Making your home look unique is increasingly tricky in an age of identikit stores and mass-produced furniture, but the UAE has plenty of independents that can solve that problem, writes Pallavi Dean.
The UAE’s independent stores that take you off the beaten interior-design track
Big furniture stores are fine, but for something that stands out in your home, you have to be a little more adventurous. Literally. Independent outlets may not be in the big shopping malls, so you’ll often find yourself driving in circles around obscure industrial areas, searching for a tiny shop front or workshop. It’s worth it. The UAE is home to a host of boutique furniture retailers that boast two things that the chains cannot match: unique pieces and dedicated, informed staff who genuinely care about design. Often, the owner will be the one greeting you at the door – how many times has Ingvar Kamprad been waiting with a handshake and an espresso at the entrance to Ikea?
You need two things to shop at Caspaiou: money and patience. Money because it supplies genuine European designer furniture with price tags to match. Patience because most of what it sells is made to order at workshops in Spain or Italy and then shipped to the UAE. This can take three months, or longer in the summer when the factories shut down for August. It’s worth the wait partly because the furniture is beautifully designed and made, but mainly because the owners Hans and Marijke Bruinsma are so passionate, knowledgeable and helpful. The store itself is a small, slightly quirky show home over two floors of an otherwise bland retail space on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, close to many of the car showrooms.
• Showroom 4, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, between interchanges 2 and 3. www.caspaiou.com
“A’thath” is the Arabic word for furniture, but you won’t find clichéd Arabesque pieces here. The buzzwords at Ath Ath are modernism and minimalist, so it’s no surprise that Scandinavian designers feature prominently. Here, you can buy the kind of cutting-edge sofas, lights, accessories and even kitchens that grace the pages of design magazines such as Wallpaper and Dezeen.
• Office 211, Blue Bay Tower, Al Abraj Street, Business Bay, Dubai. www.athath.ae
With Al Quoz becoming almost mainstream, Kasa’s location deep inside the Ras Al Khor industrial area of Dubai adds a new rawness and edginess. Indeed, the owner, Khalid Shafar, says that his vision is to transform Ras Al Khor into a design district. Time will only tell whether he can pull that off, but he’s certainly succeeded in creating a valuable addition to Dubai’s furniture scene. Shafar is a proud Emirati and Kasa (Italian for home) is a showroom for his own designs, and those of other designers based in the Emirates. Every object on display is designed and made in the UAE. We warn you – it’s not easy to find but your perseverance will pay off. Follow the E44 (Hatta Road) and take the first right after the E66 (Al Ain Road) and remember to print the map on the Kasa website. Good luck.
• No. 7, Street 22a – Community 612, Ras Al Khor Industrial 1, Dubai. www.khalidshafar.com/kasa
Trading hubs and port cities have a unique energy and lifestyle – lots of people make plenty of money and lots of people come and go. The team at Indigo learnt this in Hong Kong, where they opened their first store in 1979, and they’ve replicated the model in Dubai. One of Indigo’s unique selling points is that you can rent high-end furniture as well as buy it, so there’s no need to put up with the ghastly sofa and tables that come with serviced accommodation if you’re only in the UAE for a few months. Check out the collection by the award-winning British designer Kelly Hoppen, which she says is “inspired by all the great vintage pieces I have used over the years”.
• Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai (beach side) next to Safa Park Interchange. www.indigo-interiors.com Pier Import
Strictly speaking, Pier Import doesn’t qualify as a small, independent store. The brand was born in California in the 1960s and has grown into Pier 1 Imports and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. We include it here because in the UAE it looks and feels every inch the boutique. The Emirati interior designer Faisal Al Mutawa opened the first Pier Import in Dubai 16 years ago, but has resisted the urge to go mass market. Today, it boasts just two stores – the original in Dubai and a second in Abu Dhabi. Despite its American roots, the collection feels more French/European. Sofas, chairs and beds are predominantly classic designs with a modern twist, while the accessories tend to be a bit more adventurous, with some genuinely quirky and innovative pieces.
• Stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. www.pierimport-me.com
This UAE retailer has been producing its own range of traditional furniture since the 1990s. Designs are inspired by and made in three main regions: Arabia, Africa and India. Heritage Touch began life with a single store in Abu Dhabi and, while it has expanded since then, it retains the character of an independent. It has a decent range of staple furniture such as beds, sofas, tables and chairs, but the more interesting pieces are indoor swings, thick wooden doors and wall art that you’d rarely find in a mall.
• Stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
DragonMart is not for the faint-hearted. You have to dig through an awful lot of tat, but persevere and there are some nuggets to be found. Not so much furniture – you’re unlikely to find your ideal sofa and matching chairs. But for accessories, fixtures and fittings, it’s hard to beat. Wooden flooring, lighting, fabric, wallpaper, bathroom equipment – the point about DragonMart is that you can get this stuff at a fraction of the normal price, freeing up budget for your dream designer four-poster bed. Try Xitong International for wallpaper and Eastman Building Materials for stone flooring.
• Hatta Road (E44), Dubai. www.dragonmart.ae
Pinky’s dates back to the 1980s, which makes it something of an institution in the UAE. Its trademark is ethnic-looking wooden furniture sourced mainly from India. Sadly, Pinky’s has shut its original Sharjah warehouse in favour of a new showroom in Al Barsha, just behind Mall of the Emirates. The old place had more character and a bigger selection, although you can’t deny that the new place is more convenient. The owners insist that they haven’t hiked their prices since moving to swankier premises – be sure to drive a hard bargain to make sure that they stick to their word!
• Opposite Dubai American Academy, Al Barsha, Dubai. www.pinkyfurnitureuae.com
Fabindia is both more and less than a furniture store; you’re as likely to pick up a new scarf as a sofa. Its great strength is fabrics and accessories with authentic ethnic chic – think vibrant cushion covers and curtains, either off-the-shelf or made-to-measure. The original Fabindia opened in Delhi back in the 1970s and, while it’s part of a small international network of Fabindia stores, it’s retained its uniqueness.
• Nashwan Building, near EPPCO petrol station, Al Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai, Dubai. www.fabindia.com
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