On a wall above the stairs in Osama Tomeh and Dima Edilbi's Saadiyat villa is a collection of family photographs set around the words: "The best things in life aren't things". It's a fitting introduction to a home that's warm, inviting and all about family.
Lured by a professional opportunity that "was too good to pass up" and the prospect of being back in the Middle East - Tomeh is originally from Syria and Edilbi from Jordan - the couple moved to Abu Dhabi from Washington DC with their two children, Sarah and Senned, three-and-a-half years ago. "We'd also heard from our friends that it was a really great place to raise kids," Edilbi explains.
The couple initially lived in Abu Dhabi's Khalifa City A, in the Al Raha Gardens community, but earlier this year became one of the first families to take up residence in TDIC's Saadiyat Beach Villas.
"We decided that we wanted to own something here. We were just passing by the Saadiyat Beach Villas and we liked the look of them from the outside, so we decided to take a look inside," Edilbi recalls.
Within a relatively short period of time, the couple had organised viewings, found a three-bedroom unit that was ready and available and set the wheels in motion to buy their first house in the UAE.
Ambitious plans to transform Saadiyat into a cultural hub were a major drawing point when it came to the location. Tomeh, a transport professional, explains: "Certainly, the things that are planned for Saadiyat Island, the cultural aspects of it and the museums that are supposed to be coming on, will bring a different ambience to the island.
"Plus, because I work with the department of transportation and am involved in planning, the way the community is designed made it even more attractive. Of course, added to that was the finishing and the layout of the actual villa."
The fact that much of the community's landscaping and infrastructure was already in place, even though construction of the residences was still underway, was another selling point, says Tomeh.
"When we moved to Al Raha Gardens back in 2009, we lived in the newer stages of the compound and the landscaping there was still being developed at the time. By contrast, it seems that TDIC has paid a lot of attention to landscaping. So even though there were still villas under construction, the landscaping and the infrastructure were already there. This is a unique thing that we both noted when we were driving by; the landscaping made it feel more inviting and more complete."
For Edilbi, another draw was that elements of the Saadiyat development reminded her of home. "The finishing and design of the compound is very similar to certain parts of the States. So for me, I felt a certain nostalgia."
"It's funny because we are very close to the golf course here," Tomeh adds, "And we have a home in Fairfax, Virginia, which sits on a golf course too. It happened purely by chance but it also brought back that nostalgia."
The couple were initially torn between buying a three-bedroom or a four-bedroom property, but found that the three-bedroom units had larger kitchens and living areas, which ultimately sealed the deal. "Because of an attractive offer that TDIC had at the time, they were both comparable in price so we had a hard time deciding. Eventually we ended up picking the three-bedroom," says Tomeh. "It is a corner unit so we have a little more space outside and it is also set away from the motorway and close to the community centre."
Since moving in, the couple has actually managed to add to the room count by extending an upstairs storeroom to convert it into a children's playroom and by transforming a dead space under the stairs into a home office.
The villa's ground floor consists of a large open space that has been converted into a formal dining and seating area. One wall has been adorned with wooden, floor-to-ceiling panels etched with Arabesque patterns, which introduces a distinctly Middle Eastern feel to the space. Intricately patterned sheer curtains and textural wallpaper have also been used to add richness to the room.
An open-plan kitchen leads off into another, more informal seating area, which acts as the hub of the house. "In the show house, they used the main space as one big living area and then there was a dining area leading off from the kitchen. We thought we could better utilise the space by putting the family room close to the kitchen. Especially since the kitchen is open plan," says Tomeh.
Wallpaper, largely sourced from Avenue Interiors, was also used extensively in the upstairs bedrooms, where muted bronzes and browns dominate. "My sister is an interior designer in Dubai so she helped with the colours and some ideas," says Edilbi. "I had never used wallpaper before but once you do, you really start paying attention to textures and colours. It makes such a difference. And it's so easy. If you're going to bring people in to paint, it's more or less the same thing."
At the top of the stairs, a handcrafted piece of art emblazoned with Arabic calligraphy adds to the regional feel of the interior but also - much like the cluster of photographs at the foot of the stairs - reinforces the very personal nature of this villa. "A friend of mine who is half Russian and half Egyptian and lives in the US made it for me as a gift. It is all hand made and hand stencilled," Edilbi says.