Female Disruptors: Sharon Jutla is leaving her mark across the world

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Jutla, Founder of Sharon Jutla Interiors (SJI).

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Jutla, Founder of Sharon Jutla Interiors (SJI).

With over 18 years of international design experience spanning across countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Sharon Jutla’s creative imagination took fancy for buildings and architecture early on.

Her dynamic and creative approach to her chosen profession symbolizes a new breed of entrepreneurial career woman thriving in a traditionally male-dominated architectural world.

With a Master’s Degree in Interior Design, the young UK-born Interior Architect has been creating an impression at five of the top ten international architectural practices across the world.

High profile projects featuring her interior design and architectural flair and expertise include Moscow Airport, White City shopping Centre, Ferrari World, Manchester United, Barcelona, Edgbaston stadium, Gabal, Chelsea, Dubai Sports City, sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid library and Wyndham hotel Qatar, Hardrock Hotel, Dubai and TDIC Saadiyat cultural district Abu Dhabi; to name a few.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was always fascinated by large buildings: the scale, how people moved about within these spaces, and the image, function and colour. Maybe Design was there in my blood from the time I was born. Both my grandfathers were into construction and the gene was evident inside me as youngster. When I was a toddler. I was good with building blocks and colour. This was my first lesson in architecture, I guess.

I enjoyed making and demolishing towers more than anything else. I loved painting art, colour, shapes and most of all using my imagination. It wasn’t long after I left university that I realized it did not matter how good my design education was, we never stop learning and later on we never stop teaching.

My career has been fruitfully rewarding, giving me the opportunity to work across multiple sectors worldwide. It’s been a learning curve for me over the last 18 years but what I have learnt is that fundamentally every project is building spaces around people that use them.

As an individual, whether designing a hotel, restaurant or stadium, I love to bring a certain passion to each of my projects with a distinguishable stamp, and the conceptual flair that people can enjoy and experience.

Each project has challenges, and I feel I am always learning something new. What was once daunting to design is relatively easy for me now due to my experience. I am able to solve a client’s objectives quickly and reflect the client’s qualities, values and their aspirations through my work and design.

For many years I was known to be living out of a suitcase. As designers we are not all exposed to travelling the world for work. I started travelling at a very early stage in my career which taught me a lot and opened insights into the REAL design world, which I believe in it itself is an achievement.

Why did you found your company?

After years of following a normal path, a burning desire to do my own thing continued to crop up . After a successful career as a Design Director with some of the top international design practices for the past 18 years, I often found that as part of a large company you can have very little say about the levels of service that are supplied to employees and clients. Whilst working for a large company, it was also difficult to be flexible on price and rebate structures as you were governed by company rules.

Through my own company, we are able to work with clients on a bespoke basis and provide them with the right service within their budgets and to their time-scale. We can do this because we have the time to get to know our clients better.

A lot of our clients have used the bigger companies in the past and have decided to use us as a more local and personal alternative. They like the fact that we are not beholden to a big sale target and so we can focus 100% of our time on providing them with an excellent service.

I love the creativity and freedom that you get from running your own business. Everything from choosing suppliers/partners to writing copy, to developing customer loyalty. Good or bad, it is down to me. The freedom to express yourself and have control of your future.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Like art, design speaks to each of us differently.

For me great design comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone and making a difference in the way people use, live, learn, experience and above all feel spaces. As a designer, we need to solve the problems and at the same time give that creative flair that the client seeks.

Regardless of your style, a design should have a personality built around a strong concept that resonates with your client. All my work is and will be defined by concept, story and the historical significance of each individual geographical area. Every design and master-plan that I create for clients, and the wider community, narrates a story centring a location’s heritage, culture and heart.

Some of my work examples include refurbishing [email protected] in a record time of 10 days. When the company made its UAE debut in 2013, it brought with it a unique kind of modernity to Dubai’s dining scene. And within no time, it immediately struck a cord with its visitors and instantly became the go-to spot for diners. But even as a trailblazer, the management felt it was time to redefine its dining experience.

I wanted to tell the restaurant’s story in a way never told before and designed it by combining trendy, fun, Instagrammable quirks and uniqueness. I was able to transform the restaurant in line with the client’s qualities, values, and aspirations.

Another example is the Casa Mia — “The box that got tiled” by Sharon Jutla. It is the largest mixed use showroom in Middle East. This was a unique opportunity to design a showroom covering an overall area of 45,000 sq. meters.

The mixed used showroom has a restaurant, design areas, exhibition areas and live hotel mock rooms where people can shop over 90 brands including ceramics, sanitary ware, furniture and accessories. Even though this was a challenging project, it was something I wanted to give back to design and the region, and change the way showrooms are perceived. The design has key components related to retail strategy and how users interact and travel through the space engaging all the five senses — giving them a multi-sensory experience.

One of the projects that I completely enjoyed working on was the installation at INDEX exhibition in Dubai where I created a space “off the wall” room in collaboration with Jonathan Alder furniture. The installation was received very well with over 3000 pictures posted on Instagram.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

My motto is to never stop learning and to continuously ensure to pass on my learning on and never stop teaching. Through my career, I have worked with some outstanding mentors, which is why I am here today.

I believe the most ambitious new designers out there are the ones who not only strive for knowledge, but also seek out those who know more than them so they can continue to learn.

My key mentors have been the senior people I have worked with in companies, designers but some of best mentors have been my clients.

How are you going to shake things up next?

To do anything entrepreneurial, I think most of the battle is having the persistence to break through all the obstacles. What I have learnt as an individual with their own business, especially in the UAE with the current market conditions, is to trust yourself and continue to believe that it’s the right thing for you.

I am always dreaming big and I never get discouraged by anyone or anything. I network and collaborate. I share my passion and listen to other people’s stories. Every minute is an opportunity and I believe the more you share your work and inspire your surroundings, the more opportunities will come your way.

As for my future projects, there will definitely be more international work as I am expanding, divesting further, and pursuing more key collaborations and fun installations. Several of my award winning projects are upcoming this year as well!

I will continue to push the competition through collaborations and education. To me, the operative line would be “Challenging Competition in Adversity.”

I understand the importance of pushing the limits in order to attain an efficient, effective and result-oriented product, but the method involved in the madness describes one’s attitude which ultimately decides the approach. Being competitive is the basic credential any working professional should possess in today’s demanding set-up.

But at the same time, I believe there is more to it than just being competitive; it’s about respecting the work environment, fitting into a situation and not dictating it that makes competition a playground where I would decide my pace in this mad race!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

Dream big and don’t be discouraged by anyone or anything. Network and collaborate. Share your passion and listen to other people’s stories. Every minute is an opportunity and the more you share your work and inspire your surroundings the more opportunities will come your way.

Don’t give up. Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t let anything stop you. For an entrepreneur, the road ahead is not always perfect. It is important to remember that and never give up because you can do and be anything you set your mind to.

Your success and your failures are all directly related to how you feel about yourself. When you love yourself and live with confidence, your choices reflect that. Respecting yourself holds the key to personal success and living a happy life

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?

There are two books that were gifted to me by friends that really changed my life!

The Secret by Rhona Bryne — I was hesitant to read it at first, but this book has had a deep and positive impact on my thinking and changed my view on the way we think and act. The book suggests that one should be conscious and aware of our surroundings. It urges the reader to think positively about the things that they can control and to avoid negative thoughts. It has taught me that if I believe in something mentally with a positive outlook, it has the power to create waves of positive change. The book is uplifting and a wonderful read.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho — In my opinion, this wonderfully written book inspires courage. The book is bout honesty & integrity and the determination to fulfill and follow your dreams and aspirations. The quote from the book, “when you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” has become very famous. A lot of us give up the struggle during hard times. The book encouraged and taught me to hold on to hope and believe that the things I aspire to be and the dreams I aim to achieve will happen if I work hard. It is one of the most influential and inspiring books I have read.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

My dream guest would be Serena Williams. I love that she doesn’t care what anyone says and does not give up. She’s not afraid and for me it’s inspirational how she fought and worked really hard and came back after each failure only to reach number one. I think we would both make for a very interesting breakfast or lunch conversation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

People can follow me on:

My website is currently under construction and will be live in the coming months:

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