Where did the idea for desert river come from?  

We originally started reselling a basic remote control system for the home in the region. However, we have always had a keen interest in anything design orientated, and one day — 15 years ago — we visited an interiors exhibition and came across these beautiful and minimalist round lamps called Moonlights, from Germany. At the time, these were quite innovative because of their even light distribution and the fact that they were battery operated. 


We soon decided to add another cool interior brand to our portfolio, Fatboy, from the Netherlands, a manufacturer of cool oversized bean bags. This was the point when things started taking off. We also started receiving requests for renting our products for events and this was where our concept of selling as well as renting out beautiful furniture took shape. Because our furniture and lighting pieces were from Europe and new to the region, plus very contemporary and funky, they were considered statement pieces for events, without having the burden to pay the full purchase amount. 

Fatboy waterproof bean bags, perfect for the pool

What came first – the rental or the online store?

The rental department came first, and as we added more and more items to our portfolio we started selling online as well, to be more accessible for the consumers in the region.


What were your hopes and dreams for the business in these early days? 

To do something new and fun in the region – that’s also where the name desert river comes from. There’s no river in the desert – so our vision was this cool, flowing river, full of new and exciting stuff.


Have you achieved or surpassed these initial ambitions?  

We have steadily grown our business and are still going strong! We are immensely proud of what we have achieved, even in times when the market really was not great. We have a loyal team of talented employees, who come to work with a smile on their faces, and the feedback we get from our clients usually refers to our originality and excellent service. 

Slide’s Queen of Love armchair makes a statement

What was the furniture rental market like in the UAE 15 years ago? 

Very, very basic. We were the first ones to bring illuminated furniture to the market, and a more casual and contemporary style of furniture. 


What were the furniture and lighting e-commerce sectors like back then?

Non-existent. Going to the mall is a national pastime here, and customers had no faith in buying products online. I would say it took off about eight years ago, with the advent of companies like souq.com (now amazon.ae) and mumzworld.


What is the competition like 15 years later?

There is a lot of competition – but still nowhere as much choice as there is in Europe, for example, in terms of affordable, good quality furniture and lighting. The issue we face here is that it is a transient society – so not everyone is willing to invest in interior products for the short time they live here. Also, not everybody appreciates the quality and originality of a genuine product, and will prefer to get cheaper alternatives or copies.

Fermob’s colourful Luxembourg chairs, designed by Frédéric Sofia, are great for garden parties

How do you stay innovative and a go-to brand for rentals and purchases?

We visit all the big exhibitions like Salone di mobile in Milan, and Maison & Objet in Paris for inspiration. Our regular suppliers all excel in their product development – they launch new models on a regular basis and listen to our input. For example, because of the harsh sun here, we asked for UV resistant fabrics for the Fatboy products, and these are now standard in their collections. We try to be inspired all the time, by travelling, reading design magazines and visiting events. We usually know immediately if something has desert river DNA or not!


What were the first brands that you partnered with – and why did you choose these brands? 

Two of the first brands that we to date still work with are Fatboy from the Netherlands and Slide from Italy. In a nutshell both brands offered us what we are looking for:

-    Cool designs, suitable for selling and renting

-    Bold and funky pieces

-    Modern and trendy

-    Excellent service levels: fast delivery and a focus on long-term relationships, rather than a quick sale.

The Moments LED wireless table lamp is chic in white, from Imagilights

How did your backgrounds in the hotel industry assist with the business, especially at the beginning?

We are both very service focused – we want our customers to be happy throughout the entire journey. We are not scared of last-minute requestS and changes, and we are go-getters who don’t mind getting our hands dirty. A lot of our customers are 4 and 5 star hotels, so we can truly say we understand our clientele.


How did Fatboy help propel desert river forward? 

I remember very well the first exhibition we did with the brand, it was INDEX in Dubai. We had only a few sample pieces at the time, and people were literally screaming and offering us cash to take the products from the stand! So we knew we were on to something good. The local press were very helpful, and we got a lot of media attention. The oversized, brightly coloured bean bags were a first in the region, and as outdoor living and socialising is a big thing here, it was the perfect opportunity and timing.

Fatboy’s Pupillow in velvet is a contemporary lounger

What are the key brands desert river represents now? 

  • Fatboy, which has been around since 2003. They started with the now iconic bean bag and have since expanded into hammocks, parasols, furniture and lighting. The Fatboy mission is to break free: to dare to be authentic; dare to be courageous; dare to be creative; basically all the things we love. They want to inspire people to take their own path, and design products that are bigger, better and more “out there” in their own unique way, so they are a perfect fit for us and have what we call the desert river DNA. It’s always fun seeing what designs they come up with each year, you never know what’s coming.  


  • Slide, an Italian brand that is another of our longstanding partners. They specialise in outdoor furniture and lighting and work with some amazing designers who have that cool Italian style down to a T. We love their contemporary designs and the quality is second to none, making their furniture and lighting perfect for our rental portfolio. We always get the wow factor from them and pieces like the Pivot lamp and Queen of Love chair have become a staple in our collection. 


  • Fermob is a French brand, experts in manufacturing and and specialists in metal furniture. You can’t beat French style and you will most certainly recognise their Bistro and Luxembourg collections. The next time you visit The Dubai Mall check out Vapiano and you’ll see the colourful Luxembourg chairs that desert river installed there. They are a family-run business and started out small just like us! Every year they come out with new and exciting colours. 


  • Imagilights is a Belgian company creating and manufacturing a range of rechargeable cordless lighting solutions for indoor, outdoor and pool use. They offer the best LED technology, making it the most sustainable alternative to traditional lighting systems. Their collections not only offer great quality but stunning designs. The Moments table light collection is one of our most popular styles and you see it gracing the table of some of Dubai’s top restaurants and bars. Quality is key for us and we only work with top brands and manufacturers. 
Claudia van der Werf, co-founder of desert river

What is your favourite item from desert river? 

Claudia: My preference varies – but my current crush is the Fatboy velvet range. Fatboy have managed to shake off the “granny” image of the fabric with their designs and the colours are gorgeous and strong, the feel is soft and luxurious, and the price point is very attractive.

Check out the company’s full range of furniture and lighting to buy and rent at desert river.com

Discover more from InsideOut magazine: 

Watch: Take a video home tour of Claudia and Michiel’s contemporary apartment in The Greens, Dubai