In Arabic, ‘al rawi’ means storyteller. It is quite fitting, then, that a bookstore of that same name would cater to writers, publishers and designers in mind. To do so, UAE-based designer Pallavi Dean made the book itself the key figure of the retail space.

For an organic type of inspiration, Al Rawi’s two storeys overlook the Khalid Lagoon on the Al Majaz Waterfront. But for a more paper-friendly type of inspiration, Dean subtly peppered references to the act of printing, typecasting and binding throughout the two floors. For example, the stitch detail from book spines is present on a large scale as space dividers, and on an intimate scale as handrail details. ‘It’s those kind of abstract, playful literary references that we think gives Al Rawi its personality and character,’ said Dean.

And although the team followed the traditional idea of the look and feel of book elements, they did follow an untraditional way of thinking when it came to the idea of who a booklover is. ‘When we think about creative, literary people, we tend to have one image in mind of who and what that person is,’ explained Marcela Muñoz, a senior designer at Pallavi Dean Interiors. ‘But in reality, there are so many diverse creative personalities, from introverts to extroverts and everything in between, that we wanted Al Rawi to reflect that.’ Taking that variety into account, the designers created spaces made for those who sit down quietly for hours to immerse themselves in a book to those who would prefer to snack-and-talk about the pages they’re reading – hence the different types of seats, and environments like an open kitchen for live cooking demonstrations and a café featuring Mutina's Puzzle tiles by Barber & Osgerby.

Sharjah is no stranger to literary affections: the city is considered the United Arab Emirate’s cultural capital – in 1998, it was awarded the Cultural Capital of the Arab World title by UNESCO. Its annual book fair has attracted international visitors since its first edition in 1982, and its University City district contains more than eight higher-education institutions.

With that background to compete with, local client Tetra had an ambitious brief for the designer: ‘It has to be more than a bookstore.’ That’s why Al Rawi also includes a café, a restaurant, an event space and, most importantly, a creative zone for children. With aims to sustain its fast rise as a cultural hub, it has the next generation of publishing creatives to think of.