Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

A Dubai villa that's 'a little James Bond': A look inside a stunning property transformation in Jumeirah Golf Estates

Ripping out walls and building new ones, interior designer Giovanna Gemmell transformed her Jumeirah Golf Estates villa to make it stand out

Wandering past the grassy lawns and neatly trimmed hedgerows of the terracotta-roofed residences inside Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates feels a little intrusive to the outsider. Scotswoman Giovanna Gemmell, a relative newcomer to the community, instantly loved the tranquil atmosphere and knew it was the perfect place to put down roots after 15 years in the Emirates. It was also a good excuse for the interior designer to finally unleash her professional skills on her own personal place.

We are welcomed into a bright, quintessentially modern hallway floored with geometric grey ceramic tiles beside tall, glossed skirting boards. Gemmell’s two adorable Cocker Spaniel dogs bark a friendly “hello”. She introduces contractor Matt Wilds, founder of Signature Living and the man responsible for managing the almost-complete overhaul of the villa over the last 12 months. Together, Gemmell and Wilds have transformed these interiors from dark, dated and heavy into an open-spaced, light-filled home.

“This is my favourite room in the house because it really is the heart of it,” says Gemmell as she shows us to the kitchen. We gather around the stunning, quartz-topped island that’s finished in a deep navy blue and crafted by Wilds and his team.

Signature Living specialises in creating bespoke kitchen spaces, and the team does every inch of the job themselves, from initial ideas and drawings through to custom-making every cabinet, drawer and door at their Dubai Investments Park factory. “This means we have complete control over the process and the finished result,” Wilds explains, as he walks us around the island and swings open what initially looks like a cabinet door, but is actually a hidden entrance to a fully-kitted-out, walk-in pantry.

Over to the other side of the room, there’s another obscured door, cleverly disguised as part of a row of sleek, white, panelled kitchen cupboards. It takes us into a spacious laundry and utility room. “It also means we can build furniture to fit any space in any dimension,” he adds. “And create secret rooms and storage spaces like these.” It’s all starting to feel a little James Bond.

Signature Living specialises in creating bespoke kitchen spaces, and the team does every inch of the job themselves. Anna Nielsen for the National
Signature Living specialises in creating bespoke kitchen spaces, and the team does every inch of the job themselves. Anna Nielsen for the National

While this is impressive, it’s the outside space that’s been through the greatest change on the ground floor, says Wilds. Where the kitchen island stands today, is where his team removed walls that contained a central outdoor courtyard.

They then enclosed the space and covered it with a spectacular glass skylight that floods the area with natural light and warmth. It’s another typically British touch, which is not Gemmell’s usual style, she adds. “But with this house I tried to do this intentionally, using things like the herringbone floor tiles and the doorway ­architrave detail, simply because I’ve never used this look in previous homes before – although my style has always been very classic, which remains throughout this house, too.”

A distinctive wall of clocks catches our eye on the way to the downstairs powder room, which is painted in a dramatically darker hue (Whale Watch by Jotun Paints), contrasting with the rest of the house, which is mostly decorated in Jotun’s Timeless.

A distinctive wall of clocks catches our eye on the way to the downstairs powder room. Anna Nielsen / The National
A distinctive wall of clocks catches our eye on the way to the downstairs powder room. Anna Nielsen / The National

As we come back through the entranceway, Gemmell explains how the original wall facing the front door formerly contained a heavily tinted internal window. “I handed a sketch of three, rectangular, slim glass panels to Matt to create to replace this, and the end result is so ­striking.” Downlit with tiny LED lights in the evening to invoke a relaxed atmosphere, it’s almost a feature wall in itself, such is the detail in the design and execution.

We step down into the formal lounge and notice the softer, muted light cast across the neutral palette used in the soft furnishings here. This is a quiet space and a window looks out on to the sweeping travertine stone terrace and pool area that overlooks the development’s pristine golf course. “We wanted to create a more grown-up, Ibiza-terrace feel out here, keeping the colours and materials as natural and light as possible, with the view of the green being the focus.”

Gemmell worked with Al Kous building and landscaping to create a stylish, sunken majlis seating area in the centre of the terrace, complete with a firepit and custom-made cushions for that extra-luxurious feel. To the left of it stands an imposing stone pergola shading a long, wood-carved dining table from Dubai’s Safita Furniture. They are still waiting for the delivery of a bespoke barbecue counter and pizza oven, which will ­certainly add to the “wow” factor when it comes to entertaining out here.

One of Giovanna Gemmell’s cocker spaniels relaxes in their new home. Anna Nielsen / The National. 
One of Giovanna Gemmell’s cocker spaniels relaxes in their new home. Anna Nielsen / The National. 

The star of the show, though, has to be the fibreglass ­swimming pool, made by Pools By Design in Dubai. “I was determined to go for a white pool as I really wanted to keep the look as light and bright as possible, even though I knew the upkeep would be more difficult – which it is,” Gemmell admits, as we watch an inviting inflatable bob lazily on the water. “This is the second pool this company has designed for me and each time the whole process has been stress-free – they put a couple of designs together based on your ideas, you tweak them until you’re happy and then they bring a crane and drop it in. Job done.”

As we move upstairs, walking past the custom-made glass banister that replaced a heavy, wrought-iron and dark-wood structure, we head first to the master bathroom, which showcases another dramatic transformation in the property. Under Wild’s careful supervision, a large balcony has been fully enclosed and transformed into a spacious walk-through powder room and statement bathroom, complete with a classic, curved, stand-alone bathtub and huge rain shower by Jaquar World in Sheikh Zayed Road. “It’s very luxurious. It’s absolutely gorgeous, I have to say. I do love it.”

Inside the master bedroom, the focal point is an imposing, midnight-blue, king-sized bed from online furniture retailer, helmii. Opposite, a former archway has been replaced by a panelled double-doorway, handcrafted by the Signature Living team, disguising any potentially untidy-looking shelving and rails.

The same herringbone-laid, wooden-­effect ceramic tiles line the floor here and Gemmell reveals how much of a cost-saver they were, despite their high-end look. “This entire house was done – because I am very cost-­conscious – on a budget, with most of the floor and wall tiles from Dragon Mart and RAK Ceramics. We splurged on things like the kitchen and the master bathroom, as they are areas we use every day, but other than that, we sourced items online or while travelling in the US and South Africa.”

So what is it that makes this Scottish expat love living here so much? “It’s the trees, the smell of cut grass, the birds and the quiet,” she replies. “It just feels like home.” As another brightly coloured lorikeet darts overhead, the morning sunlight dapples through the trees across the poolside and the gentle hum of a lawnmower starts up in the distance, I’m inclined to agree.

Updated: June 22, 2019 12:14 PM

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