x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Change is the constant

The blogger Monica Kapila has gathered the best of all worlds in her Arabian Ranches villa – and her flexible design philosophy has allowed her home to evolve organically, Melanie Hunt discovers.

Monica Kapila writes a lifestyle blog called Do in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Monica Kapila writes a lifestyle blog called Do in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

“When one is bored of shopping one is bored of life,” reflects Do in Dubai blogger Monica Kapila. “[But] there is more to shopping than a mall. Through the exploration of crafts, art and the colours, textures, materials and intrinsic style of each place you find on your travels, you make connections with other cultures and peoples.”

Kapila’s home in the Arabian Ranches illustrates her point beautifully, and highlights the international heritage of her family, her love of travel and her married life in London, Mumbai and Dubai.

In 2006, when the Kapila family moved to the UAE, they made Arabian Ranches their home as it was close to their daughters’ school and already had the beginnings of an established community, with a quality supermarket, considered landscaping and the Ranches golf club. “We thought we would be comfortable and happy here, and we have been,” she says.

The Kapila family went on to buy a six-bedroom, Al Maha (type 13) property off-plan and were the first to live in it when it was completed in 2007. They started with “a shell, with a sandpit for a garden”, says Kapila, which allowed them “do as we liked with it”.

She began by making some small adjustments to the interior layout. She raised the openings of the arches between the generous ground floor living spaces to create a more open feel, which, in turn, made the ceilings feel higher.

She also removed some of the pillar partitioning in the hall area, which improved the flow of the villa, and built an integrated shelving unit in the same stone finish as the walls.

Inspired by the grand antiques seen at hotels in India, a standout feature of the entrance hall is a large wooden chest bought by the couple during a trip to a wedding in Rajasthan. A carved panel displayed on the wall, depicting the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and lotus flowers, was spotted by Kapila hanging over a shop doorway on a visit to Chennai more than 20 years ago.

“It was our first trip to South India, and we desperately wanted to buy something. We were much younger and much poorer then, and couldn’t afford to go to the beautiful antiques shops or anything like that.” She was delighted when the shop owner indicated a willingness to sell the piece as she knew it would be a perfect accompaniment to the chest.

Kapila likes to let her design schemes evolve organically, by blending favourite pieces that complement each other. “For me, it’s slightly easier thinking like that, rather than being really prescriptive and doing the mood boards that the interior designers say you should do.

“Luckily my husband and I agree. We both love light and light spaces, and love colour. While in London we experimented with colour on walls, but felt here that we should go for neutral walls and then add colour with artwork and smaller things you can move around.”

This approach is highlighted, to dramatic effect, in the living/dining area. “The basic palate is savannah and safari tones of pampas grass and parchment (not white – too harsh), which is a versatile base and you can add most colours to it. I have always loved splashes of pink as it’s a bright, vibrant, lively colour and it’s timeless if you get the shades right.”

Extending the sophisticated pink accents, Kapila reupholstered and repurposed a chair brought from Kenya, in an offcut of Designers Guild fabric. She then dressed it with a pretty cotton cushion that she had made from a fabric sourced on a trip to Pondicherry.

Kapila’s creativity extends to the study of the house, where a number of her acrylic and oil paintings hang. This is where she writes her blog, Do in Dubai, a residents’ guide that shares her knowledge of shopping, eating and travelling. Ordered storage solutions and bright colours make this an inviting and highly practical additional space for family hobbies and homework.

In the three months before the Kapilas moved to their Al Maha home, additional external building works were completed to create a lush garden and pool area. “We didn’t have a patio when we came, so the first thing we did was to extend it quite a way behind the kitchen and also off the living/dining area. That whole idea of bringing the outside in was a very important part of our plan and we like the fact that the kitchen doors open straight out on to the garden patio and outdoor dining.

“We also changed the kitchen by having the dark wood kitchen unit doors spray-painted professionally, which makes the room look much bigger than before.”

In the second downstairs sitting room, a pair of striking collages by artist Rosemary Karuga are displayed. These were purchased by Kapila’s husband while in Kenya, his childhood home. “Like a lot of East African art, they reflect the Arab and Islamic roots of that region.”

In recent times, the couple have started dipping their toes into the world of online auctions, and have invested in some paintings by Adimoolam and Vaikuntam from Saffron Art in India. “You can read a little about the artists beforehand, so it’s easy to bid. It may sound a bit of a cliché, but just buy what you want to look at,” she says.

When the couple first lived in Mumbai and didn’t yet have children, they used to visit a local gallery where they bought a number of paintings by Pardeshi, which now hang in their dining room. One of these, Watching the Flood, particularly resonates as a reminder of those early days. “It was during the monsoon and I felt very much like these people watching the rain, which seemed endless.”

A second painting by the same artist picks up Mumbai’s coastal connections and features fisherwomen selling the catch.

By blending paintings, furniture and objects, Kapila has created a home that chronicles the journey and growth of a family, and resonates still with connections to people and places visited, and homes faraway.