x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Little Luxuries: bringing affordable nostalgia into the home

This Dubai store has built a business on the idea that everybody should take a few minutes every day to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

Most of the products don't require a large, upfront investment.Duncan Chard for the National
Most of the products don't require a large, upfront investment.Duncan Chard for the National

It's chintzy, but in the best possible sense of the word. Pretty porcelain tea sets nudge against cake stands, cutlery, glassware and napkins. Distressed rattan furniture disappears under a deluge of cushions. There are parasols and felt cakes, miniature rocking horses and cutesy stationery, crafts sets and sewing kits. It's an explosion of florals, heart shapes, pastels and polka dots. And with its quaint, English country cottage charm, it couldn't be less "Dubai" if it tried. The Little Luxuries concept is chintzy all right, but unashamedly so.

Alafiyah Kagalwala, the company's founder, has built a business around the premise that everybody should take five minutes out of their day to put their feet up and enjoy a good cup of tea - one of life's little luxuries.

The British-born Alafiyah studied visual merchandising at the London College of Printing and went on to work at the Selfridges and Fenwick department stores. "I used to single-handedly do 21 windows," she says. Which explains the painstaking detail that goes into product display at the Little Luxuries stores.

It was 2004 when the newly married Alafiyah moved to Dubai and set about furnishing her home. To her surprise, she struggled to find products that she liked and ended up ordering most of her things from the UK. "I was looking for items that reminded me of the things I'd been brought up with - something that had a bit of substance and story. I didn't want everything to look new and I felt that everything you got in Dubai at that time looked very much the same. People were really pushing a certain style.

"My husband's background is in wallpaper, so he was always very in tune with colours, and he always supported me rather than saying, 'You can't just keep ordering things from other countries'. It sparked a passion in him as well, and maybe introduced him to a style that he wasn't previously exposed to. So we just had this idea - let's open a shop. We thought there must be like-minded people out there that would appreciate a certain style."

The first Little Luxuries store opened in Dubai's Al Ghazal Mall in 2006. Alafiyah had just given birth to her first child but "grabbed the bull by both horns", conscious that if she didn't do it then, she might never get around to it.

Unfortunately, the mall promised great things but didn't deliver, so Little Luxuries relocated to Jumeirah's Town Centre mall in 2008. "Even though it may not be one of the malls on your 'to do' list when you are visiting Dubai, Town Centre is an amazing community mall. It has given us faith that we are doing something that is very much needed in this market," Alafiyah says.

The brand has continued to experience strong growth, and earlier this year opened a second branch in The Arabian Centre in Mirdif, Dubai, which will enable it to tap into a completely different segment of the market. As it turns out, despite being a small, family-run business, Little Luxuries was perfectly positioned to weather the storm of the economic slowdown, Alafiyah says.

"When the recession did come in, we saw people buying more things like teaware because instead of going out they were inviting their friends to their homes and having tea parties. Our little sewing kits and craft kits and things like that also became very popular. It was people's way of slowing down."

While porcelain ware is the anchor of the store, the product mix has gradually been extended to include an extensive range of wallpaper, accessories for the kitchen - from vintage cake tins to bright plastic storage solutions - clocks, frames and, most recently, stationery, which is also proving extremely popular. "I'm so happy because it means people are still interested in writing letters; we're not a purely e-mail society yet," says Alafiyah.

Another recent addition to the portfolio is furniture, which promises to be a key focus area for the store, particularly as the new, more spacious Arabian Centre branch offers more opportunity to showcase larger items. However, that's not to say that the company will be abandoning its roots. Small, inexpensive, accessible items will always be the order of the day.

These "little luxuries" strike a chord precisely because they don't require a massive upfront investment. Teaware, in particular, is something that can be bought in stages, one cup at a time. "I keep that in mind when I am doing my buying - it's important that we don't offer such a unique collection that you can't add on to it. If you can't, for example, afford to buy the whole lot in one go, you can come back at a later date and we'll definitely have something that complements your collection."

For people who don't plan on staying in Dubai for long and don't want to spend heavily on furniture but still want to create a sense of home, Little Luxuries offers the perfect solution. "It's not difficult to buy a tea cup and a saucer," says Alafiyah. "It's a lot less permanent than wallpaper, for example, which is the other side of the business. I wanted everybody to have a little a bit of nostalgia and a little bit of history in their home, in whatever form.

"I'm not saying fill up your home and make it all look like this. You can just add little bits - it could be a notebook or a pencil case or a dustbin or a bed spread. If you want to go the whole hog, you can, but if you want just an element of it, you'll always find something here that will fit into your home."

For more information, visit http://littleluxuries.ae or call 04 349 4755.