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Heba AlSaiedy: From a Design Studio to a Full House

by Perihan El Etreby

Heba Al Saeidy, Co-Founder of LAYERS Design Studio is an ambitious designer who established her design firm, LAYERS in February 2020. She has always had a passion for design and is interested in the business of product manufacturing. She thinks that “going from a sketch on a sheet of paper to a mass-produced product is very rewarding.” She strives to find the delicate balance between an excellent product and the market needing it. 

An Artistic Childhood and Ambitious Youth

From a very young age, Heba had a talent in different aspects like drawing and sketching, but she had no idea what design was yet. She realized and started to understand the meaning of design in university. Heba graduated from the German University in Cairo, where she has studied design. 

She was interested in product design, furniture design, and interior design. And although she wanted to pursue a path in animation at first, she found herself interested in building prototypes and maquettes. After graduating, Heba worked as a junior teacher assistant at GUC, and then she started working with international and local brands. No matter what, she had one target to achieve; once she reaches a certain level of experience, she would start her own firm. 

While working with other brands, she had potential thoughts that she wanted to execute but they were hard to achieve as she had to stick to the company’s or her head’s vision and concepts; so, there were a lot of restrictions.

Key Transitional Phases in Life and Career

“I was working as a freelancer for companies abroad. During this period, I have seen the difference in the field between Egypt and abroad. The idea of furniture design in Egypt was not as strong as in the other countries. It was very traditional and there was a common taste dominating the market,” Heba said.

Heba thinks the common taste was mainly because of the lack of awareness. If there is more awareness about furniture design, the common taste would generally enhance.

“The last company I worked at somehow had a good strategy and encouraged the existence of new ideas and options for the design process,” Heba stated. “I took the challenge and decided to take advantage of the freedom of thinking out loud.”

She started to introduce new ideas to the company. Her concepts were very much welcomed, but still, Heba faced the same problem; although her ideas were found agreeable, they were not executed.

“I reached a point where I knew that my ideas deserve to get seen!” she said. Heba started working on her own designs, demonstrating her first collection ‘Beton’. She visualized it and published the designs only on social media as a start. 

“Surprisingly, people reacted highly to the concept and started asking for the details and prices right away. I got really encouraged,” she said. This is from where LAYERS Studio has started until it reached the great success witnessed today.

Establishing LAYERS During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Big Challenge Causing Difficulties

Heba established her firm, Layers at a very critical time during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a huge challenge that affected her tremendously.

“I started Layers in February 2020; a challenging period where corona was affecting everyone and all businesses,” Heba said. “There has been lots of constraints, starting from the financial part to the assets and finding a suitable location.”

She decided to turn the basement of her house into her dream studio, but there was another problem. “It was still the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone was terrified of the virus, so workers refused to continue working. Once I started, everything stopped,” she declared.

Heba did not let this dilemma stop her from continuing… “I worked with my own hands…all by myself to make this work!” she mentioned. “I thought that since LAYERS is supposed to be a firm that comprises different forms of design, then, it is a good way to start.”

She did everything by herself. She was responsible for every single detail from A to Z. Heba only sought the assistance of a couple of friends every now and then. “I saw the end results before even starting,” Heba said, and indeed she achieved the desired results. 

Heba involved her social media followers in every step of the process by posting daily. And she received great encouragement along the way.  “It was a very tough phase already, so the encouragement I received from social media is what kept me going,” she said. 

During this critical phase, Heba succeeded to establish her summer collection: Tabaly. It mainly involved coffee tables and stools.  “During this extremely critical time, I have gratefully peaked, while a lot of others—in many different industries—were unfortunately falling.”

First Steps Towards Big Successes

LAYERS’ very first complete official project took place in Seashell, North Coast, where Heba furnished a house there. In the middle of it, she was in the hassle of finishing a proper workshop, meeting clients and more. She learned a lot from handling clients, meeting deadlines, dealing with labor, and many other things that she wouldn’t be able to learn without jumping into this experience and exploring the field on real ground. 

But like any other project, it is not all about successes, there are times when businesses take a downturn…

“After this project, the firm collapsed. When everyone started to wake up and recover from the pandemic, I had a really bad phase by the end of the year,” Heba said.

Gladly, Heba had a boost up after meeting Lamia Khairy, Founder of Mobilia, and Ramy Gendy, Founder of Studio 19.  “Lamia and Ramy have done lots of efforts to help me get up again,” Heba said. “Thanks to them I finished my first 2 masterpieces that were exhibited in Zed Park, La Casa, and Design Show.”

Later, Lamia encouraged her to exhibit her work at one of the biggest summer furniture exhibitions, “Mobilia By the Sea” that took place at Marassi, North Coast from July 30th to August 1st.  “I have wanted to participate in such a big exhibition since forever! But I didn’t think it would happen that soon,” she mentioned excitedly. 

This event was great exposure for LAYERS and Heba. Reputable designers, amateurs, prospective customers and many other people were impressed by the place and were surprised by the fact that Layers took a relatively big space while exhibiting for the first time.

The Secret Behind the Brand Name: LAYERS

When asked why she chose this name, Heba gave us an answer, showing how she was truly thinking about the slightest detail, and how her heart and soul are included in every aspect of her life, including her work. “LAYERS is not only about furniture. Everything in life is made in ‘layers’,” she started. “It is not only about pieces of furniture, but we set a mood, we set an experience, we create an atmosphere.”

How Furniture Design is Perceived in Egypt?

“It should be the designers’ responsibility to raise awareness about furniture design and modernize the common taste,” Heba stated. “Only recently, designers started to focus on telling the story of the product they create, instead of launching the product with the monetary profit is the only priority.”

“Now, we know more about the story behind the items produced, and the aim is directed towards enhancing the life experience and having a fresh eye.”

Furniture Design is Similar to Fashion Design

“Stylists’ aim is to guide people about fashion and make them understand better how to choose their outfits and mix and match their clothes to end up giving them the look that suits them and that they desire,” she said. “Furniture design is quite similar, I offer solutions, new presentations and tools to make people understand it better.

“It is all about presenting the collection with a different preview. Don’t focus only on selling, it is more about what do you sell, and why and to whom?”

It is about the conceptual and financial values offered. Heba thinks that designers need to dig deeper when it comes to conceptual value. For instance, if we’re talking about cultural designs, a lot of them only choose what is obvious or only add a few retouches, although there are a lot more in the culture to explore, which might lead to completely different designs and styles.

Designers’ responsibility in raising awareness might come first, but sellers have a big role as well.  “The client is only a receiver, so the seller must raise awareness and gives the direction too,” she clarified.

The Trend is Taking a Wrong Direction in the Field

“Nowadays, the client subconsciously is the one who makes the trend, not us,” Heba said. “If we’re going to talk about the right way; then designers are culture changes and guides, they should be the ones who change the customer’s taste.”

Heba follows the school of Karim Rasheed. His amorphous designs are as he describes: ‘sensual minimalism’ or ‘blobjects’. 

“His concept might not be so common to many, but for me, I follow the same concept… everything has a reason,” Heba said. “I apply this on the scale of products in general, not just furniture. Mega companies like Apple conduct this product design strategy, becoming the leaders in their area. They make trends and people follow, not the other way around. People wait for their seminars and product launching events from one year to another. Even if there’s a feature that is not so comfortable, they find a way to make you adapt!” she finished.

Changes In the Initial Plan of LAYERS Shaping The Future Of The Firm

“The plan at the beginning was to sell designs to showroom retailers and other brands while keeping the name of LAYERS, so it would be known that the designs are done by us and manufactured by the other entity,” Heba explained. “I had in mind that after 3 years we can start the interior design part. But things did not go as planned at all! I had the collaboration with Studio 19 and Mobilia, had the exhibition at Marassi, and then I started working on an interior design project recently.”

Heba is mainly working on FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment) at the moment. LAYERS has two main projects now: one in Mountain View and the other in La Nova Vista. 

Some products are customized, some are designed, while others are only supplied. So, they have a broad range of design services, where the firm does not have to be the one doing everything. Some clients might request specific accessories for example, and LAYERS would simply supply them with.

Its first interior design project is taking place in BO Island, and Heba is very excited about it. 

Unleash Your Power: An Advice for Future Designers

“If you’re a designer with a vision and can visualize the end result then that’s a skill you should be proud of. Not every designer can see the end result from the start. It takes time till the design gets cooked. So, once you see that, go for it! Do not procrastinate…unleash your power.

“Another thing, designers need to keep their eyes fresh all the time. Keep your inspiration up to date, and do not use Pinterest as a mood board.”

Heba sees that a lot of designers get creativity block when they depend on getting inspiration from platforms like Pinterest. The visuals they see stick to their heads and they usually end up doing the same exact thing.

LAYERS’ Expansion into a Full House

“Our baby is growing and is turning from a design studio to a full house,” Heba said.  Finally, Heba announced that she is officially adding ‘interior design’ to LAYERS’ scope of work. “We’re enlarging the entity, including all areas of furniture design, interior, exterior, plantation, and execution,” she continued.

Heba ended this fruitful chat on a beautiful note. “I don’t see furniture design as designing furniture products only. I see it as dressing a woman. When you dress a woman, you’ll make sure to dress her well. It is more of a fashion style, and there are times for fashion, some items are temporary, and others are trendy. This is how I work; it is not about producing a chair or table. It is more of a full vision, with a setup, mood, and setting. So, it is more of a lifestyle.