It all started with a duck-egg blue lamp that he picked up in a second-hand store in New Orleans. "I love that kind of 1940s/50s look," Bernard Creed says, standing in the kitchen of his new apartment in Downtown Dubai.
Creed comes from Cork, Ireland, and is currently the head of the finance department of Dubai Duty Free, the single largest airport retailer in the world."I lived in the States for a year, in New Orleans, and there's a lot of antique and second-hand shops there. I saw the glass lamp in a consignment shop for $150 (Dh550) and I brought it back with me."
What started off as an impulse buy ended up as a key feature in Creed's new interior. When he bought his two-bedroom apartment in the Al Manzil district of the Old Town, he asked his friend Bonita O'Donnell, an interior designer, to help him decorate - and the lamp became a starting point for the design. "He loved the lamp and he loved the colour, so he said: 'What can we do in here with that colour?'" O'Donnell recalls.
The next significant purchase was a large, glass-fronted wall cabinet from Marina that takes pride of place in the apartment's open-plan living room. "I think this is a key piece for the room because it's distressed," O'Donnell says. "For me, the interior has a real Hamptons feel to it, with very clean lines. That cabinet started the evolution of the look."
When it came to furniture, O'Donnell realised that Creed had a penchant for 1950s-style pieces. But because these were not particularly easy to come by in Dubai, she decided to have a large, off-white sofa made locally. This was paired with three lounge chairs that, in varying ways, bring out the blue of that all-important lamp from New Orleans.
Two of these chairs were bought second-hand and reupholstered with a plain neutral fabric on the front, a sky blue floral motif on the sides and a checkered print on the back. "There was a style of chair that Bernard particularly liked, with wheels on the front legs, and I happened to know someone who was selling some. So they were recycled. They were dark green and we completely re-covered them. I wanted to do something that was a little bit different and not contrived so that it didn't look 'matchy-matchy'. Again, the colour from the lamp dictated a lot for me because it is the highlight colour of this lounge."
When Creed initially viewed the apartment, it had dark wood floors, dark brown curtains and oversized brown furniture - the direct antithesis of his desired aesthetic. In fact, had he not already seen another apartment on a different floor of the building, it would have been enough to put him off altogether.
"I saw one on another floor and it had been decorated really well so I knew what it could potentially look like when I came and saw this. Whereas, if I had seen this first, I might not have bought it."
O'Donnell decided to rip out the wooden floors and return them to their original, tiled state. Most of her subsequent design decisions focused on creating a clean, clutter-free space that capitalised on the natural light that flooded through the double windows - a major selling point when Creed was deciding whether to buy or not. "A lot of these apartments can be quite dark and this was the only one I found that had two sets of windows in the living area. It's located at the end of the building and there's no one next to me, which is nice. I was lucky to get it," he says.
A big fan of cooking and entertaining, Creed was keen to have a place that would facilitate these pastimes. The apartment's well-equipped kitchen, good-sized balcony (with views of the Burj Khalifa) and inviting dining area all contribute in fulfilling this requirement. "In the dining room, Bernard wanted something that looked a bit like a cafe area," O'Donnell explains.
The pair found a table in Crate & Barrel that they liked but it wasn't big enough, so they paired the base with a larger, custom-made marble top and used the original top to create another smaller table for the balcony. To complement the dining table, O'Donnell put together a medley of six mismatched but entirely complementary chairs - which includes two Carvers and a bedroom chair.
Two of these chairs were acquired by Bernard on a bit of a whim. "I bought ten of them from The Cellar when it closed down. They sold everything because they built a new hotel there. All of us had been in The Cellar at some point, eating and drinking and sitting on those chairs, so it was nice to think that they could have a second life."
O'Donnell had all ten of the chairs stripped down, stained, distressed and then reupholstered in various colours. While two have been used in the dining room, the other eight are to be found dotted around the apartment - four on the balcony, a couple in the bedrooms and one in the entrance area. It is this artful interlacing of repurposed, second-hand items with personal artefacts, custom-made furniture and easily-accessible pieces from stores such as Marina and Crate & Barrel that make this apartment so striking.
For O'Donnell, understanding how her clients use their living spaces is essential in creating a successful interior. "When I work with people, I'll ask them: 'Do you sit at the table for dinner or do you sit in front of the TV with a tray on your lap?' There's no point pretending that you have a dinner party for 12 people every night when you are really sitting on your own in front of the telly. You have to be real about how you live in the house."
As such, when it came to deciding what to do with the apartment's entrance area, O'Donnell decided to create a space that was entirely specific to Creed and his interests. "Bernard likes to cook so I decided to turn that space into a working area rather than just an entrance area."
A floating shelf now stores a collection of cookery books (and also serves to cleverly disguise an unseemly electricity box), so Creed can use the space to sit and trawl through recipes. A blank wall alongside the shelf has been covered in a Mr Perswall wallpaper that depicts a hastily-scrawled recipe for sour dough.
"I'm not a wallpaper person, but I trusted Bonita," says Creed. "I never thought that I would use a designer - because they kind of scared me. But Bonita really listened and I felt that I could be really honest with her. Now I don't think I would ever decorate without help again."
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE