A Look At Interior Architect Sarah A. Abdallah's Holistic Designs

NeueHouse Los Angeles by Rockwell Group
Photography by Emily Andrews
NeueHouse Los Angeles by Rockwell Group
New York-based Sarah A. Abdallah is behind the interior architecture and design firm Functional Creative Design established in 2014 and has been pushing the norm ever since, writes Katrina Kufer

Focused on the hospitality industry, Functional Creative Design is a collaborative multi-disciplinary studio based on the concept of ‘form + function = design’ that simultaneously integrates local artisans and sustainable methods. “Our philosophy is to push beyond the norms of interior architecture and design, helping create unique experiences and stories,” says Sarah A. Abdallah. “We are passionate about intuitive and superior functioning spaces that encourage healthy movement and a community mindset.” Incorporating a diverse foundation of faculties to enrich the designs, the New York-based team consists of individuals versed in architecture and fashion through to fine art, directly mirroring Abdallah’s own background in fine art, psychology, art therapy, art and technology, and interior design. “As humans we develop habits in early childhood development and we continue learning newly formulated habits throughout our adulthood,” explains Abdallah. “I take this under consideration when working on a design for commercial or work space like NeueHouse NY and LA, two projects that I lead designs for as Senior Design Consultant under Rockwell Group.”

Sarah A. Abdallah

Thinking about habits at home and how that translates into a community work collective, Abdallah’s holistic background allows her to create more catered, and developed, environments – if abstract to the naked eye. “Proof is in the pudding,” she quips of her reliance on activating more than a singular sense with her design work. With this edge over the competition, supported by her experience under renowned architects such as Tony Chi of Tony Chi and Associates and David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, Abdallah’s personalised tackling of design goes far beyond traditional space considerations, allowing her, as an example, to ensure new brands have truly unique stories and perspectives in existing markets.

One of three children of Egyptian immigrants in the US, Abdallah was inevitably exposed early on to a multidisciplinary approach and learnt to be her own advocate from an early age. “Even though they came from a very open, loving society and mindset, like any immigrants who arrive in new country, they tended to stick with what they were taught would be the best path way,” explains Abdallah, who pursued numerous extra-curricular creative endeavours. “I remember one evening my father asked, ‘What do you do after you get out of class at 3pm?’” she recounts. “I happily shared all the activities and he was quite surprised. On another occasion, I told my father I wanted to learn the piano, and then the flute. I think I drove my father quite crazy. I could tell from the expression on his face he knew he was dealing with a unique child.”

The interior of VINYL, New York

By enthusiastically pursuing her numerous passions, Abdallah’s academic record reveals much of her current embrace of multiplicity. “I have a BFA with a concentration in art and technology, a BA in Psychology with a concentration on art therapy and gender studies, an MA in higher education and psychology from NYU and an AAS Degree in interior design from Parsons,” she says. “I also earned a certificate from the CAMES (Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies) programme at the American University of Beirut, where I spent six months living in Hamra as part of an advanced Arabic Language Program.” The list continues. “I also took five courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology learning fashion for women’s apparel, pattern making, and refining my sewing skills. I continue to explore and attend lectures on art, culture and politics, with programmes such as Columbia’s MESAAS MA programme,” she says, finally adding, “I truly believe that art is the perfect platform to open up the dialogue for politics.” It is this wealth of knowledge and hunger for more that takes Abdallah’s projects that extra mile.

Moreover, Abdallah believes that innovation still exists, and approaches each project with a fresh eye. “But it’s also about working with clients who really want to push boundaries and create that unique niche for themselves in the market,” she remarks, noting not all developers are onboard. However, with likeminded brands such as The Intercontinental and Hyatt International, Abdallah has also branched out with smaller developers in New York, LA, Chicago, as well as Sweden and more broadly, Asia and the Mediterranean. The progressive attitude is grounded by an accessible core ethos that food and beverage outlets need interesting layers of concept, textures and patterns – “I want spaces to look and feel sophisticated, luxe and timeless” – finessed with a careful reading of the client.

“For the VNYL Vintage New York Lifestyle, a super club space in the East Village in Manhattan, the client really wanted to tap into 70s so I designed millwork details around the main floor bar and VIP area to have a perpetually chic feel, but with an influence of rich, natural CNC routed, fluted walnut panels.” Merging past and present, psychological insight, travels, historical research, deconstructions of community and culture, Abdallah was able to draw out the desired essence without veering dated. “I was able to come up with a 2017 experience with the feeling of the 1970s, where these details then trickled into our custom designed furniture manufactured by Orior NY.”

Interior of Taralluci e Vino Giada Paoloni

This ability to read clients and manifest their visions is Abdallah’s pocket – as is her use of sustainable, ethical methods. “There not many people that use psychology as a basis of design,” she says, “there are, however, large movements to be sustainable, both for designers to offer these services and for clients to incorporate sustainable habits. They may not all want their projects to be LEED certified, but they do want to source locally, manufacture locally when possible and reduce the carbon foot print for the total job.” While this could imply sacrificing design, Abdallah’s firm proves otherwise, by continually meeting the public’s desire for luxurious, comfortable, accessible design. “Without these key elements, a space is not as successful,” she states. However, success is manifold. “Success means creating a space that can truly be activated by the individuals who visit and use them, fostering meaningful interactions and creating positive energy into their lives,” says Abdallah. “Nothing gives me more joy then visiting a space I designed and seeing it truly being activated by the users, and truly knowing knowing it is a success.”

For more information, visit Functionalcreativedesign.com.

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NeueHouse Los Angeles by Rockwell Group
Photography by Emily Andrews
NeueHouse Los Angeles by Rockwell Group