Noha Hassan and I have both called The Caledonia home since the building launched 9 years ago. During that time I’ve admired Noha’s work in interior design, a passion she pursued after more than a decade in finance at Goldman Sachs and branding at Estée Lauder. Her aesthetic is a culturally rich one, influenced by her upbringing in Egypt as well as years spent living in Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, Belgium, and England. Her love for travel and search for inspiration has taken her on recent trips to South Africa, Argentina, Morocco, Germany, and Brazil. Despite juggling her busy New York schedule, full roster of clients, and raising a beautiful family alongside her husband, Noha took some time to share her story of coming into design, her creative process, and where she finds inspiration.
You took an interest in design after renovating your own home. What was it about the process that prompted you to leap from a background in finance and branding into starting your own design firm?
Noha: I know, it was a very extreme change! I worked in finance for 8 years and decided on a career switch because I had always craved an element of creativity in my work. I felt that I had it in me but it was not an area I had tapped into. I also already knew at the time that I would one day start my own business although I wasn’t yet sure what that would be. I moved to Lauder to gain branding and marketing experience and after 5 years in beauty I took a leap into interior design by working on my home, during which I realized it was my true passion. That’s what led me to pursue it and launch my own design firm. I started by myself, for myself, with no prior design experience, and I’m proud to say that I’m completely self-taught. That was 9 years ago.
Lance: Why does design matter?
Noha: Design is a lifestyle choice. It affects how you feel within a space and for that reason it is very important. I get feedback from my clients that they feel serenity and coziness in their homes, and with our hectic lifestyles, it is so important to feel relaxed and at peace while at home.
Lance: Who were your design influences growing up?
Noha: It was only recently that I understood how much my grandmother inspired my love for design. Growing up in Egypt, I spent a lot of time at her home which was always beautifully furnished, so warm and welcoming. She had an understated elegance that I imitated as I grew up. I often rearranged the furniture or refreshed the look in my childhood bedroom, and my mother said that always reminded her of my grandmother’s attention to design and interiors.
Lance: What questions do you ask your clients as you commence each project?
Noha: When I start a new design project, I ask them to share images of spaces that resonate with them via Houzz or Pinterest. This is usually very important because it helps translate immediately what they truly like versus having to use design terminology that they may not be familiar with. Once I receive this I immediately know the direction of a project. I then follow up with an extremely detailed questionnaire which covers everything from requested functionality for each room to accents and colors that each client likes. They find this helpful because it forces them to think through all of their requirements at the start of the design phase and it helps me customize the designs to their requests. From there I begin my creation.
Lance: How do you find inspiration?
Noha: I am very detail-oriented and notice the small and large design elements in every space I enter, and since I’m lucky enough to live in New York City, I find inspiration daily because of the great design throughout the myriad of buildings and businesses. I love collecting ideas that I can then incorporate into suitable projects.
When I want to tap into deeper inspiration, however, there are three rituals-of-sorts that I practice: travel, study, and immersing myself in hospitality design. Traveling inspires creativity through all of my senses; I study the latest product innovations in various industries through reading, attending design fairs, and commiserating with fellow design buffs; and lastly, one of my favorite, favorite sources of inspiration is hospitality design. I visit new commercial openings as they arise throughout the city and world to immerse myself in inspiration.
Please share with us some of your favorite design pieces from recent work.
I’m very much drawn to things that are functional but architecturally interesting:
I found these lamps (above) by Paris-based designer Joséphine Repetto a good ten years ago and they are still among my all-time favorite lighting pieces.
I really like the Segreto Desk by Ron Gilad (above). It’s a great solution to a hidden desk: it doesn’t look anything like a desk when it’s folded and it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
The Riveli Shelving System (above) is a shelving system on which a magnetic photo art of the clients’ choice is installed, so it serves dual purposes of shelving and art in one. It’s a great solution for small spaces and it provides an easy and budget-friendly way to switch art at any point down the line.
Who are some designers or studios you admire?
This is a tough question because there is so much talent out there. I love Apparatus Studio in New York. They started out as a lighting and design studio but now have other products as well. In terms of people I follow, I’m obsessed with everything Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola does. Her products are innovative, interesting, and very architectural. I also have to mention Yabu Pushelberg, who were a great, great inspiration to me when I started designing. They are an extremely talented Canadian design duo of architects who do amazing commercial spaces and who also have a furniture line.
What are some of your favorite locations to visit in the city and when you want to relax?
Perry Street is one of my favorite restaurants; not only is the menu amazing but I love that the space was created by Thomas Juul Hansen. I’ve been going for 11 years and I never get tired of admiring the interiors which are minimal and timeless. I love the Flatiron building because it’s so New York iconic and it makes me smile every time I look at it.
West Chelsea is my favorite neighborhood. When I want to relax, I love being home. When I want another level of relaxation, I enjoy exploring and traveling. My family and I do a lot of road trips where we head upstate to places such as Storm King Art Center or Hudson. There is so much beauty upstate and a much slower pace than there is in the city. For close-by travel I find Caribbean beaches and Miami very relaxing.
Do you have a dream project?
I would love to work on a hospitality project. It would be fun to have a mix of commercial and residential, because with commercial you can be a little bit more daring than you can be with residential.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I have just completed a project in Saudi Arabia and I am about to begin one in Boston. Within five years I plan to have some more interesting global projects under my belt and by then I can see myself living in another city. I love New York City so much, but I would also love to give my children the international experience that my parents gave to me when I was growing up.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering moving from employee to entrepreneur?
I think that anything is possible when you have a passion for something, have great determination, and work really hard. I was lucky enough to find out that design is what I really wanted to do. When you find something you’re passionate about, work doesn’t feel like work. It’s really important to be focused on a particular goal, rather than to pursue various small goals at once. That’s what helped me; I knew exactly what I wanted and I wasn’t trying to tackle this idea or that idea. If you’re focused on one goal and set your mind to it, anything is achievable.
Lance: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Noha!
Noha: It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.