The curated concept store and barber from the Dubai-based Australian entrepreneur, Leith Matthews, and his team, reimagines the classic New York barbershop in the heart of Dubai – masculine but fun, with an urban sensibility.
Anarchitect’s Jonathan Ashmore talks to Made Journal about the custom-made contemporary space with its exposed woods, raw concrete and bespoke leather, as well as finding inspiration in the skill set of Akin’s master craftsmen.
There was an opportunity to create a beautifully crafted piece of architecture
Please tell us a bit about your project with AKIN Barber & Shop?
The Barber & Shop project was first imagined by our client, Leith Matthews, who had identified an opportunity and was in the process of securing a really great location (Burj Al Salam) when we had our initial project discussions. Akin is the result of a handpicked collective of Dubai based, home-grown entrepreneurs, chosen by Leith to bring passion and commitment to the project with a unified desire to create something individual and inspiring.
The name Akin came from the idea of a brotherhood (of the same Kin) of like minded people who appreciate craftsmanship, fine details and beautiful aesthetics, who strive to live an enriched and enjoyable lifestyle without taking it all too seriously. The tag line ….we are Akin, fittingly represents the people involved and the clientele, who have already stepped through the shop door even before we officially opened it.
How did your involvement come about?
We had previously worked with Leith back in 2012 on a collaborative project commissioned for Art Dubai. We remained in contact over the next few years and were then invited to consider working on a new Barber & Shop in Burj Al Salam. We were intrigued by the idea and felt that there was an opportunity to create a beautifully crafted piece of architecture from inception to completion even at this small scale.
How would you describe the Akin barber shop aesthetic?
It is challenging to define the aesthetics of the space. They are the result of a rigorous design and making process that represents a hand-crafted and tactile architecture. We took contextual inspiration from lightweight beach structures and understood and respected that we were also working within an existing space.
Instead of hiding the existing, we chose to frame it with a solid ash structural insertion. This created a space within a space that expresses the different material layers and creates a sense of height and lightness, whilst defining new but permeable boundaries. Even in such a small shop, the planning of the space was driven by the programme. The recessed shop front is a nod to tradition, yet is also creates a buffer between the main building lobby and Akin to ensure that the barbers are not disturbed or cross paths with people coming in and out of the shop perpendicularly.
What materials and finishes did you focus on and why?
Material, detail and lighting are the most important elements of our interior architecture. We used solid ash custom joinery with an open grain to highlight a juxtaposition between this natural material and the brutality of the man-made existing concrete. We used the precise edges of powder-coated aluminium panels to frame transitions and junctions between different primary materials used in the space. We also referenced barbering tradition with an inset brushed-brass Akin logo within the marble lobby floor and used black and white hexagonal mosaic tiles to identify the barbering area of the shop for both function and practicality. Key Akin collaborations include custom lighting projectors and recessed spots by PSLAB in Beirut and the elegant ‘Air’ ceiling fan by Boffi in Italy. The entire space is custom designed and handmade here in the UAE, we even custom designed and made the sinks locally from corian.
The entire space is custom designed and handmade here in the UAE
How important is craft and design in today’s retail space?
As a design driven practice we were inspired by the contextually rich and niche retail spaces so beautifully executed by the cosmetic brand Aesop and their collaborations with architects globally. We set out to achieve the same high-quality impact with Akin, to tie together the design and programme to create a piece of unique contextual design in a very tight space.
Akin’s barbers are craftsman, they are precise, detailed and constantly strive to perfect their skill. We believed that the space should not only reflect this but inspire it through materiality, craft and detail, with a shop that is built to last and that effortlessly functions to support the growth of Akin. For the Akin clients, who come back time and time again, they will always discover a new detail each time they sit and recline back in the barber’s chair.