x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Bold furniture and Middle Eastern art make for a quirky Jumeirah villa

A masterful melding of iconic and statement furnishings, modern art and few obstructions, this Dubai villa is an inspiring space.

A yellow version of Mies van der Rohe's instantly-recognisable Barcelona chair is set against a dramatic piece of art. Antonie Robertson / The National
A yellow version of Mies van der Rohe's instantly-recognisable Barcelona chair is set against a dramatic piece of art. Antonie Robertson / The National

We are in George Salamoun's exquisite-looking living room, flipping through pictures of some of his design projects. There are luxury offices and swish art galleries, a signature villa on The Palm and a contemporary, light-filled apartment in the Marina.

Four years ago, the Dubai-based Salamoun left a successful 15-year career in finance to pursue his passion, interior design. He set up Quarters UAE, a turnkey design practice - and hasn't looked back since. He has worked with a number of high-profile clients, from multi-national companies to high net-worth individuals. "I always did it personally. I collect art and buy furniture from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Then I got my break four years ago. I was given the opportunity to do a villa on The Palm and that led to other things.

"It was second nature for me. I had this kind of undiscovered talent that I took for granted all these years. But a friend of mine fired his architect and asked me if I would like to design his home on The Palm. And I said, 'Really, you would trust me to do that?'."

Ensconced in the comfort of Salamoun's four-bedroom home in Jumeirah, it is easy to see why this friend would be so trusting. Colourful, quirky and masterfully put together, it is a flawless advertisement for Salamoun's design capabilities.

He moved to the house with his wife and two children nearly three years ago, when the economic downturn and falling rents presented an opportunity to upsize. "For me, Jumeirah is very central. It's an expat community, it is clean, it is close to the malls, yet far enough away from the malls, and there are good schools nearby. It is very accessible," says the Lebanese national.

He was won over by this property because of its high ceilings and bright, open spaces. In the large living and dining area, he capitalised on these features by leaving the floor-to-ceiling windows free of curtains, allowing natural light to stream into the space. The windowsills were repainted from a dull, dark green to a light grey. Accentuating the feeling of openness, the living and dining areas merge into one another, separated only by a single, narrow console table.

"I don't like to put a lot of obstructions in a space. Life is already full of obstructions - whether they are psychological or physical. You have traffic lights and you have doors and all of those things, so you want to go home and feel comfortable. If you have the comfort of space, what's the point of blocking it with furniture?"

When it came to furniture, Mr Salamoun opted for distinctive, iconic-looking pieces by big-name European brands such as Minotti, B&B Italia, Knoll and Vitra. In the living area, a white three-seater sofa is flanked by a medley of statement chairs. There are design classics such as the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair, as well as pieces by emerging talents. The Edna Rocking chair by Lebanese designer Karim Chaya, an unlikely mix of solid French oak and Carrara marble, is Salamoun's latest acquisition. It was bought during last year's Design Days Dubai.

Elsewhere, a pair of colourful patchwork chairs by Lebanese design house Bokja create an intimate seating area in the entrance hall, and a yellow version of Mies van der Rohe's famous Barcelona chair is set against a dramatic, oversized piece of art to stunning effect. Each chair acts as a sculpture in its own right. "I like chairs. A lot. You can probably tell," laughs Salamoun. "Every chair is comfortable in its own way. You get a different seating experience. And no, I don't always end up sitting in the same one."

Other furniture pieces are equally eye-catching. An old wood-and-metal cabinet is used to display books, but started life as a mail sorting unit in a factory in the south of France. For the dining room, Salamoun chose a sprawling glass table designed by Norman Foster, paired with wire chairs by Charles Eames. A side unit by Nada Debs combines white lacquered wood and mother of pearl with a bright yellow interior. Light fittings are also characterised by their uniqueness, from the bone china pendants bought online from Original BTC that hang over the dining table to the original vintage studio light by AE Cremer that stands proudly in the corner.

While furniture is important, it is accessories and art that really make or break a space, says Salamoun. "I lived in Europe, mainly in London and Paris, and had a chance to go to flea markets and immerse myself in the design world there. I have spent ten years picking up little things for my home."

For the walls, Salamoun selected bold, arresting paintings by contemporary Middle Eastern artists, bought from local galleries such as Ayyam and Etemad. Occupyinga place over the sofa is a bright abstract, Trial No. 29; A Vision in the Colors of Gauguin, by Syrian artist Mouteea Murad, hung on a bare concrete wall for striking contrast.

"If you want to make a real difference to your interior, buy art. Art fills spaces. It doesn't have to be to everybody's taste - as long as you like it. I don't think you can go wrong with art. It's better than choosing the wrong furniture."

The success of the space lies in Salamoun's ability to take a series of highly distinct pieces and make them work together. Each element complements the next and everything has been artfully combined to create a visually impressive and unified whole. However bold or striking, no single piece overwhelms - not even the bright yellow sculpture of a screaming head.

For more information, visit www.quartersworld.com