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A solid-wood coffee table from Kenya is the centrepiece of Melanie Hunt's eclectic living room, which is furnished almost entirely with goods bought on Dubizzle. Pawan Singh / The National
A solid-wood coffee table from Kenya is the centrepiece of Melanie Hunt's eclectic living room, which is furnished almost entirely with goods bought on Dubizzle. Pawan Singh / The National

Using Dubizzle for secondhand bargains to create a first-class home in Dubai

When Melanie Hunt bought a new apartment in The Greens, she decided to deck it out with secondhand goods found on Dubizzle.

When a Dubai resident decided to kit out her house by shunning stores in favour of Dubizzle, she not only picked up bargains galore but also created a unique and colourful home, writes Selina Denman

"It was all very hunter-gatherer," says Melanie Hunt, with a laugh. When the British expat bought a one-bedroom apartment in the Greens last September, she decided that she wasn't going to invest in a flat full of new furniture. Instead, she was going to furnish her new home using only second-hand items found on Dubizzle.

Hunt moved to Dubai in 2008 to work for a large developer, but when the recession hit in 2009 and work dried up, all of her worldly goods, including an apartment's worth of furniture, were put into storage. Her employer eventually offered to pay to have all her belongings shipped back to the UK, so she sent everything home. "When I bought this apartment, I had to think about whether I wanted to bring all that stuff back, but it would have been a double expense. I guess because I have a house full of furniture in England, I didn't want to duplicate and buy everything again. The process started with me wondering what I could get on Dubizzle, but the more I looked the more I realised how good it was."

The only items that Hunt brought with her to her new home were a mother-of-pearl chest and matching side cabinets that she had bought on a trip to Damascus, and a collection of paintings that she had picked up while on a holiday in Bali. Everything else was bought second-hand. "And I mean everything - from crockery to the sofa to the bed to the dining table. I'd get on my iPad at lunchtime, trawl through Dubizzle, call people up and go see them in the evening. If I liked something I'd buy it straight away."

Hunt's first purchase was a bed. Three weeks and Dh20,000 later, she had a fully-furnished home. She found a sofa - a beige three-seater that was originally from Pottery Barn and was still in mint condition - with relative ease, although she did pay slightly more for it than she would have liked. She struggled to find the perfect coffee table, but eventually came across a solid-wood option that now takes pride of place in the centre of her living room. "I spent a long time looking for the coffee table. It's from Kenya; they just make them on the side of the road. It's a really heavy piece of wood and I bought it from a South African lady."

Her greatest struggle was finding a dining table that was fit for purpose but still small enough to fit into her open-plan living and dining area without overwhelming the space.

"What tends to happen is you might see one piece and you'll get to someone's home and they'll be selling various other things as well. I saw the table and thought it was ideal because it was small and I'd be able to move it around. It was being sold by a Chinese-Canadian couple. They had a beautiful duplex penthouse apartment in the Marina and they'd lived in Beijing and I'd lived in Hong Kong, so we were talking about furniture and shopping and antiques and so on, and it sort of grew from there and the husband eventually said to me: 'If she likes you, she'll sell you more stuff'. So I also got some lamps, a cabinet and a screen from them."

Because she did not want to break up her space, Hunt placed the intricately carved wooden screen against the wall in her entranceway, where it immediately sets the tone for a space that is full of quirky, unusual finds. From the Chinese-inspired dining table (or mah-jongg table) to the Kenyan coffee table, Balinese art and Syrian cabinetry, Hunt's space is brimming with stories - and international references.

Hunt did not have a specific style or colour scheme in mind when she set off on her mission. Instead, the look of the apartment evolved with each purchase. "I think if you are going to do something like this, it has to grow naturally. I had some cushions that I rather liked and thought that I would use them as a starting point, but really it just grows organically as you find things. Every time you bring another layer in you look to build on that. For example, I looked for the bar stools for a long time. I wasn't looking for orange ones but when I found them, I just really liked them. I also bought a rug, which I found I didn't really need. When I got it here I realised it was bit redundant. But that's the beauty of Dubizzle. You can just sell things on again."

For those searching for second-hand bargains, Hunt's best piece of advice is to move fast. "You learn to be quick. You might see something on Dubizzle in the morning but the good stuff will be gone by the evening. So be quick."

And don't be afraid to haggle, particularly if you are buying more than one item from the same person. "I got some really good deals. But you have to be a bit polite," warns Hunt. "There is always some room for negotiation but people don't like being bullied."

You also need to find someone reliable to help you transfer your new finds. Hunt's Volkswagen Beetle came in handy for smaller pieces, and made many a trip loaded down with chairs, lamps and bedside tables, but when it came to the big stuff - the sofa and the bed, for example - she needed help. "You don't need a removals company; you just need a man with a van. But you have to make sure they are looking after your things, too, and not just chucking them in their van without thinking."

While she was keen to get her home furnished as soon as possible, Hunt admits that getting everything done in the space of three weeks was not easy.

"It was hard work, especially while working," she says. "I'd go and see stuff every evening. But you get to meet some really nice people. And it's about having a home again - having somewhere nice to come home to."

sdenman@thenational.ae

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