Inside the Creative Force of Mona Hussein
News@AUC got the opportunity to sit down with one of Egypt’s leading interior designers and jury member for the AUC-TAMEER Water Tower Competition, Mona Hussein ’83, to learn more about her goals, why she decided to pursue interior design, her advice to future AUC graduates and more.
Hussein is the founder and director of Mona Hussein Design House (MHDH) and Mahally. Both companies offer a wide range of design services, including interior, landscaping and product design, architecture and branding.
No matter what project she is working on, what matters to Hussein is that her creations are creative and original. “You have to create a character for the place you design, and once you finalize that, it becomes easy,” she emphasized, explaining that for each project, the team including Hussein has to create a concept to guide the whole design, incorporating colors, styles and materials. After that, the team has to present each phase of the design process to the client, doing the tendering until it is ready for the contractor to begin work. Some projects can take a month, while larger ones can take up to a year.
Hussein prides her brand on being both creative and reliable. “Some clients come back after four or five years and ask if we still have old designs, and we send them," she added. "It’s things like this that give you credibility." Hussein read a message she recently received from a client: “I’m always proud to say that Egypt has a top designer house led by a woman whose values weren’t stained by the business world."
A pioneer in her field, Hussein got her start in product design, later shifting to interior design. “Back then, there weren’t many interior designers,” she confided. Her first major project was a hotel in El Gouna, and since then, her team has taken on hundreds of projects, including hotels, restaurants, retail and private residences. Her team also created the landscaping design for the award-winning Designopolis, a design and lifestyle center. They created an energy-saving and environmentally friendly landscape plan for the center, incorporating olive trees that required little water, drip irrigation and LED-lighting systems. Hussein is very proud of her projects. “At a certain point in your career, you hit a certain plateau where you like what you’re doing, you’re making sure that you’re doing it right and you know that there are no glitches," she said.
Hussein said that her majors in business administration and art at AUC helped strengthen her artistic abilities and business know-how that she needed to run her own design company. “I studied finance, accounting and marketing, so I understood all the different angles of how to make a business successful,” she explained.
When asked what advice she would give to AUC students who want to start their own businesses, Hussein emphasized that having a strong vision and a good work ethic is key. “If you are a hard worker who has talent and you have a vision of what you want to do, you can achieve it,” she stated.
She also believes education has a lot to offer. “I realized that many of my fellow students thought of studying as something awful that they just needed to do to pass. That was not my concern. My concern was always to enjoy the courses that were really fulfilling to me. For those classes, I did my papers in advance. I did my research, and I went further than what was required. I think this is very important. School is an opportunity for you to learn things that later on you will not have the time for.”
Moving forward, Hussein envisions her company hosting a larger variety of design competitions and potentially expanding to the United States. Currently, her company hosts a range of product design competitions, encouraging young, local designers by offering them internships and the opportunity to showcase their work. She would also love to expand her website Mahally.net, which aims to highlight furniture and products that are locally made and Egypt-inspired.
Currently a jury member in the AUC-TAMEER Water Tower Competition, Hussein is supporting the University initiative in partnership with the TAMEER, a real estate development company, to transform a water tower in New Cairo into a work of public art through student designs, creating the first beautified water tower in Egypt. She believes competitions like this are important for young designers to take part in because they can be motivational. "Competitions make people get off their feet and realize their own potential,” she explained. “I think it has a really positive impact.”