokingly recalls.  It is therefore not surprising that his debut project, completed when he was just a fresh graduate, would be a precursor to many more successes ahead in his career.  Recalling the challenge of undertaking the Sequoia project, Nassar says, “I didn’t know if it was going to be a success or not. I was just too naïve to know that I could fail. And I didn’t have anything to lose.” Today, besides his accomplishments in the residential field, he has no less than 42 restaurants under his belt, including Gaby’s, Tutti Matti, and BOCCA, to mention just a few. His unshrinking appetite for adventure continues to push Nassar to greater heights, garnering him attention not only in Egypt, but across the world. From Greece to Dubai, his name is synonymous with luxury, elegance and excess.

In residential design, successfully fusing styles, not just in one house, but even in one room, is a special skill Nassar is known for.  His strength lies in not being wedded to a specific aesthetic style, preferring an eclectic approach instead. “I believe that you are not an authentic designer if you can only accomplish a fixed design style. A designer creates a project based on his/her circumstances and the client’s taste, among other things,” he asserts. “In a Hussein Nassar designed house, you will find an intricately designed Pergola that transports you to the shores of Positano, an indoor pool fit for a Greek God, and bathroom floors made from the most exclusive marble, such as Saint Laurent and Amazonite. At the end, you will feel like you have just visited a timeless European hotel rather than a house in Kattameya Heights.”  The luxury of the homes Nassar creates can be abundantly gleaned from the words, “24 Karat Gold, French Mahogany Wood and Baccarat original,” which keep coming up as he describes a 3,000 square meter mansion he has recently designed.

While his business spans many countries, Nassar has been focusing more on his work in Egypt, lately. “Egypt has a lot of potential and is one of the best places in the world to work in,” he explains. “Cairo is one of the most populated cities in the world, so if you make it big here, you make it big, period.  Also, no one values properties like Egyptians do. Across all classes, everyone is working to buy an apartment for their son or daughter. And if they have extra cash to spend, they invest it in a house.” As a result, Nassar is convinced there is never a shortage of demand for his talent here.

Nassar credits his success, not only to his mastery of design, but to his management skills as well. “The way we work is completely different from the way everybody else does,” he explains. “I don’t own every workshop and factory involved in what we do. We tried that in the past, but we realised that, in Egypt, doing everything yourself is not sustainable, and you experience a lot of ups and downs. So, we now outsource everything, not to a company or a factory, but to individuals.” By modestly acknowledging past blind spots, Nassar has demonstrated an enviable ability to overcome adversity, something few are able to master in today’s volatile economy.

Like other architecture and design offices, Hussein Nassar Designs provides the full gamut of interior design services, from architectural design to furniture selection and production, to contracting and landscaping.  However, there is one additional service that is exclusive to his company: property management. “This service includes, for example, sending a team to a client’s summer house to make sure it is in tip top shape before they arrive.  We check everything from the Internet to kitchen appliances, all the way to plumbing and carpet repair.  Everything is fixed and we even pay electricity and water bills, as needed.  We take pride in our attention to detail and devotion to excellence,” Nassar explains.

With 15 years of experience under his belt, and his reputation as the go-to residential designer for luxury homes and the commercial designer for quirky aesthetics, Nassar is well positioned to advise new entrants in the field.   He sums up his advice to aspiring designers as follows:  “Stay consistent.  By staying at it for a long time, with small and steady steps, you will soon find yourself getting better. Also maintain your originality, don’t follow anyone.”

To conclude our interview, we posed a few of the frequently asked questions about interior design to Nassar. As you will see below, he gave us some very useful and practical advice

What tips and tricks can you give newlyweds decorating their home on a budget?

It depends on whether they own the property or not. For newlyweds who own their house and intend it to be there for the long haul, they should invest in the infrastructure of the house, rather than in furniture or accessories. They should invest in the best infrastructure they can afford, as it will never change. If it’s a rented property that they intend to stay in for a short time, they should put most of their money in furniture, paintings, carpets, and curtains. But before going any further, I recommend that everyone get a consultant, within their budget.  The consultant will prevent them from experiencing problems that could cost them a lot of money in the future. It could be a designer friend or the resident interior designer at a furniture store, whose service is usually free. When doing your own house for the first time, you should do things right from the start, especially if you can’t afford a next time.

When doing their house for the first time without a consultant, what are the most common mistakes people do?

The most common mistakes have to do with the electrical and plumbing functions of the house.  Especially with plumbing, once that is done wrong, it ruins everything and you have to live with it the rest of your life.  Another common thing, for instance, is the wrong positioning of air conditioners. Therefore, not having a plan is called a plan for failure.

If you are bored of your home but don’t want to do an overhaul, what are some small changes that can make a huge impact?

Renovating the ceiling and adding new lighting fixtures with a couple of paintings will transform your house.  The ceiling is key for renovation because it is the thing that is most exposed and uncovered.  You can add a gypsum board or hire someone to do a mural and it will completely change the look of your house.  The ceiling is about 30 percent of the space, but visually, it’s more than 70 percent.  As soon as you do it, your house will jump 20 years into the future.

How can you include art pieces in your house without breaking the bank?

Putting art in your house is probably the easiest thing to do in Egypt, and you don’t need to break the bank. You can get a picture from the internet, give it to someone in the Faculty of Arts, or someone who knows how to draw over it for you, and that’s it.  You can hang it in your house. Essentially, you are looking for an effect; you aren’t looking for a signature piece.  You just want to create a mood. Honestly, I’ve never worked with expensive painters; however, anyone who sees the artwork we put in the houses we design, they are instantly amazed.  You should purchase expensive paintings only if you’re an art collector.  If you’re not into art, the focus should be the design of the room, not the paintings.

If someone wants to sell their house, what are fast changes they can make to add value to it?

Staging. You should treat your house as if it is a stage. Suppose you want to move into a new house, and you’re already planning on purchasing a new dining room, or living room for the new house. Instead of waiting until you move in, buy them and place them in your current house, which you are selling. Just mention to the prospective buyers that certain pieces are not for sale. People will be able to imagine what the house will look like after they’ve bought it.

Do you have any advice on bathroom renovations for older apartments?

Bathrooms are really important. However, you cannot make a bathroom cute by simply adding a carpet. A bathroom has to be neat, clean and practical. So, if you want to renovate the bathroom, you have to commit to an overhaul.  There are other rooms you can improve without touching the infrastructure, but that is not the case with bathrooms.

Do you have any tips on how you can add the perception of height to an apartment with low ceilings?

Just do a flat ceiling, completely flat. Once you do that, the height won’t matter.

Any tips on storage design in small apartments?

You can add storage in the furniture itself.  You can embed storage spaces in tables, chairs and beds, for example.

Do you have tips on colour coordination?

This whole idea of coordinating or matching colours is very outdated. You don’t have to match things with each other anymore.  Some people like contrasts and striking colours. Other people like the opposite, a harmony in colours.  Neither is wrong or right.  You can use contrast in a zone of the house like the guest bathroom or in a place you don’t spend much time in, like the formal dining room. But for a place where you spend more time, it’s better to focus more on harmony.

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