Decorate in Dubai

Top tips for turning your Dubai home into a style pad

Zayan Ghandour
Zayan Ghandour
Ruth Bradley
Ruth Bradley
Guillaume Nallet
Guillaume Nallet
Mimi Shakhashir
Mimi Shakhashir
Tara Rogers
Tara Rogers

Many expats are now choosing to extend their stays in the UAE: the economic downturn means that if you have a job in Dubai, it makes sense to keep it, rather than moving back home. Bafflingly, however, most of us still live in sparsely furnished rented apartments or villas that have very little life or soul. Making your house a home will soften homesick blues, boost your social life (because you’ll want to show if off) and give you something productive to do at the weekends. The best bit? You needn’t break the bank sprucing up your pad. Here are some tips from Dubai’s trendiest homemakers on how to inject style fast, and on a budget.

Zayan Ghandour

Lebanese, owner of S*uce boutique
Like S*uce boutique, Zayan’s Jumeirah home typifies effortless style. Her key design technique is to keep all surfaces white and free from clutter, and make sure quirky and bright statement pieces are given the space to do all the talking.

I love my house because… ‘It’s simple and all-over white.’

My favourite home store in Dubai is… ‘Ikea.’
(Dubai Festival Centre; 800 4532).

Zayan’s Dubai design tips
1 ‘Paint walls white or shades of white.’

2 ‘Keep clutter in well-designed storage space.’

3 ‘Minimise the use of dark curtains and let the sunshine in!’

Ruth Bradle

British, PR director
This Satwa villa uses a retro colour palette and a collection of eclectic and loved items as its driving themes. The decidedly vintage feel gives it an edge in Dubai’s all-too-new scene.

I love my house because… ‘It’s a home, and everything in it tells a story.’

When I moved in, my house was… ‘An ’80s fittings nightmare. To work around that as a base has been challenging.’

My favourite design solution in my home is… ‘The mixture of old and new and the use of art on the walls instead of paint or wallpaper. I’m an avid collector of both 20th century design pieces and Middle Eastern contemporary art, albeit on a small scale!’

My favourite room is… ‘The living area. It’s full of my most treasured ’50s furniture.’

My favourite home store in Dubai is… ‘In the absence of anything vintage or 20th century design-inspired, I choose Kartell (Jumeirah Beach Road, 04 348 8169). Close second is OD Design (Sheikh Zayed Road, 04 328 4300) which sells quality copies of high-design furniture, but I do hanker for the real thing.’

Ruth’s Dubai design tips
1 ‘Don’t just rely on what’s in Dubai, or your home will look like everyone else’s. There are so many websites and stores all over the world that deliver.’

2 ‘Use colour to transform spaces, but not necessarily on walls – be daring with soft furnishings and furniture. There’s nothing worse for me than a palette of beige and grey.’

Guillaume Nallet

French, stylist and creative director
This Jumeirah home is proof that if you gather a collection of weird things and position them confidently, it will work. Confidence is a key element in design – fancy bright purple, red and blue walls all in one room? Do it, but commit to it fully or it won’t work.

When I moved in, my house was… ‘In a very bad state, but we saw that the space was huge. It had massive windows and light all day long: a diamond in the rough. We even had to build a kitchen inside as there wasn’t one. So we put a lot of art pieces in it, with lots of colours.

My favourite home store in Dubai is… ‘, a website version of the previous Traffic Gallery.’

Guillaume’s Dubai design tips
1 ‘Paint your walls.’

2 ‘Find a space with windows to add light to your paintings.’

3 ‘Don’t listen to anyone. Decorate your home the way you want – you’re the one living in it.’

Mimi Shakhashir

French/Lebanese, owner of O’De Rose boutique
A truly bohemian space, Mimi’s pad is like a ’70s Hollywood dream. Rich textiles, carefully selected art, bold rugs and bright wallpaper are thrown together in a way that, miraculously, works. Her key design tool is placement: with an eclectic look, it’s important that the items are artfully positioned to avoid a thrift-store feel.

I love my house because… ‘It has great flow of light, amazing high ceilings and big glass windows that bring the garden indoors.’

When I moved in, it was… ‘The perfect white canvas, ready for big splashes of colour.’

My favourite design solution is… ‘Wallpaper. It’s an instant statement that gives a house personality.’

Mimi’s Dubai design tips
1 ‘Decorate a home in the same way as you’d choose your clothes – accessorise!’

2 ‘Be confident enough to follow your heart and your emotions: choose colours for your home that make you feel happy. Be faithful to your own taste – the things you like will never go out of style for you.’

3 ‘Make a statement and say it loudly: wallpaper with big patterns, retro-graphics or black and white.’

Tara Rogers

South African, partner at Mojo PR
This on-the-beach villa is traditional in style, with the kitchen occupying a separate room in the garden, and a focus on majlis areas and outside living. The expat Rogers family have given it a clean, modern look, while keeping some traditional touches.

I love my house because… ‘It makes me feel as though I’m on holiday. When I leave to go to work in the morning, the first thing I see as I close the gate is the brilliant blue sea. We live in an almost exclusively Arabic area, where local families have lived for generations and continue to do so. We’re a bit of a novelty, being one of the only expat families in the area. We live in the outside living room, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner outside, as well as relaxing and entertaining there. Even in the summer there’s a breeze off the sea that makes being outside bearable.’

When we moved in it was… ‘Pretty grotty. It’s still a work in progress, but finding an Arabic villa for rent was something extraordinary and we didn’t hesitate. We created a small garden and a fabulous outside living room from what was originally a car port. The living room had the most hideous stucco style paintwork which has cost us quite a bit to get rid of, but it was worth every dirham. We’ve changed many of the doors and light fittings in the house, re-tiled the kitchen and put new doors on the kitchen cabinets.’

My favourite home store in Dubai is… ‘Aati (Karama, 04 337 7825) for larger pieces of furniture that are different and of the best quality; Crate & Barrel (04 399 0125) for knick-knacks and Pinkies (Sharjah, 06 534 1714; Barsha, 055 746 5437) for fabulous cheap-and-cheerful touches.’

Tara’s Dubai design tips
1 Paint: it’s cheap, easy to change, and immediately lifts the most dismal space.

2 Give the kitchen a facelift – unless brand new, most kitchens are pretty grim – changing the doors of the kitchen cabinets is a relatively cost effective exercise that instantly cleans up the kitchen and makes it more appealing.

3 Invest in rugs and art – there is a huge range here, from many parts of the world, and they’re often much cheaper than they would be back home.

Short but stylish stays

Still can’t commit to at-home renovation? Spend the night in these high-design hotel havens.

One&Only The Palm: The design in this new hotel ranges from Saint Tropez to baroque, but is always tasteful. We love the executive suite (pictured left) for its clean lines, modern chandeliers and opulent bathroom.
Dhs2,640 for a standard room, Dhs5,800 for the executive suite (fees and changes apply; rates quoted for GCC residents). The Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).

Desert Palm: One of the most understated and design-savvy hotels in the UAE, the polo resort’s best rooms are the pool villas. Nothing beats modern furniture and a private pool.
From Dhs1,597 for a standard room, Dhs4,382 for a pool villa (fees and changes apply). Al Awir Road, near International City (04 323 8888).

XVA Hotel: Smack in the middle of the heritage quarter, this old-style hotel has dashes of soul, high-quality furniture and one-off artworks – it’s a haven for resident creatives.
From Dhs350 a night. Bastakiya,

Adorn your walls

Three artworks you can afford, plus tips on how to frame them.

1 ‘Amélie Was Here’ Dubai-based Filipino graphic artist Kirsty Anne Ligones is one to watch, and this eerie take on French movie Amélie is a perfect addition to a bravely trendy home. The 50 x 70cm print is mounted on canvas, ready to hang, but we’d buy a cheap gilded frame and spray it in lacquer red for an edgy look.
Dhs800 at

2 ‘S6’ This 20 x 27cm painting by Egyptian artist Ibrahim El Dessouki typifies his quiet, tranquil portraits and landscapes. We love the way this one is framed already as it doesn’t distract from the subtleties of the work.
Dhs2,702 at via Art Sawa Gallery.

3 ‘Sheikh Zayed’ This portrait of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the later ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the Emirates, was taken in 1949 by Brit explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger. Frame this in a black box frame with white card mount – a classic style for a classic image.
Dhs495 for a framed A2 size, Dhs350 for mounted A3 at Gallery One, various locations, Need a framer to help show off your art? Try Art House on Al Wasl Road for attentive service (04 344 8004).

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