Storytellers Hasan and Husain Roomi

4 min read

The brothers behind H2R Design, have created some of Dubai’s best-loved eateries. We find out why every interior needs a story

If you’ve ever looked around and liked the funky interior at Tom & Serg in Dubai’s Al Quoz, or its Trade Centre spin-off The Sum of Us, then you know a little bit about the ethos that informs H2R Design.

It can also be seen at the hip café, Parker’s in The Dubai Mall, where a floor-to-ceiling glass facade is offset by an interior filled with natural wood, industrial piping and lots of greenery. And it’s evident in the pops of colour and whimsy that draws customers into Candylicious, also at The Dubai Mall. Founded by Iraqi brothers Hasan and Husain Roomi, who were born and raised in the UK, and their partner Jacquie Shaddock, the design firm is creating some of the hottest spaces in both London and Dubai – many of them within the hospitality sector. They offer their clients the total package, including sourcing each site location, establishing brand identity and designing it, salvaging and appropriations, interior architecture, furniture and fitting. The result is unique; the spaces one-of-a-kind, for both private and corporate clients.

Hasan and Husain at their Dubai office, located in Al Quoz

The brothers and Jacquie started their business while still studying at university in London, and had launched H2R Design by 2012. Tom & Serg, the company’s first restaurant project, came soon after. With their foot then firmly in Dubai’s design door, they set up shop in the emirate in 2014, and have worked on more than 100 projects since. It’s hard to pick favourites. “We fall in love with most of the projects we work on; we put a lot of heart and passion into our work,” Husain says. But there are two that hold a special place in their hearts, and both because they were unconventional. One is the Al Alamein Hotel in Egypt, “in that the timeframes were near impossible to achieve and the level of renovation and restoration that was required to the building,” explains Husain.

The other is Cassette, a new ‘reimagined bistro’ in The Courtyard, one of the oldest buildings in Al Quoz. That might be because, after designing eateries for so many other clients, this one was entirely theirs. The two-storey space is bursting with real plants, and features an exposed green staircase which overtops a corner reserved for limited edition vinyl. In addition to impossibly hip playlists – coming soon to Spotify – there is local art on the walls, Parisian cuisine with an international twist, and artisanal coffee, which fuels the brothers through their day. Their goal, say the brothers, was to create a community in an immersive experience. They feel it is “a rare yet accessible space, away from the skyscrapers, offering an opportunity to enjoy an old town, cobblestone feel,” they say. “Inspired from a deep-rooted love for art, design, music, food, and the culture that surrounds it, Cassette has an ability to merge different creative worlds and curate its unique identity.”

The brothers begin their day with some of that coffee and a meeting, in which they will set out their plans. They end it by thanking their team, which has now grown to 20 – including chefs, baristas and waiters, each and every day. It might sound biased, but Cassette has become their favourite space in the city. “We are blessed to have such a wonderful place to walk into every day. It is part of the reason our team feels our workspace is our home,” says Husain. Working so closely with a sibling was challenging at first. The brothers had to learn how to appreciate each other for what they bring to the table, what they are best at, and how they operated – and then accept it wholeheartedly. Among their differences? Hasan likes to deal with his tasks right away, while Husain prefers to accumulate them, decide what to attack categorically, and then prioritise. Once those traits were figured out, there were “no longer downsides, only major advantages and benefits to working with a sibling,” says Hasan, although he accepts the journey wasn’t always smooth. “I’m not saying it was easy to get to this point, but we are lucky we are at that stage currently.”

Whenever they take on a new project the pair – who are both classic Porsche enthusiasts – always start out with the client’s vision for their brand. Their magic touch begins to flow after they gain a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. “We then begin by creating a story and a foundation for the design to come,” says Hasan. “Once those aspects are clear, we start to work the inspiration and story, hand-in-hand with the planning. The rest of the design process usually flows quite easily once the foundation solidifies, and that’s how we like it.”

The brothers believe that other projects in Dubai would benefit from putting the same focus on storytelling. “What we tend to see are combinations of appropriately used palettes placed together to form spaces, for the most part,” says Husain. “We would love to see less thematic spaces and more honest approaches to design.”

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