Nada Debs is a Lebanese designer living and working in Beirut. Her work spans scale and discipline: from product and furniture design to one-off commissions across craft, art, fashion and interiors. What ties her work together is her ability to distil culture and craftsmanship to create pieces of emotional resonance. Nada grew up in Japan, studied design at Rhode Island School of Design in the United States and has spent significant periods of time living and travelling the world, finding connections between different cultures. There is something of each of her experiences in all of her work. In essence, she captures the power of the human hand to tell stories that touch the heart. She calls her approach: hand made, heart made.
Your brand East & East brings the Far East in with the Middle East ... how would you describe it? I would say that my Japanese upbringing has influenced my design approach to simplify and bring things down to its essence. Middle Eastern furniture is quite ornamental but by applying the simplest form and keeping it as minimal as possible, I was able to merge the influence of the 2 cultures in my products.
Your work is a 'modern take that is reflective of the evolving Arab identity' - what have been the drivers? The drive behind this is myself and my search for my own identity-I struggled trying to find the balance between 2 very distinct and quite opposing cultures and it took my creativity to bring this balance out. I saw both cultures in the pieces I designed, and it helped resolve my identity crisis—giving a contemporary light to Arab heritage through modern craft.
You recently launched ND Marketplace? ND Marketplace is a collection of objects that are more affordable and with a touch of humor. You spoke at the V&A about the challenge of designing in the Middle East, more recently in Sotchi, Russia about the influence of the East on design - what were some of the key points you raised in both gatherings? My work is very much related to heritage and a modern interpretation of it. I feel with globalization, it is as important to design objects that have both a local and a global influence. Not to neglect both the past and the present.
You designed a collection of Contemporary rugs titled You & I for the Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative. How did this come about? I was commissioned by FBMI to design the carpets and it was a venture that is very close to my heart. Afghanistan has so much to offer from their history and their land and I was very excited to be part of it. The weavers were extremely professional and worked with indigenous materials and natural dyes.My first trip to Kabul was to understand the weaving process before I designed the collection. The result was a combination of tradition and modernity.
Tell us about your latest collection and pieces you are particularly excited about? In 2017, we created a collection called Now & Zen—a series of furniture and objects that were inspired by the modern Anime culture in Japan—colorful, light and with a twist of inspiration from the modern Geisha girl. This year we are creating a collection called Funquetry—a play on the technique of marquetry. We will be using the traditional marquetry strips that are often created for very traditional objects and doing it in contemporary colors and patterns.
What projects have you got coming up in 2018 that we should look out for? We are moving our boutique to an area that is at the heart of old Beirut and opening up our studio space to the public. The move is called Up, Close & Personal as we believe that it is very important to get closer to the creative process and to the world of NADA DEBS.
How can Lebanon harness the abundance of art and design talent coming through? Success takes time and it is only with determination as well as consistency in the work of the designers and artists, that will sustain the talent and longterm success.