Contemporary Middle Eastern get-togethers

Her collaborative attitude is one reason why IKEA decided to work together with Lebanese designer Nada Debs. The result is LJUV, a contemporary Middle Eastern collection with vintage geometry patterns for that time of the year when friends and family get together.

In a circle on a floor in southern India sits Lebanese designer Nada Debs with Karin Gustavsson, creative leader at IKEA, and a group from the textile supplier. The carpet is covered with sketches, colour swatches, scraps of fabric and thread rolls and around them are looms, sewing machines and bolt after bolt of fabric. Nada and Karin have already sent the suppliers their ideas for patterns, pillows and floor cushions. Today it is time to try different techniques and combinations together with the supplier to find the right balance.

IKEA chose to work together with Nada for the collection LJUV — named after the Swedish word for delightful — where traditional Middle Eastern patterns and symbols meet Scandinavian design. They describe it as a mix of big and small decorative and functional items like floor cushions, rugs, trays, ceramics and glassware that make it easy to host many guests.

Nada Debs lives and works in Beirut. She grew up in Japan and studied design in the US. Her work spans from furniture design to craft, art, fashion, and interiors. What ties her work together is her ability to distil culture and craftsmanship to create pieces of emotional resonance. She has a hands-on approach and understands that good relationships and a collaborative attitude are the key to achieving good results. Her collaborative attitude is one of the reasons why Karin asked Nada if she was interested in working with IKEA for the collection. Karin says she does not believe in designing from the desktop and wanted LJUV to be an on-the-floor design process with Nada and the suppliers.

Those already familiar with Nada’s work know that she likes to mix material and patterns, such as wood and metals, in beautiful ways and works closely with handicraft techniques and treats each object as unique. To reach the many young IKEA customers, the team focuses on making the collection more affordable, light and flat packed. They weave together Nada’s ideas, skills, and techniques with the five dimensions of IKEA Democratic Design: form, function, quality and sustainability at a low price.

“I usually work with the luxury craft so translating the products to Democratic Design was a big challenge and an inspiring one,” says Nada.

While trying out different combinations of the signature geometric patterns, they also talk about holiday traditions and celebrating with family and friends.

“In the Middle East, the family is more than just mom, dad and siblings. It’s all about the extended family — grandmothers, aunts, nieces, cousins and beloved friends! People are always inviting each other to evening feasts during Ramadan. For me, this time of the year is about compassion, empathy, and generosity,” says Nada.

How do you prepare your home for the get-togethers?

“You host many people during this season, so floor cushions are an easy way to make space for extra family and friends. My parents always have some small decorative objects like lanterns, and they put centrepieces on the table with dried nuts and fruit,” says Nada.

Any product in the collection that you have a special connection to?

 “I personally really like the low table, which allows light to pass through. It creates a really nice shadow and pattern. I also like the unexpected combination of materials, for example, ceramics with brass. This is not so common usually, and our take on it makes it playful and quite contemporary,” says Nada.

The machine embroidery on the floor cushions is another play in contrast to the traditional hand embroidery. Nada describes how the degradation of the colours reflects sunrise and sunset, which is significant in Ramadan and the hexagonal shape recalls the geometry which is common in the region.

“My work is inspired by Middle Eastern influences, but the goal is to have a global appeal, hence working with IKEA has been the perfect match. I like to call my work ’emotional design’, and it reflects the emotional nature of the people in the region,” says Nada.

First, they wanted the geometric pattern printed in gold, but the supplier had managed to find the most perfect golden thread so now they use both embroidery and print.

“In Middle Eastern craft, darker shades of wood with toned-down colours are common, but we wanted to brighten it up and give it a fresh and light modern feel to reflect the identity of the many young people. It is contemporary, but you can still feel the Arab identity in the products,” says Nada.

The LJUV collection will launch in February 2020 in selected markets in the Middle East.