Seven questions with... designer Khaled El Mays
Photographs Jon Cardwell
With Beirut Design Week taking over the Lebanese capital this week, we wanted to take the opportunity to introduce some Beirut-based creatives. Designer Khaled El Mays was born in Lebanon, where he has now returned to form his design practice after studying in New York. He designs mainly furniture with an emphasis on process, materials and the tactile aspect of the pieces we live with…
Tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do…
I’m an architect, with an MFA from Pratt Institute, by education and basically, I design things at different scales. I was always interested in creation but I am also an educator and have been teaching design in Lebanese universities for the last six years.
How did your studio get started?
It was after I relocated from New York to Beirut that I started my design studio. It took almost a year of preparation to take shape; we started with a furniture line, working with artisans from the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. It was an investigation, based on a single material, that produced the Rhizomes series. The series was well received by the public and we started getting more acknowledgements and commissions. Things started falling into place, but as usual with many happy and sad surprises along the way
You are a multidisciplinary design studio focusing on furniture design. Where did your passion for furniture design come from?
I was raised by an artist, my mother painted her whole life and she is a colour mastermind – an interior design enthusiast that I witnessed while growing up. It affected me a lot and allowed me to develop the visual skills that I later discovered during higher education. Even though the studio has been involved in various projects in an array of scales we still consider furniture design our main focus and we spend a lot of research time on it in order for it to shape our identity as a design studio. I love the human-object interaction and I am always fascinated by textures.
Where does your inspiration come from?
It is from anything actually, most of the time it is a merge of several influences. Nature, random objects I stumble upon, previous works from design masters, art and artists, architecture, fashion… I always use a non-linear design process and ingredients can get into the mix at any point in the design process if we feel the need for it.
Do you prefer the process or the end result?
I enjoy the process, it is everything to me. Once the end result is there, I have usually moved over onto something else in my mind and my studio. I still appreciate it most of the times a lot but it is kind of history for me and my team.
Is there a particular philosophy or a set of core values behind your designs?
I really focus on pushing crafts and finding a way to always keep the human hand the main master element in creating my pieces. I am not against technology nor using it but I believe that the merge between high technology and masterful hands, in thinking about design and conceiving it, can create wonders while at the same time keep more people working.
Designers are increasingly paying attention to the materials they use and the provenance of those materials. Has this had an impact on your practice and how do you think designers will think about materials in the future?
Materials are everything for design and without understanding your material you can easily have a weak approach to design – and the design itself might be weak as well. The world of materials is evolving by the minute and many design studios have started investigating and producing only materials, elements at relatively raw state that other designers can create with. I am always excited to hear about new materials and new ways of building, but I also need time to absorb and understand these new materials and see them in action before I start designing with them.