It opened its doors June 6, 2009, and today, Art of Form sits like a gleaming glass gift box on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, offering patrons modern furniture that doesn’t ignore local taste.
As one store of the still under-construction strip mall Designopolis, Art of Form has firmly established itself as a veritable trove of the most achingly cool and hip furniture one can buy in Cairo, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Art of Form came about when owner and managing director Shaden Abdel-Hak needed such a store herself. “I was finishing my house and it took me a lot of time to find things.
She was also eager to join the Designopolis project, a strip mall that would house various furniture and interior stores catering to different tastes. “When the idea [of Designopolis] was launched, I had a very optimistic vision of the project.
Today, Designopolis is still mostly under construction and there are only a handful of stores that are open to the public. Art of Form is arguably the highlight of the project.
The store carries contemporary furniture, and includes materials, home accessories, linens, lighting fixtures and some tableware. The style is contemporary and refined, artistic yet not absurdly so.
Abdel Hak is tapping into the market of consumers who have a refined sensibility and a keen understanding of what they wish their home to look like. It’s the same market, she points out, that is snapping up expensive real estate.
Also, a considerable number of these consumers are young, she adds. They are in their late 20s or 30s, cosmopolitan and leading successful careers. “Our new generation is quite cosmopolitan. Many like to look at and choose from shop windows, like in Europe. Buying from exhibits in office spaces does not work for them.
Of the roughly 200 real estate projects across Egypt, mostly in Cairo, about 50 of those are designed in a modern style with some big heavyweight architects such as Zaha Hadid, known for her novel contemporary facades.
The store, Abdel-Hak says, is “very much geared towards design-oriented housing units. Whoever is buying these modern units will buy modern furniture [here].
But it’s not strictly modern. “We still need a touch of the past . neoclassical was a big trend at [the French fair] Maison et Object, it’s about keeping your identity but still holding on to it in your personal sense, she says.
Weaving of expertise
A woman of great business acumen, interiors was quite a natural step for her to take after working for over 20 years in other fields.
Abdel-Hak started working at a young age for her father, whose tourism business included cruise liners. She served as a project manager for the renovations of the cruise liners’ interiors and the liaison between the Egyptian and Italian contractors involved in the project.
From there, Abdel-Hak started visiting international furniture fairs, and today, “I visit many fairs around the world yearly to make sure that whatever is there is instantly here. We carry some Giorgetti pieces that have been unveiled here first, and some prototypes are exclusively in our showroom, says Abdel-Hak.
Her earlier work in the industry of tourism, and five years assisting her husband by overseeing administrative affairs at his hospital, coupled with her intense passion for interior decorating, is perhaps the perfect formula for running a store of such innovation in a fickle yet growing market.
Bringing Europe to Egypt
Art of Form carries big names, mostly Italian, including Girogetti, Missoni Home, and Moroso. Her selection of the brands was a process that she attributed to her approach to decorating her own home. “I always felt every brand translates a certain mood of life, and the combination of brands translates how one can live, explains Abdel-Hak.
Taking on the moods of nostalgia, serenity, sensuality and energetic, Abdel-Hak has selected brands accordingly ranging from furniture to lighting fixtures, and the show room reveals a range of tastes and prices.
A point of contention for customers shopping in Egypt is the high prices of imported goods, but Abdel-Hak defends the prices in store. “A ?5,000 leather sofa is comparable to prices found here in Egypt, considering that some other stores do not offer you after sales service, a guarantee, [or] history of the brand.
Abdel-Hak explains that whereas her wares are produced in Italy mostly, other stores will sell couches that are made from inferior materials for the same price as their Italian counterparts.
In addition, Abdel Hak says the store’s prices are similar to European markets, sans the dramatic markup that characterizes any imported piece of furniture, be it Italian or Chinese.
Some of the challenges still persist though, she says. “I had to start very big to get the confidence of customers. I launched at the beginning of summer and so I had to make a lot of noise.
She believes healthy competition is necessary. “To have my competitors understand the benefit of competition and to present the best [of design] in harmony is necessary in her opinion to keep this trend and respect for contemporary furniture growing further in Egypt.
A second outlet will open soon in Gouna, where hundreds of units are constantly being delivered every year to eager consumers; 60 percent of whom is from abroad. The Gouna store would be “giving them total solutions and different choices in terms of pieces, says Abdel Hak.