White shaded lamp
Smica Lamp by Studio Job + Cmmnwlth at Chamber
(Image credit: TBC)

Titters broke out during the opening-day press conference for Design Days Dubai - the fourth edition of the annual fair billed as the Middle East's largest - when a representative from automaker Audi, one of the event's chief underwriters, mistakenly referred to his company as the sole sponsor of 'Audi Design Days.' Catching the gaffe, fair director Cyril Zammit smiled from his seat near the podium. 'Maybe if you added another zero,' he said.

One hopes they don't. Among Design Days Dubai's charms is that it remains, for all its mainstream appeal, very much an evolving and un-co-opted entity. The city where it takes place is a Wild West of real estate development and cultural and economic ferment, and the fair reflects that, combining a cosmopolitan air with a sense of experiment that's harder to find at larger, more staid fairs in other cities. There's unquestionably a big-time corporate presence in and around Dubai, but at least so far, it isn't setting the tone for Dubai Design Days.

Of the 44 exhibitors presenting at this year's fair, fully 19 of them were based in the region, an impressive showing from a still-emerging design market. Khalid Mezaina, Project Coordinator at Dubai art-and-design incubator Tashkeel, explained how the offerings at his booth drew on the culture and traditions of the Arabian Peninsula.  'All the pieces have stories,' he said, pointing to the wooden chairs and tables of Rand Abdul Jabbar, based on ancient local boat-making techniques. Not far off, Italian designer Massimo Faion stood at the stall for Beirut-based Carwan Gallery beside his latest creation-a beechwood-and-bronze falcon perch, complete with demonstration falcon and attending falconer. Though common in the Middle East, it is not necessary to practice bird-on-bird hunting to enjoy the piece. 'I tried to make it so beautiful and well-designed that it can also work simply for display,' said Faion.

Even exhibitors representing more familiar territory tended, on the whole, towards the new and unconventional. New York design gallery Chamber, which opened only last fall, decided to make its first appearance on the global fair circuit in Dubai. Director Michael Vince Snyder, flanked by whimsical pieces from Studio Job and Jakob Smits, explained that part of the reason was just how easy and straightforward the fair's staff had made the process: 'They're just a wonderful organization to work,' he said. And at least tentatively, they appear to be a good organization to sell with, too: two days into the fair, Zammit said that sales thus far have been brisk, 'from the very low end to the very high.'

Patterned boxes

Launched in 2008, South African design hub Southern Guild has created a fair of their own -- GUILD -- in their native Cape Town. Here, the Lala Surma I and II drink cabinets from Joburg-based Dokter and Misses

(Image credit: TBC)

Wooden tool cabinet

Imagination Tool Cabinet by Daphna Laurens at Gallery S. Bensimon

(Image credit: TBC)

Thick wooden sideboard

Sideboard by Jorge Moura, presented at Nakkash Gallery

(Image credit: TBC)

Abstract gold coloured chair

For his Split Chair (exhibited by Beijing's Gallery ALL), designer Zhoujie Zhang uses a simple algorithm to reconfigure the chair's complex facets to any desired scale

(Image credit: TBC)

Close up of water whirl wind

Zaha Hadid was fairly omnipresent at the fair, one of the few true "starchitects" in evidence: besides this Liquid Glacial Table for David Gill Galleries, she had a set of vases for Wiener Silber Manufactur and lighting for Zumtobel

(Image credit: TBC)

Opaque and gold box

Faceted box at the Crafts Council, by Andrea Walsh

(Image credit: TBC)

Blue metal circular chair

Emphasizing sustainability, simplicity, and a certain distinctly Parisian sense of elegance, design retailer Gallery S. Bensimon presented fellow French outfit Design POOL's lacquered-metal Circle Armchair

(Image credit: TBC)

Bird resting post

The wood (steam-bent, as designer Massimo Faison points out, "like Thonet chairs") can support a bird of prey, a tossed-off jacket, or just an admiring regard; the minder of the fair's falcon kept it hooded and well-fed with mice meat

(Image credit: TBC)

Wooden table with colourful legs

Adam Goodrum's Birdsmouth Table, on show at Broached Commissions' stand

(Image credit: TBC)

Origami inspired cupboard

Dubai's own Aljoud Lootah operated her own booth at DDD. Her felt-lined Oru series was inspired, she said, by origami

(Image credit: TBC)


The Venue, Downtown Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard