H2R: Design for an urban life
Breaking one of the sacred rules of starting any business – never involve family, you would expect Dubai-based design firm H2R to crash and burn. Co-founded by Hasan and Husain Roomi, along with their business partner Jacqui Shaddock, the Iraqi brothers may occasionally not see eye-to-eye on a project’s aesthetics, but that doesn’t stand in the way of them creating some of the city’s coolest design spaces. Have you been to Tom & Serg? Or it’s spin off cafe, The Sum of Us? What about Clinton St Bakery? All these spaces were designed by H2R.
The design squad, who all met and used to work together in London before relocating to Dubai at the beginning of this year, also work on branding, identity design, bespoke furniture, fittings, salvaging, appropriations, artist collaborations, operational concept drivers and architectural consultancy, bringing some much-needed cool to the city.
Esquire sat down with the two brothers to chat about giving Dubai a much-needed urban edge.
Husain and Hasan Roomi with their business partner, Jacqui Shaddock
Esquire: It must be tough running a business with a close family member?
Hasan: The biggest obstacle is also a very positive thing. We know each other inside out, so when things go well, we are on the same page and fuel each other’s creative passion. On the flipside, we know each other inside out, so there’s no polite holding back of opinions around here. We’re lucky Jacqui, our third (unrelated) partner, can help balance out the highs and lows, and cast a deciding vote when needed!
ESQ: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Husain: The client brief, the essence of the brand, the innate personality of the space, and the conceptual story all combine to inspire our designs. We have a moto, ‘It’s not where you take things from; it’s where you take them to’. To create spaces with influence and soul, spaces with meaning and depth, it is not just about creating ‘pretty’ spaces but functional, operational, essential and collaborative ones.
ESQ: Was there a defining moment in your lives that made you want to become designers?
Hasan: For us, the process of developing into designers wasn’t a definitive one, it was never a light bulb moment. An eager interest in automotive design from a very young age encouraged us to pursue this field. We have always been enthusiastic of anything related to design. We constantly evolve in our wanting to create spaces for people to dine in, drink, socialize, work and shop.
ESQ: What are the toughest challenges you face when creating these kind of spaces in Dubai?
Husain: As mentioned earlier, we don’t like to tackle a project by thinking of the best way to make the space look beautiful. We like to make sure everything we think of, when developing our designs, adds value, whether it is to trigger an emotion, create a mood, or allow some kind of interaction between the users and space.
Husan: It’s not always easy to induce soul and authenticity into projects, especially in the Middle East, with its urban landscape and limited material supplies. However, we have found that honesty is the best approach to any design project.
The Sum of Us cafe, designed by H2R
ESQ: Do you approach each space differently?
Husain: Yes, we definitely do approach each space differently. The first factor we look at differently would be the concept and offering, secondly the client, the demographic, their targets and goals, and thirdly, the context and surroundings of the space.
ESQ: If you could be another designer for a day, who would it be?
Hasan: Sometimes it’s tricky to agree on one thing since we can have different opinions, but it’s never a challenge. In the studio, we are all Apple obsessed people, so we would love to trade places with Sir Jony Ive (maybe even slightly longer than a day). Although product design is quite different from what we do on a daily basis, the attention to detail and considered human interface in his products are beautiful things. He once said, ‘the best ideas start as conversations’, which is exactly what we believe!
ESQ: How would you advise someone who wants to start a design career in Dubai?
Husain: There are huge benefits to being a designer in Dubai. It’s a global hub and a cultural melting pot – it’s a very exciting place to be right now. However, Dubai only showcases a small amount of what the world has to offer. Our advice would be: travel, explore, be discerning, trust your instincts, and try to understand the conceptual and artistic design processes as well as the technical ones. They are not always as highly valued but are truly invaluable.
ESQ: Looking back at your career’s starting point, would you change anything?
Hasan: We believe it’s not about where you’ve been but where you’re going. Our starting point has brought us to where we are now, so we wouldn’t change a thing except maybe the few times we’ve turned up at meetings accidentally wearing matching shirts. That was embarrassing.
Husan and Husain in their design studio in Dubai’s industrial Al Quoz
ESQ: How do you define success and have you reached that point yet?
Husain: If success is defined by loving what you do then we are already there and are grateful for it every day. Although if success is defined by having time to breathe in a busy week, we’re still working on that one!
ESQ: How do you split your work between Dubai and Londo?
Hasan: We are a very small team, and as such, have the need, and privilege, of being very selective with our projects. We split our time between London and Dubai when our projects and clients need us. We wish we were capable of escaping Dubai’s summer heat!
ESQ: What was the first space you’ve designed and has that affected the way you approach your other spaces?
Husain: Our first project as a complete team (Hasan, Husain & Jacqui) was a small Italian boutique in Knightsbridge, London. There was no budget, ridiculous time-frames, and sky-high stress levels, but, the satisfaction of seeing our ideas come to life had us hooked. The only lingering effect of this experience is we realised at the time was we make a great team and love challenges. We knew we were on the right track when H2R came to life!
ESQ: Anything you’re dying to do in the future?
Hasan: There is no specific aesthetic we would like to use in the future, but as we grow and learn, we are more and more interested in our social responsibilities as designers – how the materials and construction we use affects, not only the direct aesthetic experience of that venue, but also what it says about our attitude in the world we live in. We would love to involve more renewable, reclaimed, and environmentally respectful materials and processes as we move towards a more sustainable (but still beautifully designed) future.
ESQ: What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Husain: The thought of new ideas, inspiring clients and fun projects get us out of bed in the morning.
Hasan: Coffee keeps us going. Deadlines get us going even faster (often also fuelled by coffee, which gives you more motivation). But seriously, we love what we do, and feel lucky to get to do it each day, that’s enough motivation for us.
ESQ: What are your ultimate goals for the future?
Husain: Aside from world domination, our ultimate goal is to keep creating amazing spaces and continue being inspired by our work and team.