At NeueHouse, we’ve known Sarah Abdallah for quite some time.
A member since 2013, Abdallah, the Founder & CEO of Functional Creative Design, has always represented our ideal: highly-creative, thoughtful, curious, and deeply-versed in trends shaping the design world. Working as part of the senior Rockwell Group team during the original NeueHouse design process nearly a decade ago, Abdallah contributed to shaping the original interiors for both NeueHouse Madison Square and NeueHouse Hollywood. So when the in-house NeueHouse design team, alongside Josh Wyatt as NeueHouse’s CEO, assessed the evolution of the Gallery at Madison Square to bring an updated vision of work, community, and culture together for a post-pandemic world, we immediately brought her into the process to consult and collaborate with the NeueHouse design team on this vitally important project. Now, with the Gallery at Madison Square in full swing, NeueJournal sat down with the design-savvy entrepreneur to learn more about her journey, process and approach to design.
NEUEJOURNAL: Briefly, can you explain the work you do?
ABDALLAH: Human-centric, solution-based design through the lens of psychology, social psychology, and neuroscience. These solutions are as unique as each of our client and their markets, be it hospitality, commercial or residential.
NEUEJOURNAL: Can you cite a pivotal experience that set you on your current path?
ABDALLAH: I don’t know if I would cite one pivotal experience so much as many pivotal moments. I think my unique journey and areas of study have allowed me to approach my passion for design and provide clients with unique outcomes for each project. I have been fortunate to work alongside people like Tony Chi, David Rockwell, Eran Chen, William Sofield, and Bradford Perkins. I’ve been part of, and led, projects as a senior team member for spaces like Water-line Square Amenities, Battersea Power Station Workspace in London, 15 Hudson Yards, Edition Hotel Madison Square, and Neuehouse. Prior to starting my own practice six years ago, each one of these experiences was truly what I would call “pivotal,” and each has led me to the next incredible experience.
“I truly believe any form of Art and Design is an avenue for activism that helps start conversations and allows us as humans to come to the table with an open heart and mind, and check our preconceived notions about others at the door. ”
NEUEJOURNAL: What’s one essential skill or characteristic in your line of work?
ABDALLAH: One essential skill, not only in Architecture and Design but in any line of work is listening—listening deeply to what is said and unsaid by a client.
NEUEJOURNAL: Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most?
ABDALLAH: Well, first and foremost, I don’t see what I do every day as “work.” I wake up every day to pursue something I’m truly passionate about through the lens of design. I see myself as a creative entrepreneur, and not just a business owner in the Interior Architecture + Design space, but someone who is a thought-leader and role model for other points of view. When I was younger, I wished I had more people who I could relate to as a biracial woman. I hope to bridge that gap for people who fall into the “other” category. In the end, I truly believe any form of Art and Design is an avenue for activism that helps start conversations and allows us as humans to come to the table with an open heart and mind, and check our preconceived notions about others at the door.
NEUEJOURNAL: How do you approach re-imagining spaces more broadly? What are the inputs you use?
More so than ever, we have been challenged with looking and re-imagining how we not only use spaces, but also how we interact with others due to the pandemic. This truly plays a bigger role in how we as professionals in Interior Architecture and Design re-image space more broadly. These 18 months have made me personally challenge myself: how to re-approach spaces. I am encouraging everyone to think outside the norms, programs and structures. Most importantly, how do we support community.
NEUEJOURNAL: What were some of the guiding principles, inspirations, and ideas that went into the Gallery redesign?
ABDALLAH: On major idea was the concept of mountains and valleys, which we incorporated through soft curvatures of the architectural elements in millwork and throughout furniture details as well. There are more and more studies in neuroscience showing that form or shape of the built environment is fundamental to people’s emotions. Curvatures and circles mimic forms in nature that are subconsciously calming to a person’s psyche.
NEUEJOURNAL: Take us through your ideal day in the Gallery.
ABDALLAH: Start with a tea, where I sit in the custom banquet where I have a moment to set my intentions for the day and get to responding to my emails before delving into projects. I move from there to take meetings at a sofa. Then, midday if I’m having lunch with a friend or colleague, I move to the restaurant. Otherwise, I go back to an open table. Finally, end the day, with glass of wine at the bar before heading out.
NEUEJOURNAL: Finish this sentence: ____ is the secret of highly creative people.
Looking at things, situations, and conversations differently is the secret of highly creative people.
NEUEJOURNAL: Tell us about a dream collaborator, dream project.
ABDALLAH: Designing a full services eco-friendly/tech integrated hotel and restaurant program that has social impact, programmed events, and a farm in the space that involves the local community would be my DREAM project! Preferably in warm climate near water.