The Boutique at Inside Burj Al Arab, UAE

Image: Barry Lake

One of the most iconic buildings in Dubai, the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah has become synonymous with luxury hospitality and awe-inspiring architecture since its opening more than 20 years ago.

Within the landmark hotel, the Inside Burj Al Arab tour gives guests and tourists the chance to visit previously inaccessible areas within the building, including its illustrious atrium and Royal Suite.

One of the spaces within this tour, The Boutique at Inside Burj Al Arab, is a luxurious, high-end retail environment in keeping with the grandeur of the wider building. Lighting for this space came from Nulty, which was appointed by lead designer Killa Design to work alongside interior design firm KCA International and retail specialist Umdasch to design a lighting scheme that faithfully maintains the high level of refinement for which the Burj Al Arab is known.

Ahmed Saliem, Projects Director at Nulty, explained further: “Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is one of Dubai’s most beloved and enduring icons. The history and legacy of the hotel informed our brief for the boutique and wider tour. Our role was to use light to celebrate and enhance the splendour of the hotel – every design decision was in essence a standing ovation to the structure itself.”

The concept for the store, Saliem explained, was to “create a world class retail environment in the mould of a luxury hotel experience”.

He continued: “The original design scheme for Burj Al Arab Jumeirah set the bar very high, so we felt a duty to replicate the grandeur and precision that came before us. We looked at how we could balance layers of light to enhance the way guests experience that space, which evolved into a design philosophy of ‘hidden in plain sight’. In the boutique, this meant carefully concealing light to allow the opulence of the interior design scheme to stand out. Where luminaires are visible, they are beautifully understated and work seamlessly with the overarching interior scheme.”

Within the Boutique, Nulty looked to balance the principles of retail lighting with hospitality, to enhance the ambience within the space while maintaining a consistent design language with the rest of the hotel.

“We used light to elevate the retail experience from both an aesthetic and ambience point of view,” Saliem continued. “On one hand, light helps to emphasise all of the high-end materials that the interior design team have used throughout the space. We concealed laser blade lighting in the reflective ceiling panels to preserve the mirrored ceiling and perfected the colour temperature of the lighting to reveal the depth of the exquisite metallic textures and natural stone finishes on show.

“On another level, light helps guide the eye through the boutique and envelops you in a sense of luxurious comfort.”

The laser blade lighting is concealed between a series of reflective panels to preserve the scheme’s oval-shaped mirrored ceiling. Cove illumination frames the mirrored section of the ceiling by creating a soft glow of light around the perimeter of the feature. Meanwhile recessed downlights have been used sparingly throughout, serving the fundamental purpose of boosting light levels to enrich the overall visual impact of the space.

Elsewhere, integrated joinery lighting has been discreetly incorporated in the scheme at a lower level, highlighting key merchandise such as branded souvenirs and high-end fashion and accessory items. Track fittings are deliberately understated and have been recessed into the ceiling so that only the elegant gold luminaires are visible. The tracks are fully flexible, allowing the system to be adjusted to accommodate different display configurations.

Keeping the lighting minimal was a deliberate design decision from Nulty, done as a means to keep focus on the high-end merchandise and luxury finishes. Saliem explained: “Concealing light within the space was fundamental to the design. Our design was minimally invasive so there are very few visible fittings in the space. Where luminaires are noticeable, they have been chosen to complement the material palette. Joinery lighting picks out merchandising displays and track lighting to add a layer of ambient illumination. The concealed laser blade lighting achieves a shimmering effect across the ceiling and keeps the reflective ceiling as clean as possible. Recessed downlights were only used where absolutely necessary to boost light levels. Nothing that you see from a lighting point of view detracts from the stunning interior.”

To further add to the luxurious feel, the team fine-tuned the colour temperature of the lighting to enhance the overall mood of the space and highlight the metallic textures and natural stone finishes used to accentuate the high-end interior aesthetic. The overall effect is warm and welcoming, and crucially ensures a seamless flow from the boutique to a wider hospitality scheme.

Saliem explained how the lighting complements the various textures and finishes within the space: “Understanding how light works in relation to different materials and finishes is challenging but part and parcel of the role of a lighting designer. You can’t predict how finishes will respond to different light sources if you haven’t done your due diligence, which means taking the time to properly read the aesthetics of a space. This is especially true when you’re working with reflective finishes such as polished stone, mirrors, and glass like we were here. We were conscious of avoiding glare, so we used a balanced level of diffuse illumination and positioned light sources carefully throughout the space.”

Although the Nulty team has a great deal of experience in working with high-end retail projects, for the Boutique at Inside Burj Al Arab, the combination of hospitality and retail lighting principles was a new challenge for the lighting designers – one that Saliem relished.

“We had a lot of fun applying the principles of hospitality lighting to a retail setting,” he said. “It was about balancing the functional requirements of the boutique with the expectations that illuminating a hotel like Burj Al Arab Jumeirah adds to a project. This added a layer of complexity to the lighting design because the boutique doesn’t exist in isolation.

“It was first and foremost an integral part of the Inside Burj Al Arab tour, and secondly an extension of the 7-star hotel itself. We couldn’t allow any shift in terms of atmosphere because this would jar the overall experience of being a guest at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Retail schemes can often be fairly neutral in terms of the designs and functional when it comes to the lighting design. The Boutique at Inside Burj Al Arab is the opposite; it’s warm, embracing, and rich in detail.

Throughout the design journey, Saliem explained that there was a constant collaboration between all partners, with every team member pulling in the same direction to create a space that would be in keeping with its luxurious surroundings – one of the biggest challenges of the project.

“Hospitality projects often come with a set of structural constraints that lighting designers have to navigate and negotiate, but we were lucky here to be working with a blank canvas. The boutique was a completely new area of the hotel, so this gave everyone working on the project the scope to think freely and creatively,” he said. “The flipside of this was that the pressure was on to replicate the essence of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in a newly designed space.

“We took our cues from the building itself though; everyone involved with the project had a collective desire to pay homage to the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and its long-standing architectural heritage. But within these parameters we were given the freedom to be creative with our lighting design concept.”

Looking back on the completed project, Saliem is satisfied that the Boutique at Inside Burj Al Arab not only complements the wider architecture of the building, but also brings a new experience to the already iconic landmark for Dubai. “This was a unique project because the building itself is the star of the show,” he said. “Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is the Goliath of hospitality design, so our lighting design needed to successfully reinforce the interior design, which needed to successfully complement the architecture.

“It’s reassuring that when you walk through the boutique, it feels like it’s always been there. The space works cohesively with the rest of the hotel, and lighting is integral to this transition.”

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