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Sara Ali, Project Director, HBA

Sara Ali is a Dubai-based Project Director. She talks to The Industry Leaders about how her city keeps her abreast of what's happening in interior design, and how luxury design doesn't need to mean expensive materials.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

Coming from a Swedish-Egyptian upbringing, I was lucky to absorb two completely diverse cultures and traditions. I studied Architecture and did my Master's Degree in Interior Design in Florence, the home of the Renaissance and our modern world's birthplace. It was in Florence that I discovered my passion for design, art, and history. This exposure helped me build a strong base to understand and envision any spaces' architecture and interiors. I then joined a global hospitality design firm, HBA, where my career took off and brought me to where I am today.

I am where I am not only because I love what I do but also through hard work, confidence, curiosity, ambition, and openness to learning. I also credit my success to not being afraid to take risks and always being ready for new challenges.

What kind of work does your role involve?

My primary role consists of managing projects through the initial briefing, concept design, documentation, construction and handover stages. I strive to create a unique, sophisticated design reflecting the client's and operator's vision and create spaces that leave strong memories, expressing each project's identity with a sense of space. This is achieved through design, time management, project scheduling, coordination between all parties, implementing brand standards, cost control and nourishing the team's skills by integrating everybody's creativity and unique identity into the project.

What gets you excited about your industry?

What excites me the most in the design world is experiencing the metamorphosis of any space, developing from a simple sketch to a real-life livable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing space. The fusion of elements from all different eras, styles, and periods, also brings a certain bravery and boldness to the end result.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice I was given was by my mentor, and it was to do what I love and not to be afraid to take calculated risks. Also, to have a foundation and philosophy for my designs.

It helps to look where I am today and then to where I want to be and plan for it. After that, it's about working very hard to achieve my goals. This has helped me greatly with my career growth, and I would give the same advice to others to help them design and create their own identity.

What, or who inspires you?

I believe inspiration comes from our surroundings, whether through my travels and learning from different cultures and traditions, fashion, or nature.

True inspiration is created by taking what's around you and implementing it with what's within. One of the architects I have always been inspired by is the renowned Carlo Scarpa. His use of nature, symmetry, and the ideal of "restrained elegance" brings a raw yet elegant approach to a space that I aspire to create in every project.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?

Being in the world's most cosmopolitan city, Dubai keeps you in the loop of such a vast industry. Whether it's through networking with like minds, staying updated on the developments and projects in the city, travelling for global events and exhibitions, being exposed to new trends, and always tracking and reading the latest industry publications.

What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?

One of the projects I worked on in the past was a full renovation of a five-star hotel in Cairo, Egypt. After completing the documentation, we received the instruction that the budget had become incredibly low.

We tackled this by travelling to Cairo and exploring the local sources available. We selected suitable materials and fabrics without compromising the quality and design of the project. We succeeded to make the project more authentic and gave it a deeper cultural essence.

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

I would take my husband and plan an extended escape from reality and visit all countries we have yet to discover. But I guess that's not happening anytime soon unless COVID decides to give us a break!!!

But the real dream is to start a non-profit organization that encourages small businesses and supports rare craftsmen to preserve heritage industries.

How do you switch off after a day at work?

It took me some time to figure out the balance and the importance of switching off after a long day at work. When I'm not on the clock, I spend my time unwinding through exercise, meditation and spending quality time with my family and friends and most importantly Simba, my cat, who always manages to recharge my energy.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

I hope that hospitality design's future focuses more on sustainability and tries to use and embrace more local and recycled materials. Also, I hope to change the perception that luxury design is not simultaneously linked to expensive materials.

How should people connect with you?

You can connect with me via LinkedIn at

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