For the first residents of Saadiyat Island, a St Regis flat offers the perfect mix of convenience, community and a healthy family environment, finds Selina Denman
Life's a beach when you're the first living at The Residences at the St Regis Saadiyat Island
Soon after the birth of their son, Niclas, Thomas and Julia Pueschel decided that Abu Dhabi's Tourist Club Area, where they had lived since 2007, was not an ideal place to bring up a child.
Despite the fact they were living in a spacious four-bedroom apartment in the centre of the city that offered a gym, rooftop pool and panoramic views of Abu Dhabi, the Pueschels did not feel that the area offered the kind of child-friendly environment that they wanted for their firstborn.
"It was a very urban neighbourhood," says Thomas. "As long as Niclas was in a pushchair things were OK but we didn't want him to grow up between parked cars. It's very sad to see a child growing up that way."
It took the couple a long time to find a suitable alternative - Niclas is now four - but earlier this year, they became the first people to take up residence on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island.
"We were looking around for a while but we couldn't find anything that was both suitable and affordable. We didn't want to move too far off the island so we looked at places like Raha Gardens," says Thomas, who moved to the UAE from his native Germany eight years ago and is a project manager at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, SEHA.
Thomas and Julia, who works in communications and higher education, heard about the launch of The Residences at the St Regis Saadiyat Island on the radio and, during subsequent trips to Dubai, decided to go via Saadiyat and take a look. "My wife called them up straightaway. We made an appointment, we had a look at the apartments and we immediately decided to move here."
The Residences - 259 apartments and 32 villas nestled between a Gary Player-designed championship golf course and a stunning expanse of beach - is the first residential element in TDIC's mixed-use Saadiyat project to come online. In addition to the beachside location, one of the project's biggest selling points is that residents can avail of all facilities at the adjoining 377-room St Regis resort, including seven food and beverage outlets, the region's first Iridium Spa, tennis and squash courts, an athletics club and five swimming pools. Residents can even have their breakfast delivered to their door, should they be so inclined.
The Pueschels were immediately won over by the St Regis lifestyle promise - relaxed beachside living with a community feel - and signed up for a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor of The Residences.
They were also impressed by the quality of the apartment's interior finishes, says Thomas, who has a background in architecture. "What I really like about this place is that someone really had an idea and an agenda when they were designing it. This is honestly the best finish that I've ever seen in any apartment in Abu Dhabi. And I've seen quite a lot. What you get for the price is very good. We looked at various other apartments and we found that this was definitely the best value for money, in terms of neighbourhood, location and finishes."
Small things, like the fact that the maid's room is of a decent size and has separate access, a walk-in wardrobe and its own bathroom, set the apartment apart.
All rooms have large en-suite bathrooms equipped with bathtubs and walk-in rain showers, as well as small niches in the wall of the shower enclosure where you can keep your toiletries. There is a good amount of storage space and a utility room just off the kitchen that is large enough to house a dishwasher, dryer and washing machine. The master bedroom offers ample wardrobe space, as well as a large balcony overlooking the golf course.
"It has more of a hotel finish," says Thomas. "That's a St Regis thing, I think. A property has to have a level of finish for them to put their name to it."
Of course, the move also entailed certain sacrifices, most notably space. The Pueschels are avid art lovers, with a collection that includes original pieces by the New York-based Tiggy Ticehurst, works bought in Germany or gathered over countless trips to Sri Lanka, lesser-known prints by Dali and ones by Picasso that are reportedly signed by one of the artist's grandchildren. Many of these currently lie stacked on the floor.
"We have less wall space to hang all the pictures here so there are plenty that aren't up yet," explains Thomas. "We have considerably less space in general then at our last place. We used to have four bedrooms and a study, and a living room that was double the size. But this is a different lifestyle and I'm happy to make that compromise."
It now takes him slightly longer to get to and from work, although travel time is still under half an hour in each direction. In addition, because the apartments are brand new, there have been some teething problems, but the in-house maintenance team has been effective at addressing these quickly and smoothly, he says.
The couple is also having to deal with the consequences of being pioneers in a large-scale development that is not yet fully complete. For example, at present, there aren't any retail facilities in the vicinity, so even buying something as simple as a bottle of milk involves a car journey.
"In the old days, if we went shopping and forgot something, it wouldn't really matter. At the moment if we forget anything it always means a drive. However, they are planning to open some retail facilities here so we might have a small grocery store or something." According to TDIC, construction of a retail complex at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort has been completed and units are available for leasing. The Collection is scheduled to open to the public late this year and will consist of 22 retail outlets, including a supermarket, pharmacy and gift shops. Food and beverage options and a valet service (which will complement the development's existing 2,000 parking spaces) will also become available at this time.
"The good thing is it will only get more and more convenient for us as the shops start to open and more facilities start coming on board," says Thomas.
At the same time, both Thomas and Julia are hoping that some parts of the wider development - particularly the Shangri-La and Rotana hotels that will be located just along the beach from the St Regis - will be delayed, so that they can have the place relatively to themselves for that little bit longer, even if, as of last month, there are already 350 people living in the St Regis apartments.
"It feels very private now. The two hotel projects will mean that there will be a lot more people in the area. And there'll be a lot more people on the beach."
Thomas remembers sitting on the beach near his apartment a few weeks ago, watching as a pod of dolphins played in the surf. Behind him, the sun was setting over the Abu Dhabi skyline. He was struck by the dichotomy of the setting, and by how happy he was in his new home.
"It feels like before, when we were living in Germany. You would do much more socialising; you would go somewhere, meet people and do things spontaneously. For example, I recently received a text message from our neighbour asking if we were going to the beach. He joined us with some other friends. We sat on the beach and the kids were all playing, and then he invited us over for a drink. You don't have to call people up and make an appointment to see them three weeks in advance. Basically, all our expectations have been more or less fulfilled."