Inside the Middle East’s largest interior design competition

Written by Staff Writer

Taking off in style has been an integral part of the airline experience for decades. The Airbus A380, flying the route London Stansted to Singapore on board the Qantas business jet, heralded a new era in aviation design back in 2008, taking passengers soaring to altitudes not seen before with its triple-decker interiors.

While air travelers are used to blending into the background, an interior design competition hosted in the Middle East has drawn some of the world’s most elite interior designers to a region known for bringing Persian architecture and fabrics to life.

1 / 22 – Virgin Atlantic Private Jet The Virgin Atlantic Private Jet uses sandstone, marble and pink granite to bring interiors of luxury to these comfortable seats. Credit: Courtesy The Virgin Atlantic Private Jet

A Saudi Arabian charity has organised the Global Rooms Decor competition, which offers around $1.3 million in prize money to designers who come up with the most imaginative and original piece of interior design.

‘Something special for a really big occasion’

The competition has opened to domestic and international competitions from now until March 7, with some 50 entries expected.

Competition judges include top interior designers and leading architects, alongside influential figures from the Middle East, including Prince Mohammed bin Salman, director general of the Kingdom Development Fund.

Long in-demand for royal residences, the pieces in question offer a glimpse into a world that’s not so far from home.

Measuring 10.25 meters long and 8.25 meters wide, the winners will receive an aircraft interior design and at least 1 million riyals ($267,000).

Designers can use anything from sandstone to marble and pink granite to bring the interiors of the Virgin Atlantic Private Jet to life.

Raj Singh, head of an interior design company that won the competition four years ago, notes the need for a design that stands out.

“I’m not using a completely new material for this competition, but it will be something special for a really big occasion,” he says.

At the competition’s grand finale, the design will be showcased on a full-scale airplane interior, with over 20 interior designers invited to witness the work first-hand.

Raj Singh of Interior Design India won the global room design competition last year. He is pictured here on Virgin Atlantic Private Jet. Credit: Courtesy Virgin Atlantic Private Jet

High art

Singh says he will look for distinct elements that will link the interior with the broader world of culture and luxury, and work with a range of designers.

“The competition is about showcasing ‘Arab’ interiors, whereas it’s more about doing something really unique and creative,” he explains.

“We’re looking for really exotic flavors in the design, rather than just generic, bland, white interiors.”

To get a taste of what some of the competition’s entrants might provide, UK-based design company The Ionic Collective has created an immersive virtual reality experience.

The player walks into a room furnished by three local designers, and is encouraged to sit down, snack, and take photos as they travel through the interiors.

Singh says that this experience offers a glimpse into the work of some of the designers that have entered this year’s competition.

Khalil Abouzy, one of the designers featured in the experience, tells CNN Travel: “We want to talk about the Middle East. We have a universal heart and a global sensibility.”

Larissa Liss, another designer in the VR experience, adds: “For the competition, we will look at the Middle East as a whole. Every culture has their own fantasy, while at the same time acknowledging and embracing those traditions as well.”

The final runway

With winners announced at the end of the month, interior designers will have the chance to pitch their designs to Virgin Atlantic for consideration.

The selection committee at Virgin Atlantic will look to select from within the competition a single winner, who will then carry out a design process, along with interior designers from around the world.

Chosen for their unique approach to design, they will then have an opportunity to work with a senior design team from the airline, who will then evaluate the design.

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