After years of living along the bustling Sheikh Zayed Road, a Dubai couple finds a quiet and ideal location among the fronds of Palm Jumeirah.
Off the Market: Palm Jumeirah 'is everything we hoped it would be'
Peter and Gill Bennett, originally from the UK, bought their villa in 2003 and are among Palm Jumeirah's longest residents.
Three-storey Garden Home on a frond of Palm Jumeirah.
Bought off-plan in 2003, with the optional third storey included in the design for Dh3.2m. At the time, the basic two-storey design cost Dh2.6m, or Dh2.8m with an optional fifth bedroom.
Originally a Grand Foyer design, the villa has a built-up area of slightly more than 6,000 square feet on a standard plot size of 13,000 square feet. The villa fronts on to a private road shared with the other frond villas, while at the rear is a small garden with a pool, and steps leading directly down to the beach.
We had been in Dubai for a number of years, living in rented accommodation but I was really impressed by the idea of Palm Jumeirah. We went along to the so-called sales office when it was really just a fairly rustic bungalow in one of the Hundred Villas where Dubai Marina is now. They had designs on the walls that bore very little relation to what became the finished product and a rather fabulous model of the whole thing, and that was about it. But I put my name on the mailing list and popped in every so often just to keep track of things. I reckoned it was going to be a really interesting place to live.
And then things really started to move quickly - first there was an e-mail sent round at the end of the Arabian Travel Market announcing a 99-year leasehold for non-GCC owners. Then Asteco was appointed sales agent, and on the Wednesday night prices were announced. Just the next morning, on the Thursday, freehold was also announced, so I went straight round to the office to book my villa. There were only a couple of people there at the time, but of course by the end of the weekend, it was mobbed.
(Bennett believes that his home is the very first villa on Palm Jumeirah to have been secured for purchase by the payment of a deposit. Other properties had been allocated to various future owners prior to the launch of public sales, but his was the first deposit accepted by the selling agent Asteco.)
We bought the three-storey version of one of the original Signature villa designs, but we've done rather a lot of work to it since. One of the things you probably wouldn't notice is the entrance foyer. This used to be the full height of the first floor and created a great big void, but we put a new floor in and created a new space, which is now my office. Downstairs was a series of fairly small rooms, so I took out most of the internal walls and built the full-sized chiller cabinet. The kitchen is in the middle of the house, but my wife, Gill, wanted to be able to look out to the ocean instead of the back of the house next door. Chris of Mark Wilkinson kitchens was a great help, and though we wanted some very specific things he managed to fit it all in and make it work, and now you really can stand there and gaze out to sea.
We really wanted something light and airy and open, to really take advantage of our location beside the sea - not quite New England beach house, but a cool, modern, contemporary look and feel. I think we've done that. Now we have a kitchen that looks over the dining and living areas and the terrace outside, so you're always able to see and talk to people instead of being shut away.
We've remodelled the rest of the house, too, mainly making better use of the space and organising it in the way we wanted it to be. I've closed off access to one of the bedrooms to make a new gym and installed a steam room. We replaced all the windows with slimmer and more elegant frames (the old ones were heavy, dark and industrial), and we enlarged the kitchen windows. Outside, I laid decking to create a proper dining space, using a special kind of board from the UK that is a combination of recycled plastic and reclaimed timber. Inside, we moved some of the bathrooms around, retiled them and put in new units that are a bit more stylish than the originals.
One of my pet peeves is exposed cabling - I mean, what's the point of mounting a nice, big flat-panel TV on the wall if you're going to have wires dangling from it? So all the cabling is hidden, the wires chased into the walls and the speakers motorised and concealed in the ceiling so they only come down when you're watching something. I think in total there's something like five and a half kilometres of Cat 5 cable in the whole house for the wiring and AV systems.
We're not finished yet - I'm still working on turning the third storey into a sort of loft space for relaxing, and may put another barbecue up there on the terrace as well.
The peace and quiet. After the hustle and bustle of Sheikh Zayed Road, it's really nice to get back here and escape all the noise and traffic. It really is a great place to be.
The helicopters. Because Palm Jumeirah is what it is, we get sightseeing tours flying low over the houses, and because we face out over open water, the sound can reverberate. Between Christmas and New Year we were getting three or four flights buzzing the house every hour.
It's everything we hoped it would be and more. We bought the house because Palm Jumeirah was iconic and we wanted to live there, and now that we do, it doesn't disappoint. We enjoy it every single day.
Peter Bennett was speaking to Jonathan Castle