Reporting and photos by Ankita Menon
There aren’t as many recycling opportunities in Qatar as some would like – but Doha-based entrepreneur Habib Alfar has just created one more, by turning wood and metal that’s outlived its original use into unique pieces of furniture.
Half-British, half-Lebanese expat Alfar has lived in Qatar for twenty years. His father worked in oil and gas, and initially Alfar followed him into the industry, before realizing that the job wasn’t for him.
“In my free time though, I played around with making things and I really enjoyed doing it. So I thought okay, I’ll start selling a few things online to see if people would take it. Instantly, people started buying.”
Alfar – who is entirely self-taught – says he got the idea of using recycled materials from a TV show he watched on a flight from the UK to Doha:
“It was about how this guy was running around New York looking for junk, and then he would turn it into amazing things. So, I guess that stuck in my mind when I got back and I started playing around with scrap and wood seeing what I could do. The first thing I did was a dog bed, and then my wife suggested making the dining table. And then it just went from there.”
Spurred on by the popularity of the few pieces he’d made, Alfar decided to establish a company – CREU Qatar – Creu means ‘create’ in Welsh (“my mum is Welsh, and I wanted to use something that sounded different,” he explains.)
His work uses a combination of salvaged wood and metal and locally sourced, new materials.
“Some of my designs are completely made of recycled wood, and some of new. I prefer to use recycled wood though, because it adds more character” he says.
His range includes coffee tables, book shelves, pet beds, wooden coat hook units, candle holders, mirrors, benches and beds. He’s happy to make pieces according to the customer’s design. Prices range from QR100 – QR2000.
“Things aren’t cheap in Qatar so even to attach the wheel to the beds, it costs me 15 riyals for each wheel,” he says. “Price-wise, I want to be between IKEA and The ONE. Affordable, but also I have to make money because I do spend a lot of time on each piece. I have to make sure each piece is perfect.”
He’s now sold over 200 pieces of furniture, mostly to private clients, but some to companies, including a bespoke hostess table for Nando’s City Center, and menu frames for fast-food outlet Captain Billy’s.
Alfar has found a Qatari partner, whose workshop he now uses, and he’s planning to expand into a warehouse soon.
Although he’s now doing well, he says small companies are currently struggling in Qatar due to high costs:
“Even renting the cheapest of shops is over 20,000 riyals a month now for a showroom. That’s the main problem. And I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself – there is this rule that you have got to have 200 thousand riyals in the bank when you start-up and I don’t have that much money lying around.”