MEET SNEHA DIVIAS
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Sneha's parents emigrated from Mozambique to Portugal in 1974 and her father started his own business in real estate and property development. Growing up, she saw buildings from drawings to site while Portugal had its construction boom and would spend her summer break between her father’s office, surrounded by plans, construction details, site visits and travelling to exotic places with her parents. On the other hand, her mother, born in India, was artistic and creative, so Sneha developed an interest in art and design.
"Hence the world of architecture and design was my intrinsic choice for studies. I was born and raised in Porto, a city that is known for having exceptional masters of architecture and I was very curious and collected during school days. My architecture university days were enriching, intense and challenging. There were endless nights of autocad, coffee and modelling."
After graduating and completing her Masters in Architecture, Sneha worked as an architect for a couple of years until she decided to take an interior design course at New York University to complement her craft and to be able to work on architecture and interiors in an integrated and holistic way.
It is definitely an advantage to have the architectural background as it is a varied subject that gives me know-how to support my designs. The scale and scope of the projects is different, there are other kinds of dialogues and problems to solve.
After finishing her course in New York, Sneha went on to work at Atelier Nini Andrade Silva in Lisbon mainly on boutique hotels and residential projects. The effect on the user experience from inside the space was really interesting to her and she started adding layers to her profession and experience. blurring the lines of architecture and design felt like a very organic and smooth process.
Sneha moved to Dubai 6 years and a half ago when she was contacted by a head-hunter to work for LW. The recession in Portugal had a deepening effect in the construction industry and there was lack of projects and career progression options. This became an opportunity to explore new professional challenges and her first visit to Dubai was to have an interview at LW.
"I was instantly impressed with the scale and range of projects developed in the region and the energy of the office so the decision to move happened very quickly. I was challenged and at the same time inspired by the key differences of working in Dubai namely scale, level of ambition and innovation. While in Lisbon the architectural DNA of the surroundings would have a greater influence in contextualizing the design, in Dubai this conceptual context requires more depth to ground the projects. Despite these differences I hit the ground running working on hospitality projects and it was a smooth adaptation. It was encouraging to be exposed to an environment with diversity of talent and openness to explore new ideas. The biggest challenge of this market is the often unrealistic timelines and the pace, which can adversely affect the management and the execution projects."
What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
Starting my own atelier was certainly the biggest professional challenge. The most rewarding aspect is the fact that I have complete creative autonomy and I’m at the helm of an exciting fulfilling journey. Being at the helm also means that there is a dependency on me, since I am the go to person to resolve issues and make decisions, which can at times be frustrating or overwhelming. I deal with this challenge now by trusting my instincts and being aware that you can’t be good at everything – delegating is key.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
I don’t have a particular style but the way I design has been strongly shaped by intrinsic, observing, my educational and cultural background. Having an architectural background and being intuitively creative, my strengths are the ability to combine technical expertise with innovative solutions pursuing original details in every project, the standard and the safe is never on the table. This is manifested in the textured materiality of the projects, the attention to lighting, balanced and exquisite furniture selection as well as unexpected solutions in space planning. For me, it’s all about being passionate, curious and listening to the clients.
As an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to other young designers who want to have something of their own one day?
It’s so important to get out there, meet different people, exchange ideas. Entrepreneurship is all about timing and opportunities.
Top 5 favourite designers / architects
Geoffrey Bawa, Oscar Niemeyer, Marcio Kogan, Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando
“What matters is how design makes one feel, as well as how well it was delivered regarding time and budget. Great design should be conceptualised to be timeless and respond to the context narrative.”
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
I will never forget the lessons learnt from my first Architecture University teacher – Prof. Luis Santiago. He was very strict and demanding but somehow even now when I am working on space planning, I sometimes remember what he said in his classes. I found the first year very tough and considered changing course and he was the one who convinced me to continue.
What is the trait / quality in someone you admire that you wish you had? Give a shout out to this person.
My father – for taking risks, being the most entrepreneurial spirit I know and always keeping is cool in all types of situations and not taking anything too seriously.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I can’t think of a single one, but there are some personal and professional achievements I have felt happy about and proud of. Every time a project reaches completion is a great sense of achievement.
Talk about a time you failed at something or thought you did – but how it molded you in some way.
A couple of years ago a client wanted to end the contract because he wasn’t happy with the work. I was very upset as this was a first time and I felt it was very unfair. In hindsight, it just wasn’t the right client and the right job for me. I couldn’t deliver what the client was expecting me to and this put everything in perspective…it is important to have the right chemistry with the clients and projects to avoid failure. Good communication and transparency is key.
A quote you live by…
Dream big and be kind.
The hardest part of your job is….
The part of the design process you love most.
Concept, concept, concept!
The part of the design process you least like.
Ensuring the project is executed as per the design. With the amount of value engineering, contractors wanting to make shortcuts and different consultants involved it can be exhausting and frustrating.
“I don’t have a fixed approach. I start each project very freely and with an open mind. I like to give a personal interpretation to the brief I receive, but these fundamental principles are the base for my work. The geometry of a project when space planning, creating scale and proportion is key to achieve a continuous flow. Balance comes from seamlessly integrating elements from architecture, interior, and furniture to create layers that speak to each other in the same language. The details are the most important connectors that truly bring the substance of the project to life.”
Do you have a dream project? What is it?
A yoga retreat and spa in Alentejo, south of Portugal. And then spending a lot of time there.
Is there something you would do differently if you ran a design school? What do you think there should be more emphasis of in design schools?
I would focus more on presentation skills. It is so important to have the right tools to express your ideas and be assertive and confident about it.
If there is one thing you want people to know or be inspired by from your story – what is it?
Be passionate, persistent, work hard. Collaborations make you stronger.
What are you most excited about for what’s coming next?
I am very excited about our upcoming project – White and The Bear. The world’s first restaurant for children and concept store.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
Creativity can be expressed in so many different ways! I paint whenever I feel in the mood, I like to cook and get creative with the ingredients. I’m into photography and at the moment I spend lots of time playing with textures with my baby daughter which is so stimulating.
What makes you happy?
Spending time with my family and a good share of dolce fare niente.
What is your morning routine before you begin work?
I am up at 5 am so a lot goes on before I start work. I go for a walk with my daughter, have play time, breakfast (my favorite meal of the day!) and only then I start work.
What music do you listen to when you work? (If you listen to music)
Lots of Bossa Jazz.
Favorite tools / software?
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt over the years as a designer that you would like to share with other designers?
When it comes to ego in this profession – manage your own and ignore other people’s ego. It can really get in the way of the creative process.
“Between finding the right collaborators, doing business development, admin management and coordinating projects, I realized that time is a precious resource that needed to be optimised differently,”
Sneha won CID's Interior Designer of the Year award in 2017.
She has completed a retail project for Maska Wraps in Dubai Mall, executive offices for the new Dubai Holding headquarters, an apartment in DIFC and a villa on the Palm Jumeirah, for which she won the CID’s Awards category.
With numerous successful projects, magazine covers, awards and recognition from the industry, Sneha is soaring ahead, running her own race and shaping her own niche in the market.
- Written & Edited: Kamsin Mirchandani