In just one year, Sneha Divias Atelier has had a number of regional and international awards bestowed upon the fledgling design company and its projects. The very first residence Sneha and her team worked on later became the contemporary two-bedroom apartment she and her husband now live in, in Dubai's upmarket financial district.
'The apartment lended itself quite naturally to us,' says the Portuguese interior architect. 'The brief from the owner was very open as he intended to rent it, so it needed a timeless, versatile look for tenants. I worked on it as if I was the tenant in a way, and used my style of design, layering colour, texture and furnishings. You could say there's an emotional attachment when you complete a project; when I go to my clients' villas I feel like I want to live there as all my thoughts are invested in the design. So, it's very nice to live here, especially as it was my first project.'
Sneha says she has three core elements to her design ethos: geometry, balance and layers. 'There is a deep connection between the apartment and the atelier because these design principles go into every project,' she explains. 'My work is very much defined by layers; for me, it's about connecting everything seamlessly O the interior architecture, interior design, the furnishings inside and outside. Having layers that speak to each other seamlessly and without conflict is important, whether it's artwork, lighting, or structural changes.'
Throughout the open-plan living/dining room, study and two bedrooms, layers of white and pale grey in the soft furnishings create a neutral and comfortable backdrop. If you look closely you'll see a hint of green on the Vescom wallcovering in the lounge. 'The pale green has a calming effect, and brings texture and softness inside the layers,' says the 33 year old. Warmth and character is added with contemporary copper and rose gold accents in the accessories and the statement art piece by Portuguese artist Sara Mendes de Almeida in the dining room.
Soon after it was completed, the project beat competition from around the region, including many well-established practices and firms larger than her team of five, winning Best Residential Apartment Middle East at the International Property Awards.
'This was a huge achievement as the awards had entries from all over the world and the judges are highly esteemed, but also because it was my first project,' says Sneha. 'It has set the bar very high for my work. Designing an apartment can be challenging, especially in Dubai, as there are structural limitations that you have to design around, so it was hugely motivating to win.'
Sneha made one key structural change in Burj Daman, closing the open kitchen and creating a long, low serving hatch into the living area. She also replaced the floor tiles with timber but otherwise worked within the limitations, placing furniture cleverly to enhance spatial awareness. While the mirrored walls in the dining room and toilet are a well-known space-enhancing trick, she points out how a two-seater sofa pushed up against the wall in the dining area is better than individual chairs, as they would need room behind them for people to move around. 'The sofa has become a feature but mostly it's a functional, practical decision as it works with the layout,' she adds.
Outside, the balcony runs the length of the apartment with three recesses where Sneha has created 'living pockets' of lounge chairs and plants. The colour palette is white to create a seamless aesthetic inside to outside, and to avoid a 'sensory overload' as the view has a variety of colours, buildings and movement. In such places, you want to avoid too many layers, she advises.
Sneha studied for a master's degree in architecture in Portugal for seven years followed by one year specialising in interior design in New York. With Portugal in an economic recession, she came to Dubai four years ago to work for the global practice LW Design, however she hasn't forgotten her roots and she sources high-quality, contemporary products from her home country, while keeping sustainability in mind.
'I have been studying sustainability a lot as I am trying to bring it into all my projects,' she explains. 'Here, I implemented this quite easily in terms of the finishes. For example, the pale grey silk rugs are handmade in Portugal and support a family business and craftsmanship. They are also durable and will last longer. I try to work with less machine-made products. I also consider the footprint of the pieces I source, how things travel here, and whether I can make something bespoke in Dubai, using local carpenters and joiners instead.'
Autonomy was the driving force for setting up Sneha Divias Atelier, in terms of creativity, managing time, choosing projects and making decisions. She says the company has grown quite organically, with clients approaching her from her wide network or from word of mouth. Her company also works on a variety of commercial projects, including a children's museum in Al Quoz and the Maska gift and wrapping kiosk in The Dubai Mall. Their reach extends beyond the UAE, too, with residential projects in Muscat and Los Angeles.
'The judges commented that I had a wide range of work, and I don't ever want to specialise in just one type of field,' she says. 'As a designer, what excites me is the geometry, the balance, working according to context and the brief, which applies to any design sector. I enjoy the exposure that commercial design gives because more people will experience it, which is very satisfying. However, residential is also fulfilling because you change the way people are living, and deal directly with the client who will be using the space the most, so there is a personal feeling which is nice.'
The business has become a family affair, too, with her brother overseeing the fit-out of projects. 'He is very creative and has an architectural vision because he is a civil engineer,' she says, adding that their father is a developer in Portugal. 'We are quite similar in this sense, all working within the construction industry. My father loves to talk to us about the projects we are working on and what progress we are making. It's lovely to have these conversations and similar interests.'
The designer Sneha launched her eponymous practice, Sneha Divias Atelier, in Dubai in 2016. the interior architect lives with her husband, also from Portugal.
The home This two-bedroom apartment in DIFC's Burj Daman building was Sneha's first project for her atelier. Upon completion the couple move in and Sneha scooped a prestigious award for the design.
Find more information at snehadivias.com
Photography Natelee Cocks and Stefan Lindeque