When Ali Behnam Bakhtiar was a successful interior designer, he was asked to extend his design skills to high- end weddings. Almost 20 years later, Behnam Bakhtiar is one of the biggest names in the industry.
Initially based in the UAE, Ali Bakhtiar Designs (Ali’s Design company) has recently moved to France, from where Ali continues to design for his clients, all around the world. Iranian born, but raised in Paris, Ali is excited about the move (back). His work as a designer of both temporary and permanent spaces is known as being highly personalised to the client, yet undeniably Ali Bakhtiar in style. Rather fitting for a wedding designer, he is a true expert in uniting exquisite-opposite-attract-pairings; bringing together heritage and future, in the most gorgeous settings.
What was your vision when you first started doing weddings?
I have always loved extravagant spaces and grew up in a household where this was second nature. We constantly had large-scale parties in my family home. However, it was only later that I connected this love for great events with my extensive studies and passion for interior design, fashion and architecture. When I was asked to do a wedding whilst designing an interior, the puzzle pieces fell together. Everything just seemed to make sense. The vision has always been to create extraordinary surroundings, whether this is for everyday life or special occasions.
What do you think people want from weddings these days?
I think people want something truly personal. A lot of designers create copy-paste weddings. These copy-paste solutions might look good on paper initially because they have been done a 100 times before, but in the end, I think a wedding is not about ticking boxes, it is about celebrating a unique union.
What can you tell us about your interior design projects?
I began my career doing fashion and interiors. Now, next to my wedding and event business, I don’t have as much time, so I have to be quite picky. It is great though because I am fortunate to be able to only do exceptional projects. In the last couple of years, I’ve renovated castles, redesigned yachts and built residences from scratch on private islands.
How has your business evolved over the last 20 years?
I think a business evolves when the people behind it keep broadening their horizons. I personally love to challenge myself, so naturally, my projects have become increasingly more ambitious. For example, I design and build entire properties now, rather than limiting myself to the interiors only. And in event design, the bar is constantly being raised too; with many new exciting requests and events in more and more locations.
Can you tell us a little about the technical side of your work?
My work is much more technical than people expect it to be, especially the event design because there is simply no room for error. This means you have to plan, plan, plan and plan more. I am very perfectionistic in this regard, so I do a lot of research for every project and make sure to work only with the best in their field. I don’t only want an event to go smoothly; I want it to exceed expectations.
We know you are a strong believer in giving back– can you tell us about your passion for philanthropy?
For me, philanthropy is non-negotiable, especially when you are in a position of privilege. I do not only see it as my duty to help others, to me it is intrinsic to my happiness.
2020 was an unusual year – what were your biggest takeaways?
My biggest take-away was seeing people’s flexibility in the face of difficulty and in particular my team. Of course in the event industry, one always has to be adaptable, but having this skill so harshly tested this year, actually showed me how great people are at adjusting. It was a great realisation to know this about my business, my team and humanity.
What advice would you give to young designers?
In a time like this, in which events are postponed and business is quiet, I’d advise looking internally and creating balance in your company. Now is the best time to sort out things you never usually have, or make time for, to make it easier down the line, when things open up again. What can you enhance and improve in your company, structure or systems? Perhaps learn about and implement new technologies? That is the route we have taken: we recently installed a new program for example, that allows us to visually and interactively create with clients, from the very first meeting.
What is your biggest professional goal?
My goal is to continue to do what I do, but always step it up. For me it’s not about reaching something specific, it’s about continuous improvement.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
We don’t really face big challenges per se. Nothing is unfixable. What can be complex for me, however, is to be doing different projects in different locations on a short time schedule. Like I have had simultaneous projects in South America and Asia, having to fly between both destinations constantly, because it requires in-person presence. In those instances, I’d love to be able to split myself, but otherwise, I don’t believe things are unmanageable. I welcome challenge.
Where in the world would you like to do a project, that you have never done before?
I would love to do a project in Alaska or Iceland. Somewhere rough, remote and raw. It’s a dream of mine to build a completely self-sustained property in a place like that, designing a space which really allows one to experience this rare kind of nature to its fullest extent.
What can we expect from Ali Bakhtiar Designs in 2021?
We can expect a lot of change! More projects coming up and more interesting designs. I realised recently that my latest designs have changed hugely, and I think this is because I have grown a lot personally. My perspective has transformed, my taste has evolved, and I’m really excited to put that new vision into the world.
What is your 2021 resolution?
I want to (be able to) contribute even more. I want to grow my foundation, and my company, and I want to continue to prioritise happiness.