Walking into Sargina Kelaita's Desert Palm villa, you might be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled into the eclectic showroom of an ultra-hip interiors store. The huge, open plan area is a riot of sharp style and clever design. It is visually divided into distinct spaces by the use of bold colour schemes, myriad wall coverings and quirky furniture arrangements. The central point of the O-shaped space is a glass-walled atrium, an indoor garden in which a solitary palm tree juts skywards. Around this glass centre are seating and dining areas, a majlis, a television area and an office space, defined by quirky motifs and idiosyncratic combinations of colour and furniture.
The interior designer shares the home with her sister Rita, a managing partner at a Dubai publishing house. The pair are in the process of starting a spa company while simultaneously turning their attentions to launching an events company. The "do it all at once" attitude is reflected in the way they tackled the design of their home, and what's astonishing is that it's taken them only six months to transform the previously neglected space.
"When we moved in, it was a disaster," admits Sargina with a smile. "The walls were all the same colour, really dark red, the vibe was horrible." Faced with such a daunting blank canvas, the sisters set to work making the home theirs. A majlis area, painted a vivid royal purple, was created by laying a straw roof between the outer wall of the house and the wall of the garden. A narrow, turquoise-tiled water channel runs along the outer wall of the garden and underneath the walls of the majlis, connecting it to the outside. An original Omani door leads out into the patio area, where a small Chinese-style bridge allows visitors to cross into the house.
"The old wooden chest next to the bridge, we picked up from Pier Import. We wanted it inside first, because we wanted to have that kind of eclectic look, but it didn't work. So it found its life here, housing these two plants, and the more beat up it gets the better it looks." "You can find the most random things in Dubai, that's the beauty of the city," explains Rita, walking into the majlis followed by her two small dogs. "The main furniture stores like Natuzzi or The One are great but we find all the things to go around it in the oddest of places, like some backwater souk in Sharjah. The materials for the majlis chairs, we found in Global Village. We're really huge on never throwing anything out. Everything we own has six lives. The Omani door we had first as our front door. Then I cut the top off to fit it to the smaller majlis wall. The low card table was from Marina, the dish was from another place, my sister stuck it on top and added the glass to make a new table. The house is over 6,000 square feet, which sounds like a lot when you're only two people. But we live in every room in the house."
Back inside, Sargina moves into a black and white area, a stark contrast to the hippy chic of the majlis. "I didn't want a typical TV area so I got these black padded leather boxes from The One and made a stand for the television. The curved white sofa against the black wall, well, I just love the whole black and white thing. I saw a picture of a tree and got an artist to paint it in silver on the black wall. Everyone said don't paint the room black because it will look so much smaller but it actually doesn't. The white, exposed stone of the other wall works with the white couch against it and the black chandeliers and these oversize black and white armchairs. On the wall behind this area are my favourite finds, these two huge frames. I saw something identical in a store and each one was going for Dh4,000. These I got for Dh60 in a "10 and 20" store in Ajman. I took out the tacky pictures they had in and spray painted them white. And no one would be able to tell - that's when you know someone's a good designer."
The ornate, pictureless frames hang against a backdrop of black and white velvety wallpaper. "This wallpaper is from Feshwari and it was expensive - Dh1,000 a roll. But the wallpaper on the wall next to it, this black glittery stuff, can you believe we got from Dragonmart for Dh60 a roll." Sargina's office area echoes the black and white theme but again, in an entirely different style. In contrast to the opulent modern chic of her television space, the walls of the office are papered in a monochrome comic strip pattern.
"The glass desk I got from some random store. Again, most of the places we go to, if anyone went in they'd just walk in and walk out again because they don't arrange the stuff nicely. If you don't have an eye you might not see it. The couch was decorated with ugly green cushions, with a tacky flowery chair next to it. But you have to see it as a piece in itself and it looks completely different. People always think they're designer, but they're not."
Walking back towards the atrium, one style blends seamlessly with another. A sofa area by the far wall looks out onto the lawn of the back garden. The branches of a tree, painted white, stand in a large vase, adorned with cut-out white lanterns. A silver patchwork rug and cushions offset the oversize white sofa and armchair with Perspex legs. An oversize glass chandelier hangs low above the white dining table and chairs.
"The sofa is German made, though pretty much everything has been purchased in the UAE. We've got some of the pieces from Zabeel Road, in Bur Dubai, which is one of the best places to get furniture in Dubai. We wanted something durable because we have dogs and there's no discipline, it's a free for all. There's little finds that you get, like these silvery armchairs with the Perspex legs. They're from 2XL, a small store in Uptown Mirdiff. I'm really influenced by the work of Philippe Starck. He's done one of my favourite hotels in London, the Sanderson, which is just very minimalistic and has one-off pieces that just really bounce out at you. That's kind of what I was going for with this section of the house. Everything is mixed and matched."
"The atrium, we still haven't changed that yet," says Sargina, eyeing up the area encasing the lone palm tree. "That's next. There, we're going to create a Chinese sunken garden."
"We shop like crazy," adds Rita. "When we moved in, we said, 'Well, we like the space' - but we knew we were going to change the hell out of it. I like really modern things and my sister likes the classic look. So when we bring it together we get exactly what we want."