It’s with pleasure that we present you Steven Hemphill, founder of House of Infinity and one of the most important names of Middle East interior design scene. Get to know more below with our exclusive interview.
Steven Hemphill, you acquired an eclectic and diverse knowledge of the design industry as a result of twenty years working on different activities. How and when did you join the world of interior design and architecture?
My professional interest in Interior design started in 1989, when I mainly worked on theatrical sets etc. This then moved on to a more artistic background at The Regency Academy of fine Arts in Battersea London and then on to Interiors and a close study of ergonomics. This has assisted greatly with bespoke furniture items. During this period I had launched Hemphill Furnishing; being my first Interior Design Company.
– What has driven you to found House of Infinity with Mohamed Shaat?
Having worked alongside Momo (as we re-named him within the design industry) on many very large Palace projects in the Middle East, it seemed a perfect fit for him to become part and partner of House of Infinity. His design talents; in particular his attention to detail is second to none.
– How did you work out your way until the Middle East market, so diverse from the English scene?
I was engaged by a Design house owned by Al Muhaidib who brought me from the UK to KSA to predominantly work on the design of a residence in Italy. This was most definitely my wonderful introduction to the world of Palaces and residential heaven. I am eternally grateful to Sheik Sulaiman Al Muhaidib and his family for not only ensuring I learned my craft thoroughly and the “do’s and dont’s in this region, but for also assisting in opening many doors to extremely high profile and important clients, which assisted me in leaving Hemphill furnishings behind and launching House of Infinity, The naming of the company organically developed from “The House of Windsor” to “The House of Saud”, to the “House of Infinity”.
Little did I know that that my first project in the Middle East turned out to be one of the most beautiful and historical residential buildings in Rome. The building itself was in fact the home of Bernini one of the most successful and notable architects in the history of Rome. He was a leading figure in the emergence of “Baroque “Architecture. The famous St Peters Basilica as example of just one of his designs.
You can imagine how I felt when I first entered that building. I was in a state of Awe and it was in a state of disrepair!! Thankfully Rome protects such buildings and all designs and finishes had to be co-ordinated by Belle Arte. The research was intense and thorough as this was needed to ensure that the breathtaking mosaics, murals and marble were all replaced or repaired and restoration works were carried out by artisans using paint mixtures and materials from quarries that were as close to the original as possible.
In my early design days even Gianni Versace’s residence in Miami used to impress me, with its mosaics and murals but trust me, after seeing the mosaic designs in this mansion and of course designs that I have done since, it no longer does! (ha ha ha).
As a designer I felt truly honored to experience this project and to think that my hand has now assisted bringing Bernini’s designs back to life for future generations is heartwarming. It was a long project but yes, successful indeed.
– What are the biggest challenges about working among the elite circles of Middle East?
The difficult part of designing palatial residences in this region is that a lot the clients know each other. Therefore they entertain and visit each other’s homes. So to repeat a design or feature would be unthinkable and unacceptable. That is the challenge; to constantly think of new ideas and how it would look.
– Domain Hotel is House of Infinity’s first Boutique Hotel. How was your experience on developing the concept of the project and how did the relationship with the Chic & Unique Hotels Group team work?
From the outset we worked closely with the owner of the group and the hotel management team and luckily they had the foresight and understanding to take risks to take hotel design to the next level within Bahrain. This resulted in setting the bar higher than is currently on offer in Bahrain and this was the main aim.
– “Stay Work Play” is The Domain’s slogan, representing the blur between business and leisure in the guests’ lives. What were your main concerns with the development of the interiors and the correspondent solutions to accomplish this concept?
Our main concern was that the building was initially intended to be offices. The owners changed the use to become a boutique style hotel. We had to ensure our design would fit into already existing spaces. Also to remain respectful at all times of the country we are in. For example glass bottom swimming pools above cafes are not the best solution for this region.
Our solution was design a modern, contemporary feel Concept based on a club /hotel offering entertainment/social/F&B spaces unique to Bahrain – stylish, high-end suitable to both business and leisure.
– How does The Domain brings to its ambience the surroundings and the lifestyle of Manama and Bahrain?
The hotel itself; with its modern, contemporary, artistic feel, utilising indirect lighting creating a soft reflective warm ambience. Although geometric lines and simple shapes predominate the hotel, these are enhanced by a carefully thought out range of colours and textures. Whilst the design incorporates an Arabic touch it deflects from heavy classical detailing. From our beveled and engraved mirrors in the lobby to the exquisite door features within Le Domain which play with the “Art Nouveau” movement to create a current and fresh look.
Accents and elements sympathetic to the island were requested by the client to connect to the rich tapestry that makes up Bahrain. Luxurious gold is presented in a contemporary setting with the higher power and healing energy of opulent rich purple, being our signature highlight. You can clearly see this throughout the hotel within our finishes such as fabric, carpets, wall panels, lighting shades etc.
Three dimensional geometric shapes are consistent and are visually linked from the reception desk to the Txoko column cladding and lighting, features etc. The designs on show are what “today’s” take on what ambience and surroundings should and will be in Manama and Bahrain.
– The World Wide Web is nowadays an infinite source for researching references and getting inspiration. How important is the internet for the creative part of your projects and what are your main research sources?
Of course nowadays the Internet is paramount in any designers search for products and inspiration worldwide. My FF&E team can very quickly source and complete mood boards and selections, which in the past using physical catalogues took some time. The team utilizes all the major search engines and online catalogues from a vast array of exciting suppliers.
This would be dependent on the style of the palace of course. For the classical; your Maree sofa, Hermes sofa and Matis armchairs for example would sit comfortably within most of today’s modern classic feel.
With regards to lighting, due to size, most of our lighting would be bespoke pieces, although for a more contemporary design your product range could easily fulfill our requirements.
Boca Do Lobo, is a personal favourite of mine, I love the artistic mix of classic and contemporary and bizarre, however, these would be used purely as “talking point “ and an accent piece. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to completely furnish a residence with their items, perhaps Lady Gaga would be interested?? I most certainly am!!
From left to right, up & down: MATIS armchair, MAREE sofa (blue velvet) and HERMES sofa (beige velvet)
– What new projects you have in hands at the moment you would like to share with us?
Happy to share a few with you such as; presently we are well into the design stage of a large family compound, comprising of 5 main Palaces, recreational facility with spa, swimming pools, Grand Majilis, cigar lounge, mosque and various other out buildings. The Architecture being in the style of Andalusia, however the interiors very much with a modern twist. Total size of the project is 500,000 sqm.
Our London office has recently been commissioned to design the new country estate for HRH Princess Sara Bint Abdul Azziz bin Talal Al Saud. Having designed the Palace in Riyadh for Her Royal Highness, we are very excited in now in creating her dream home within her country estate.
– Finally, do you normally go to trade shows of the interior design sector? We hope to meet you soon in one of those
My team attends many trade shows, they are crucial to keep ones eye on the latest and greatest. I personally attend mainly IF I am selecting for a project at that time. In fact I am due to attend Milan next week for this very reason.
It would be my great pleasure to meet you and I congratulate on a superb and captivating web site.
Thank you for your time Steven, BRABBU team wishes a lot of success to House of Infinity for the MENA Award, we are cheering for you and hopefully we will soon have a new article about House of Infinity to share with our readers!