There is a huge trend of playing around with expected materials in unexpected ways. Increasingly I see different applications of marble, wood, glass, mother of pearl, and gemstones, but also plank wood. I personally love working outside typical limitations and applying new techniques to old materials. That’s what makes a house interesting (and solid) not just on the short term, but on the long term too
As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali Behnam Bakhtiar
Ali Behnam-Bakhtiar is an interior designer and event designer. In his interior designs, he is passionate about sustainable solutions, that do not only keep us environmentally conscious, but also aesthetically fascinated. A perfect mix of insane quality and green modernity, his high-end designs include renovating an ancient French castle to a self-sustainable fairy tale; refurbishing a yacht to a hydraulic power house with working garden, reconfiguring a cargo plane to a flying apartment with multiple smart spaces.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
From Iran, I was raised with a lot of culture, art and design. It was therefore no surprise that I went on to study fashion, interior design, architecture and hospitality in France, the UK, Italy and the US. After some years in fashion, I started working full time on interiors, specifically redecorating palaces in and around Asia; India, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brunei. From there I took on all kinds of projects, from yachts, planes and castles to private residences. I love transforming spaces into multi-dimensional stories and with this mindset and skillset, I soon extended my design knowledge to high-end event planning. Now Ali Bakhtiar Designs has 4 offices worldwide with 700+ multi-disciplined, multi-cultural specialists, all of whom are passionately dedicated to producing exceptional spaces, temporary and permanent.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I love the way one thing can lead to another, so one of the most interesting stories in my career might have been how I rolled into event design. I was working on an interior design project, and the daughter of my client saw my work and became obsessed with it. She begged me to design her wedding. I had never done a wedding or event before, but it came so naturally to me when I ended up doing it, that I knew immediately it would not be the last one. I was right, event design is now a huge part of my work. I think it shows that sometimes saying yes is not just a yes to a project, but also yes to expanding your potential.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I think nowadays there is so much focus on marketing and social media, that sometimes it makes us forget what our core business is. Early on in my career, I made a personal decision to commit to Plan A and be excellent. So I invested everything in my projects and nothing into marketing. I put my heart and soul into every design detail, focusing only on my current client, rather than potential future ones. It was a big risk and it meant some early struggles, but ultimately I believe that is what made my career. If you provide continuous quality for long enough and always exceed expectations, your clients come to you, and they trust you. Especially working in the market that I work in, this is key.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My team got me to where I am. My company functions like a family, and I attribute a lot of my success to this. I am extremely grateful and blessed to have them help me implement my (sometimes crazy) ideas.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I have a lot of faith and read many spiritual, self-help, and self-motivation books. So it was not so much one book or talk that made the biggest impact. It was the realization and the belief that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to, and the sky is the limit. This realization has been essential to my success, because it has given me the necessary courage and confidence to make dreams into reality.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Whenever and wherever you can do good, you should do good’. I believe there is always an opportunity to be kind, share with the community, or to take care of others. I think it is not just a duty, it is also essential to our happiness. Being able to help others is and should be the most gratifying thing in the world. I apply this to my professional life as much as to my personal life, and I think it is what keeps me grateful and grounded.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.
There is a huge trend of playing around with expected materials in unexpected ways. Increasingly I see different applications of marble, wood, glass, mother of pearl, and gemstones, but also plank wood. I personally love working outside typical limitations and applying new techniques to old materials. That’s what makes a house interesting (and solid) not just on the short term, but on the long term too.
Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?
For water it is all about rethinking circulation. We can change the source of our water by using rainwater, but also our mindset around water disposal. The latter part is really interesting, because new technology allows us to move from a centralized system to a local one, filtering and recycling our supply ‘in house’. This means we need to build differently, because we need more storage areas for rainwater and filtering, but it also means potentially being completely water-independent.
I am also a big fan of solar panels, because when you use them well, you very can easily make a house 100% energy self sufficient. The constant improvements in technology also means that solar panels are changing their shape and form. This is excellent news for interior designers, because it means we can integrate solar panels seamlessly into a property, and even adapt them to the style of the house.
There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?
Smart Homes are homes that include interactive systems that collect, connect and react to information. Lighting is the most obvious example. In addition to allowing us full remote control from our phone, new Smart Lighting Systems create lighting profiles with different intensities, based on sunlight, moods, movement and personal preference. This can also be connected to smart blinds and curtains, heating and security systems. Basically a smart home helps the house function more smoothly and efficiently, reducing consumption without compromising on quality of life or comfort.
Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?
Beyond Smart Homes, I think we are finally starting to further automate home chores. Since the first home appliances were introduced, there haven’t actually been major strides on alleviating home chores, but now that we have improved our machines as far as we can, we seem to finally be on the brink of evolving from them. We are going from home appliances to home robots. This might not seem like a big change, but the difference to daily chores will be huge. Imagine for example instead of a washing machine, dryer, and iron, a washing robot that takes care of your laundry from beginning to end, because it is smart enough to perfectly sort, iron and fold. Accumulated, this saves hugely on time and energy. Another example is the robot that is a full cooking assistant, with in-built recipes and nutritional knowledge. Integrating that kind of innovation will change the way we view our kitchen; suddenly we won’t cook in our kitchen, we’ll cook with our kitchen.
Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?
Increasingly we are building specific areas for dogs that allow them to move more freely from indoors to outdoors and the other way around. This often includes a ‘cleaning area’ in between, which protects the house from dirt. There are automated processes now which make this much easier, improving the state of the house, but also the experience of the dog. Next to this, we are also seeing more and more automated feeders and drinking fountains for animals. Having these primary needs automated means pets can feel safer and happier; they can go out when they need, come in when they want, rely on their food routines, and always have access to water. Considering pets and their habits and integrating these into the design of the house, is not only better for pets’ lives, it also means a lot less work and worry for their owners.
How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?
At the moment the trend is to really embrace real materials, by integrating them consciously and exposing them as part of the design. Materials like cement, stone, concrete, metal, iron are embraced more than ever. We increasingly want to keep the authenticity of the foundation, which means from a design perspective, the lines between outside/inside become more blurred. Of course we still embellish the inside differently, but there is less inefficient, unnecessary coverings that cost the world and no longer look modern.
Next to this, there is definitely an increase in companies trying to create new materials that are specifically designed with current challenges in mind. I think materials should very much be chosen dependent on the location of the building, not just to ensure it fits its surrounding, but also so that it is highly equipped to deal with the local challenges that a particular spot might face. That is why material research is non-negotiable to me; it might cost a bit of time, but it is always worth it.
For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?
There is a huge exodus from the cities at the moment. More and more people are considering living closer to nature to improve their quality of life, a trend that has only intensified since Covid19. It makes sense, for with the current technologies we have, we can live anywhere and still be connected. This will not only open up more rural areas but also new destinations. For example, I have just done several luxury projects in Slovenia, a beautiful country with breath-taking nature. I think there will be a lot of growth in places like these.
Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
Unfortunately I am not informed enough about the American homelessness problem in particular, so I won’t attempt to explain it or comment on it, at this point.
Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?
I strongly believe in giving back. I personally have two foundations, one focussed on the arts, and the other on education and medical help for those less fortunate, especially children. There are many ways in which we can address these deep rooted societal problems, both directly and indirectly and it is important to do what you can.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It sounds cliche, but I think the best movements are the simple ones. Everyday, try to give in some way, even if it is a kind smile to a stranger. Energy comes in many forms.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!