By Charlotte Butterfield
As the finishing touches are being put to the Embassy Club in Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi, designer Estique talks CID through the opulent details.
When two luxury brands at the top of their respective fields collaborate, the elusive result is almost guaranteed to elicit envy and coax the aspiration out of all of us. When Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi announced its intention to host the Embassy nightclub's first franchise outside of its glamorous London base the expectations were high, and the interior scheme by Dubai-based design firm Estique Interiors does not disappoint.
The finishing adornments are currently being put to the ambitious scheme ready for its official launch at the end of this month. After winning the interior design contract a complex process of client negotiations ensued, presumably made all the more interesting by having two high-profile clients to impress. Managing partner, Estique, Ellen Sohoel explains: "Having three very important clients Glitterati, Emirates Palace and The Embassy London meant a certain amount of time was spent getting approval from all parties at each design stage. Our brief was based more on the feelings the clients wanted to evoke rather than specific details they wanted us to include. We knew that the design had to be very elegant and befitting such an exclusive club, but apart from that we were given a relatively free hand - a designer's dream."
The private members-club mentality is a surprisingly new addition to the Emirates night scene, but a concept that is anticipated to catch on very quickly with the region's glitterati and society movers. Sohoel comments: "Abu Dhabi is a very smart choice for Embassy to launch in, the city is entering the celebrity radar; it is the UAE's capital and its reputation and status is set to soar, so we knew we had to create something special."
In terms of the design concept, the club is essentially a roll-out, with the same trademarks of its London sibling, with the same chairs used, the same colour curtains, but this design is definitely more extravagant. Sohoel says: "We had to adjust the designs to the local market, and it had to befit the opulence of Emirates Palace too. The style is classical and inspired by traditional British tailoring and Italian elegance. It's designed to be a journey back to the history and heritage of the classical style - elegant and sophisticated but with a modern twist." Estique expressed this by using the glamorous hues of purple, burgundy and black, opting for details and materials in gold, aged silver, marble, dark woods and weather-beaten leather to evoke lavishness and decadence, teamed with glass crystals, dark colours, antiques and sultry focus lighting concepts.
The first design Estique submitted was more futuristic with an abundance of glass. This design was adapted when Norwegian lead designer Julie Johnsen joined the team, and the scheme was made warmer and more subtly luxurious. Johnsen explains: "The first designs just didn't capture the exclusivity of the club and so we set about making changes and specifying materials that would reflect the wealth and status of the members."
The site of the club is on the ground floor of the hotel, covering a total of 940m², including the kitchen and the back of house areas. Johnsen says: "The area was very long and narrow so it was difficult to achieve the maximum number of covers. There are also three large columns in the centre of the space so dividing it up was a real challenge. We worked on the floor plan for a very long time!"
Estique separated the areas into a restaurant, which can accommodate 86 diners inside and outside; a bar; a dance area; a VIP area and a completely private VVIP area with a separate entrance. "Having a VVIP area was important to the client, and this area has one way mirrored glass so the guests inside are ensured maximum privacy. The materials we chose for this area reflect the sense of exclusivity as well," Johnsen says. The lighting is by Murano and Estique custom-designed an elegant sofa with an intricately shaped backrest covered in golden artificial leather upholstery. Glitzy Roselle wallpaper complements a tented fabric dome effect on the ceiling.
In the rest of the club the walls are mainly covered with different wallpapers. One is Moroccan-esque with large swirling patterns; another paper is by Cole & Son, which is a sumptuous cream velvet patterned design. A glittering wallpaper by Roselle was also imported for extra shimmer and glass bauble wallpaper reminiscent of the coverings produced by Maya Romanoff adorns another wall for additional impact.
Comparatively, the flooring is deliberately understated, with the majority of the surface covered in a dark Emprador marble sourced from Gulf United Stone, which has been given a textured finish on the dance floor to ensure it has anti-slip properties. Dark wenge parquet that was sourced by the contractors, JC MacLean, was installed to create contrast. The deep tones of the flooring were echoed in the ceiling, which has been painted in two shades of chocolate brown. The dark richness of the roof is offset with huge mother-of-pearl lights designed by Verner Panton that create a focus in the dining area.
Although the lighting concept was devised in house by Estique, subcontractor BMC Gulf was chosen to supply the light and sound and it advised Johnsen on the practicalities of some of her ambitious lighting designs, such as the stunning bar. "The decorative custom-designed bar is made with plexi glass to look like crystals, and lit by LEDs, which can really change the mood of the space as it dominates the area. It has 280 different colour options but we'll stick to the red and purple settings I imagine. We've completed lots of testing to see how to get the best effects."
For the furniture, Estique custom-designed every piece, from the fitted couches clad in a rich burgundy crocodile effect finish to the classic dining tables, which were inspired by Cinotti. Two pieces of solid stained wenge are placed on top of each other, in the shape of a cross.
The accompanying dining chairs are replicated from the Embassy London and are cream artificial leather. "The chairs were originally designed to be suede, but we soon realised that this wasn't practical and this faux leather would be better," Johsen explains. The same leather imitation upholstery was used in the reception area where a light cream padded reception desk stands in front of curved glass entrance doors.
Other areas include the DJ booth, which is in a gothic style, standing on a balcony overlooking the dance floor. The original plans included a mezzanine floor to house an additional seating area, but although this wasn't possible due to municipal regulations, it does mean that the striking 6m ceiling height could be retained throughout. The back-of-house areas were also key in Estique's design. The Michelin-starred chef from Embassy London, Garry Hollihead, has been instrumental in the design of the kitchen and he had very special requirements that had to be adhered to, so Sultaco F&B consultants were brought in to implement the specifics of the kitchen design for the project.
For a design firm that only launched at the end of 2005, Estique's involvement in Embassy will surely catapult it to the status afforded to its counterparts that have been in business far longer. Ellen Sohoel and her partners have doubled the size of their company from just a small team of seven to fourteen and they are currently recruiting for more design specialists too.
Its first project was 30 furnished apartments for Horizon Tower. "In our original business plan, this was the route we wanted to go down, I knew that there was a great growing market for furnishing and decoration packages for developers, and this has since become a distinct department within Estique. We have just done two residential towers in Al Barsha and we are currently working on a massive project in Eastern Europe whereby we're designing and furnishing 5-7,000 holiday homes with Platinum Developments," Sohoel says.
Diversifying into the hospitality arena with its involvement with Embassy has been a welcome expansion. "To gain a job like Embassy after just eight months of operating was a real dream come true and I'm very proud to say that it has worked out very well. So much so, Emirates Palace has asked us to project manage the design implementation of another high profile outlet scheduled to open in just over a year, but we'll talk about that another time," she smiles.