Carving out Success

Alumna Nadine Hajjar has turned a passion into a successful design career.

By Dana K. Haffar

Hajjar believes in following one’s passion when choosing a career.
It’s a one-woman show in a COOP work space.
‘Théo Rolf & Walt dedans’, a sample of exquisite wood carving.

Imagine, design, create. That is the process LAU Alumna Nadine Hajjar has used to turn a passion into a successful design career. Hajjar completed a BA in Interior Architecture at LAU in 2006 and an MA in Product Design at Domus Academy, Milan, in 2007. The artist, who mostly uses wood as her medium, has set up shop in Montreal. Though she has made it abroad, she comes back to her homeland regularly. 

Here, she speaks to LAU about her inspiration and going it alone.

What made you set up your own studio and choose wood as your medium?

I worked for a well-known designer in Lebanon for three years. They were great years, and I learned a lot. But I felt I needed to fly with my own wings and express my ideas, my feelings and my art. I always knew I wanted to build my own studio, but it wasn’t clear to me how and when. I also always knew I was skilled with my hands – the medium didn’t matter.

In Montreal it became clearer to me. While I was still looking for a job in design, I was passing by a woodworking school on my bike and I saw the big sign, and that’s where it all made sense – wood! That’s where I imagined myself carving, cutting and expressing myself.

What challenges did you face founding and running your business?

Wearing a million hats! When I started Nadine Hajjar Studio in 2014, I never imagined the amount of work ahead. Especially that it was built on a very low budget. My office is my home and my workshop is a COOP kind of working space.

I’m a one-woman show in this. I had to build everything from scratch. My daily tasks are very diverse, be it design, follow-ups with clients, delivering, installing, and all the administrative work. You name it!

What inspires your work?

Wood. The material itself inspires me. There’s a lot of exploration in my work. Many of my products have been designed by pure chance; a leftover piece of wood that came out beautiful, or the way I’d be carving plywood, for example, and discover it has amazing effects when it is carved round… I would love to explore more materials later, stone carving or ceramics.

The whole process of making my own piece inspires me too. Being a designer-maker and having experienced that thrill of carving have freed me!

How long does it take you on average to complete one of your pieces?

It could take me a month or so to complete a big piece (production only), but I can usually produce a series of 10 or so pieces of accessories (trays or plates) in about five days.

Do you believe that the LAU degree gave you a good foundation for your career?

Of course! It’s at LAU that it all started. My journey in design started with the exploration of a space (interior design) then downsizing to the object (product design) and finally to the essence, the material itself and the human hand and touch added to it.

I also met amazing professors with whom I am still luckily in contact. They taught me how to create a concept and develop it. And that’s the most important thing in design: the idea.

Do you think there are opportunities for artisans like you in Lebanon using peer-to-peer platforms (such as Etsy) in this economy?

I’m not sure. These platforms rely on home delivery and an efficient postal service, which might be difficult in Lebanon. Personalized delivery through private companies could be an option.

Any career advice you would like to offer to LAU students interested in owning their own business?

My advice would be to dream more and think outside the box. To enroll in activities that are different from the standard or the traditional. Try to imagine what you will be doing with joy and passion for the rest of your life. Don’t think about money and compensation, but what your daily life will look like. It’s more important than all the money in the world.


Hajjar will be coming to Beirut this month.