Karim Wally: Stay Original

Written by: Perihan El Etreby

Date: 2021-09-01

The Studio is a prominent firm established in 2014 with a high-profile talent who has a solid reputation and originality in dealing with a diversity of architectural and interior design disciplines. Since its beginning, the firm has gradually developed and has amassed a portfolio of high-quality work across Egypt.

The Studio is a prominent firm established in 2014 with a high-profile talent who has a solid reputation and originality in dealing with a diversity of architectural and interior design disciplines. Since its beginning, the firm has gradually developed and has amassed a portfolio of high-quality work across Egypt.

Architectural design, interior design, and spatial planning are only some of the services offered by the firm. All areas of the project are completed, including early planning and briefing, comprehensive design development and technical documentation, on-site administration, and post-completion analysis.

He Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Karim Wally, the man behind The Studio, and learn more about his meteoric ascent to success.

“Building my own firm was a target since a young age, and I pursued this path with a dream to achieve…”

Wally is an interior design graduate from the Faculty of Art. He always had a dream of establishing his own firm from a young age and this is what pushed him to pursue a degree in interior design. 

“Since I was in school, I used to be fascinated with the art and anything related to designs I see in movies. I wanted to understand the field more and learn about it. So, I spent a good amount of time searching which faculty would help me best to understand interior design; and the faculty of art was what I’ve chosen by the end.”

During his university years, Wally had one picture in his head; “having my own firm is what I’ve been always aiming for. But it doesn’t happen in a blink of an eye, so, I went through the process from scratch.”

Wally spent his university years building his experience through working with different firms and in almost all kinds of projects he encountered; from residential, to office spaces, retail, and more. This affected his career tremendously. “Studying on its own is not enough. There is a big difference between creating the design and executing the design on solid ground,” Wally explained.

“I had two choices to either quit and figure out what to do next or keep struggling and try to get out of this critical phase…I chose the latter,”

The floatation of currency has been a big dilemma to many businesses, including The Studio, causing Wally to pause and recalculate his risks, future plans, and decisions. 

“That was a big challenge!” Wally said. “During floatation, there has been a lot of problems at work that led me to think about closing the business and finding something else to do.

After only 3 years of its establishment, the dream could have come to a halt. The firm had been already working on projects and having active contracts, but the flotation caused a significant loss,” Wally stated.

His passion for what he does is beyond words; Wally mentioned that if the decision of closing it down was taken, it wouldn’t have mattered what career to shift to; all things would have been almost the same to him away from interior design. 

Wally had to move forward with a new plan in no time. He started downsizing, which was a very difficult step as the workload was extremely high at that point. The firm was working on many different projects, and he had to work on many of them alone. The team consisted of about three members during this period, so of course, it was a tough phase.

“I did everything I can to keep the name of The Studio alive and continue,” Wally said. But after all, the struggle was all worth it!

“Well, we managed to overcome this challenging phase, and actually, it had a positive aspect that I have realized during the Corona Pandemic,” he said. “The idea of working from home, having a small team, adapting to the new flow of work and to the stressful lifestyle and work environment that the entire world was suffering from was not new to me. So, for me, it was okay to work under this stress and still do my best to bring out the best,” he continued.

“One of the challenges was establishing The Studio at a time when the existing market had already big well-known names; people whom I was always striving to learn from”

“The challenge was how to position myself correctly in such a competitive market and how to get my work to be recognized among such successful well-known designers in the field and build a reputable name,” he said.

Wally mentioned that a vital aspect in positioning his name and The Studio in the market was the projects themselves. “It is either you accept whatever project you get or be patient and selective about what you work on, choosing a certain segment and focusing on a specific category,” he said. “The challenge is how to say ‘no’ when you can’t.”

Wally succeeded indeed to position himself in the market and build a prominent name for himself. How did he do it, was a question we had to ask!

“From the very beginning of my career, I was always focused on the following points and values,” he said.

Identity: As long as you’re a person with a certain identity and character at work, by time, you’ll be positioned where you belong.

Filtering the projects received: You need to be selective about your projects. You have to deliver something extraordinary that stands out in different areas; residential, commercial, and so on. So, one project has to follow the other with the same quality. This builds a strong CV.

Consistency and patience: You need to keep delivering quality projects on a regular basis; one after another to gain recognition. Also, patience is key! The process to achieve your position in the market takes time. So, even if a designer is very talented, they need to be patient to get there. Many designers nowadays are in a hurry to be famous and reach their destination, but the real journey of successful people takes consistency and patience.

Are trends a real thing in the interior design world?

We always hear about the “new trends” on TV, over the internet and from our surroundings. But who decides the trends? And why do people always follow them?

“I don’t believe in trends,” Wally said. “Trends is the final output from cumulative expertise in a certain area. For example, the color trend is the reflection of the expertise of colors worldwide…so, there is no new invention; colors’ expertise has been always there,” he continued. “It is a marketing game, after all. For example, you see old designs and strategies coming back to life and people start dealing with them as trends.”

Wally believes that the most important thing is that the projects comply with the personality and lifestyle of the owner, no matter what “trend” is taking place.

“We say that every project is like a fingerprint. It has to be unique and to belong only to its owner, the project has to speak to the soul of the client”

In The Studio, they work with all different types of projects equally. There’s no focus on one area more than the other unless it happens by chance. So, this has put them in a challenge that every client and new project must have a different and distinctive element. 

In fact, it is a long journey to get to just build an idea of what the project will look like. The interaction with the client is very important. Wally takes all the needed time to study the client. He asks about his hobbies, lifestyle, work, likes and dislikes in order to start building his plan. 

“I need to be aware of all the small details that make up the person. They need to feel that they belong to this place, and find all the details that matter to them,” Wally said.

Great Projects That Left Significant Marks

The Studio has many overwhelming projects; whether residential, commercial, retail or others. Wally talked exclusively about some of their success stories. He started with The Chocolate Factory, which is a custom-made chocolate store.

“The owner of the Chocolate Factory is a decent professional lady whom I was pleased to work with. She is very creative and passionate about the chocolate industry. And since she sees that the industry is not really taking the attention it deserves in Egypt as a local product, she decided to create a place that grabs the attention of everyone,” Wally said.

“The theme of the place was more of a cartoon kind of thing, and the store’s size is relatively small. The store is in Korba and adopts the old architectural style, so we needed to create a design that keeps the architecture while adding elements that contribute to the cartoon theme.”

They succeeded indeed to create a masterpiece, producing an industrial yet authentic design with cheerful colors that put the visitors in a certain happy mood. 

Another project Wally mentioned was residential; the last home they designed in Almaza Bay, North Coast. This was a different one for Wally. The idea was to come up with a design that comprises a bohemian look—a bohemian neat design. 

“Mixing between the look and the material was an interesting challenge,” Wally said, “especially that the client was not young, so convincing him with the bohemian style and the existence of different colors was not very easy.”

“There is a thin line between being inspired by a role model and copying them”

Inspiration can come from what appears irrelevant to design…but in fact, everything comes together in the end.

“I like to be inspired by different things, not just what’s relating to my industry,” Wally said. 

He explained that he might have a role model who is a musician, as he likes his way of thinking, career path…etc, and apply those points in his own career or life. Also, the thoughts of a certain author or philosopher might comply with Wally’s life and benefit him in his own way.

“One important point, people sometimes get confused between having a role model who inspires them and having a role model whom they copy!” he mentioned. “So, having someone to look up to is very beneficial and strengthens your experience as long as you do not fall into the trap of copying them.”

In the field of design, Wally is inspired by Muhammad Noaman.  “He is the Godfather of designs in Egypt,” Wally said. “He is the one who introduced interior design to Egypt and opened its door to a whole school of designers.”

The Interior Design Field Progressed Throughout the Years on Different Stages

“Until 2010, interior design was considered as a luxury service. Many people didn’t understand what it was exactly. It was only serving a niche segment, unlike abroad,” Wally explained.

“Starting from 2010 till 2014, there has been a major increase in the designers’ number in the country. Social media had also a huge impact on raising awareness about designs and conveying what other countries do regarding interior design.

“And today, the idea of hiring an interior designer is common and highly demanded. Designers are considered celebrities. People started to follow their work, lifestyle and tastes in order to decide whether they will be a good match for them or not. This is all because of social media!”

Wally believes that Egypt has great talents, but many of them are hidden although they deserve to be recognized worldwide. Designers need to approach different international awards in order to gain further recognition and heighten their global rank.

Golden Pieces of Advice from Wally to the Young Generation

The talent on its own is not sufficient for a designer to be successful. Experience is needed—in different dimensions of life, not just work.

Consistency is very crucial. Each small step will take you to a whole different level. So do not stop halfway through, as you’ll waste all the effort. It is a journey.

The designer is not only made of talent, studies and work experience. A designer is an entire lifestyle that complies with his identity and well-formed character. Once he understands this, his career path changes.

Completing the previous point, originality is a key to success. Once the designer’s character is reflected in his work, he positions himself in a certain area. So, pay attention that there’s a thin line between being inspired by someone and copying them. Stay original!

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