x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Art and photos create welcoming environment in Jumeriah

In My Place For the founder of Kids' Theatre Works in Dubai, memorable objects and pictures of her daughter make this villa a home.

Emily bought the Ali Lamu artwork above her bed on a trip to Kenya. Antonie Robertson / The National
Emily bought the Ali Lamu artwork above her bed on a trip to Kenya. Antonie Robertson / The National

I've lived in Dubai for 29 years. I came here as a teenager in 1982 with my family, and my father and brother are still here. I went to boarding school in the UK and then university in Canada, where I studied drama and theatrical arts. I came back here in 1995 and met my soon-to-be husband. After that, we went sailing for three years around Thailand and as far as Malaysia. While I was doing that I realised that I wanted to work with children and do drama with them.

I came back and started teaching at schools. I was pregnant with my daughter, Skye, at the time. Soon after she was born I became a lone parent. When Ductac (Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre) eventually opened, I made that my base. It all happened by accident and now I'm fortunate to say that my business, Kids' Theatre Works, is thriving. We have 400 students and do a whole variety of drama classes.

We moved into this house in Jumeirah in January. Before that we lived in an apartment on Sheikh Zayed Road. It was a big three-bedroom apartment but once the Metro was built, that was our view because we were on the second floor. It sometimes felt like we were on the set of Blade Runner.

This house found us; we didn't find it. I probably would have stayed in that apartment because the rent was affordable, the security was good and the property management company was awesome. But a friend of mine told me about this house and something inside of me said, "Go see it."

I love the proximity to the beach - it's 134 paces to the sand - and the fact that we have garden all the way around the house. The light in the house is always fresh. And although it meant that I would be spending a little bit more to live here, I just thought about my daughter's childhood. There are a couple of trees that she climbs with her friends, and we sometimes go for walks on the beach before school.

It's also great because everyone around us is local, so you really feel like you are in Dubai. We go to a little Iranian grocery that's family run and they are so warm and lovely.

The first thing people talk about when they walk into the house is the energy they feel. A couple of people have said, "It's so you, Emily." I like that. It's the dearest compliment to have people feel welcomed by the energy in your home.

In terms of furniture, I brought pretty much everything with me from my old apartment. Some things I would like to move and replace. When I moved off the boat, I literally had nothing so I started buying little bits at a time. My purple couches came from The One eight years ago, because they were cheap at the time. I probably wouldn't choose them again today but I'm not someone who just throws things away.

There's a painting on the wall that I created during a spontaneous expression course. It was an exercise in working with your non-dominant hand, so it's not about the product, it's about the process. Because you are working from the other side of your brain, it's just what comes.

When I see things that I like, I just pick them up. I like my little statue of the goddess Nike. Then there's the wooden frame that I got from Tanzania. I'd never even heard of shabby chic; I just liked it.

I love my Ali Lamu artwork, which I bought in Lamu in Kenya. I first visited Lamu in February 2009 for my 40th birthday, and now I can't think of anywhere else that I want to go anymore. I went this November and then again in December.

The story behind Ali Lamu is that Ali was a Kenyan fisherman who didn't have his own dhow. He needed to make some money so he asked Daniela Bateleur of the My Eye Gallery for a job. She said, "I don't have any work but could you get me an old dhow sail?"

He came back with a 50-year-old sail that had a big hole in it. The story is that Daniela had just moved to Lamu with a massively broken heart. And apparently she saw this sail and said, "That's like the hole in my heart." So together they painted a big red heart around this hole. That was their first piece. They then started creating art together and the proceeds went towards Ali being able to buy his own dhow. Quite by accident, they fell in love and got married.

Everything that I look at in this house brings a smile to my face. A lot of it has to do with having photographs of Skye around the house, and the fact that we share this space - that we're not afraid to mess it up or dance like crazy in the living room.

Home for me has everything to do with Skye. Home is about the life Skye and I have created together. It's about her and I, and our connection.

Emily Madghachian is the founder of Kids' Theatre Works. For more information, visit www.kidstheatreworks.com or e-mail hello@kidstheatreworks.com. For more information on Ali Lamu, visit www.alilamu.com.