In his decade long career, Ammar Basheir has carved out a niche for himself as the go to designer of atmospheric spaces for some of the Gulf’s most discerning tastemakers. Basheir managed to build a multi-million dollar business entirely through word of mouth. Despite this, his status as a best-kept secret in the region is about to change thanks to a string of high profile projects.
In 1999 he moved to London to pursue a degree in interior design. London, known for being a great place to train ones eye as a designer was a stepping stone in Basheir’s career. An extensive career portfolio composed of diverse projects such as Al Othman’s boutiques in Kuwait, Bahrain and London. In addition Basheir has led a number of exhibitions at Bahrain’s National Museum and the Post Office Museum in Bahrain.
Before graduating from London in 2003, Basheir landed an internship in the design department of Harvey Nichols. An internship which gave him the opportunity to gain exposure to the city’s fashion industry and create the store’s windows and installations. With the use of relatively humble materials, three years later he was able to launch his career in Bahrain thanks to a coincidental encounter with the first of several mentors.
The owner of La Fontaine Center for Contemporary Art was Basheir’s first mentor. La Fontaine, a 200 year old house, brought Basheir on as a design consultant. While there he set about redesigning its exhibition galleries as well as its award winning restaurant, which included custom-designed cutlery, furniture and plates. “La Fontaine exposed me to a very sophisticated aesthetic that was the complete opposite of the brash designs I saw in London. Working with Fatima Alireza taught Basheir a great deal about timeless beauty and made him realize that it is possible to create a distinct design identity in Bahrain.
In 2007, an exhibition he conceived at La Fontaine was set to showcase the work of award-winning Iranian photographer Reza. This exhibition attracted the attention of Sheikha Mai, President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities. Impressed by his designs, she asked to meet with him, and shortly thereafter commissioned Basheir to design the space for the opening performance of the Spring of Culture that year. It would be the first of many. For the majority of Basheir’s projects the design elements are fabricated in Bahrain and shipped to various destinations, as a form of cultural diplomacy.
Basheir realised that design can be a powerful tool to bridge cultures and expose diverse audiences to Bahraini craftsmanship. He began traveling with Sheikha Mai to create installations and kiosks for Bahrain at the Frankfurt and London book fairs. Sheikha Mai, challenged him to grow as a designer and to come up with innovative ideas that meet the highest of standards. “She taught me that anything is possible, and most importantly not to only think outside the box, because there shouldn’t be one in the first place.”