Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Home of the week: More than a Hobby in Arabian Ranches

We meet a long-time Dubai resident who has transformed her family’s Arabian Ranches house into a space full of life, treasures and priceless works of art.
The grand piano, beneath multicoloured pop-art prints, at Judith Hobby's family home. Reem Mohammed / The National
The grand piano, beneath multicoloured pop-art prints, at Judith Hobby's family home. Reem Mohammed / The National

Judith Hobby’s home is a hive of activity – dogs scampering from room to room; cats being shooed off counters; a lone budgie twittering away in the kitchen; and teenagers bursting through the door at the end of the school day.

The New Zealander moved into the Saheel community of Arabian Ranches with her husband and two sons nine years ago. They had decided to buy a house in Dubai and, at the time, the only real options were The Meadows and Arabian Ranches. “When we got here, we walked into the show home and I thought: ‘This is it.’ We really like modernist architecture and we liked the open-plan layout and clean lines of this house. There are also a lot of windows, so a lot of natural light,” Hobby says.

They were one of the first families to move into the now-burgeoning community – at the time, there was no golf club and the local school was only just opening. As a result, the family has watched the residential development grow, and become an ingrained part of the ­community.

“I love living here,” says Hobby. “I really enjoy that there are different architectural styles within the development. It makes it far more interesting than some of the other communities in Dubai. It’s like living in a village within a city – you go to the supermarket and you’ll bump into people you know. When the children were small, I could say to them: ‘Be home when the street lights come on.’ That’s what I had as a child, but that doesn’t really exist anymore anywhere else.”

Hobby, who has lived in the Middle East for 22 years and in Dubai for almost 17, is the founder of the Judith Hobby Clothing fashion line. While the business was previously largely web-based, Hobby opened a dedicated show space in Dubai’s Studio City last year. The brand was established to offer comfortable, stylish, reasonably priced clothing that can be worn by a range of age groups, she explains.

“I believe that you can be completely comfortable but still look funky. The focus in Dubai is very much on youth and on clothing for the young. That’s valid, but after you reach a certain age you are forgotten. My clothes are easy to wear, appropriate to this region and everything is machine-washable. Everything has to be easy. I don’t believe that style and comfort are mutually exclusive.”

It’s an ethos that Hobby has clearly carried through into the design of her home. The living areas are an eclectic mix of items gathered over a number of years. Dominating one corner of the living room is a grand piano, flagged by multicoloured pop-art prints of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. The piano is a family heirloom – Hobby’s mother-in-law was a concert pianist and bequeathed it to the family when she passed away. “My husband plays it every day for half an hour in the morning, just to clear his head,” she says.

Furniture ranges from a Marina sofa and Ikea chairs to a dining table that was custom-made in Bali 16 years ago. “We were in Bali and I wanted a table of a certain length, and that was a bit wider than usual, so I had one made out of recycled teak planks. That was lots of fun – we were laying out all these planks on a dusty old factory floor.”

At the other end of the scale are iconic Eames, Le Corbusier and Barcelona chairs, which play to the couple’s love of modernist design and architecture. “We ­always liked pieces that have been influenced by Bauhaus and the like. We wanted something that was in keeping with the feel of the architecture – clean, modern and quite neutral in tone.”

This understated palette serves to accentuate the family’s extensive collection of modernist art. On the walls are pieces by Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí (although Hobby admits to being a little dubious about the provenance of the Dalí). There’s also a Damien Hirst hanging in the kitchen.

“We started with the Picasso, which was one of those impulse buys,” Hobby explains. “We were on a cruise ship and there was an art auction. That got us into it. Then my husband, Gerard, was travelling a lot to New York, which gave us access to all these other interesting pieces. We’d love to keep going, but we’ve run out of wall space, so unless we start hanging things on the ceilings, we’re a bit stuck.” Anything is possible. Over the past nine years, the Hobby home has been through various manifestations and is constantly evolving. Early on, the family built separate maid’s quarters, with a proper kitchen and bathroom, and a separate entrance; wooden floors were put in to the living areas and a swimming pool in the garden; a fireplace in the centre of the living areas was removed to create a more open, airy space; an alcove under the stairs was converted into a cool workspace; and the en suite bathroom in the master bedroom was completely revamped.

More recently, two atriums that extended up from the ground to the first floor of the property were filled in, creating a room on the upper storey with space for a single bed, bringing the house’s overall room-count to, she says, “four and a half”. Banisters on the staircase were replaced, and all of the property’s woodwork has been repainted in white – “It’s so fresh and clean,” ­remarks Hobby. “I wish I’d done it years ago”.

The kitchen has also been entirely remodelled. The large, light-filled space, with a big central counter that acts as a family hub, was redone on a budget, but you’d never know. “I put the existing kitchen on Dubizzle, found a contractor to come in and help, and put in an Ikea one in instead,” says Hobby. “With the kitchen, I didn’t use any upper cabinetry, I just relied on lower cabinetry. The way I designed it, I made sure I didn’t lose out on any storage space, but it makes the whole place feel so much bigger. People were convinced that I had moved a wall.”

At the heart of the Hobby home is a belief that a house should be lived in, and that pieces from various countries, in a variety of styles and ranging widely in value, can all be made to happily coexist.

Hobby recalls a piece of advice she received more than 20 years ago in Istanbul that she has carried with her ever since. “I was in the Blue Souq contemplating whether to buy these kilim cushions and struggling to decide whether they would go with the rest of my pieces, and the guy said to me: ‘If you like it, it will go. Trust your taste. As long as you like it, it will all fit ­together.’”


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Updated: April 2, 2015 04:00 AM