It took eight months for Emmanuelle Sawko and Alexandra de Montaudouin to find the perfect location for their new concept store and cafe, Comptoir 102. After much searching, they eventually came across a bungalow on Jumeirah Beach Road that ticked all the right boxes. "We found it on Dubizzle," Sawko explains. "The villa was abandoned - no one had lived here for eight years - but it had these really good vibes."
The villa may have undergone a radical revamp before Comptoir 102 opened its doors three weeks ago, but the good vibes are still there. And this has much to do with the ladies themselves. Charming, French and brimming with enthusiasm, these savvy, go-getting mothers-of-three decided a year ago that they would transform their love of design, fashion and food into a business venture.
The two friends, who both moved to the UAE because of their husbands' jobs and met a couple of years ago, were united in their desire to "do something", so they set about creating a concept store that they could fill with the things they love.
"There are some things for the house and some things for ourselves, such as jewellery and fashion. It's a real mix of products and there's also a little coffee shop to come. It's something that's new for Dubai," says Sawko.
"Over the years we have discovered a lot of brands that we've liked and that we've lived with. These are brands that we know, so we've brought them here. What we have tried to do is to bring in brands that aren't in Dubai yet; something new and different," she adds.
It's a masterful mix. There are thousands of products on offer, ranging from sumptuous, fully-customisable sofas by the French brand Caravane and deliciously scented candles by the US-based Sage to high-end jewellery by Aga and "it" bags by Delphine Delafon. There are intricate lamps, colourful bed linens, fashionable footwear, quirky accessories and everything in between.
I wonder whether there was any conflict when the pair were choosing what products to include? "It's quite amazing," says Sawko. "If you look around, we have about 30 brands and around 3,000 products, which is a lot for a new business. All of the products that you see here were picked collectively by Alex and I. Of course, there are products that she likes more than I do and vice versa but there was never any disagreement on anything."
Sawko and de Montaudouin only work with small, boutique companies and in many cases, Comptoir 102 is the exclusive stockist of the brands it carries. The high-end candle brand Mizensir, for example, will only stock its candles in a single location in any given city - and has selected Comptoir 102 as its partner in Dubai.
"All the decoration brands that we work with are small companies. Everything is created manually in small factories. We are not working with huge brands that are impersonal. We know them well. We know how they work," says de Montaudouin.
A great example is the Paris-based designer Matheiu Challières, whose copper-wire La Volière lamps look like intricate aviaries housing families of colourful birds. There are also the glittering LED lamps by Le Deun Luminaires and the handcrafted tableware by Astier de Villatte. "This is something that's very special for us," says de Montaudouin. "It's a ceramic brand but it's all handmade. Each piece takes between two weeks and one month to be made. If you touch them, they are extremely thin and delicate and light. Each piece is unique. Because they are handmade, no two will ever be exactly the same. We find them so pretty, so delicate, so unusual."
The aim was to have a range of items at a range of price points. So, with the jewellery, there are high-end diamond and gold pieces by Inès, pretty pink gold necklaces by Ginette New York and then a selection of items that are "less expensive, funky and easy to wear," says Sawko. "In the whole store, everything is quite casual. Chic but casual. We are trying to have products that are easy to wear and easy to live with."
This is reflected in the design of the store, which is as warm as it is welcoming. It's a space that encourages you to linger. "The first thing that everybody says when they walk in is that they feel relaxed and well," says du Montaudouin.
"I think the main point was to create a homely atmosphere rather than a store-like atmosphere. If you go to our houses, they feel the same as this - you have the same brands and the same objects," adds Sawko.
It's an atmosphere that will no doubt be extended to the coffee shop, once open. A macrobiotic chef has already been hired to create healthy dishes throughout the day. "The idea is to grow as much as possible here and then use it in the coffee shop. We will try to buy organic, local ingredients and serve really healthy food. We won't have a huge menu - we'll have a few salads, a few soups and a main dish every day," Sawko explains.
The plan is also to host design- and art-related events at the store, or have artists creating pieces in-house, says Sawko. "We really want to have people who know about art and design to come here and talk about their art. We want to educate people."