Even though their property is rented, this young family has taken bold but simple steps to make a home of their own.
Wallpaper and textiles put personality into an Abu Dhabi villa
When Anna-Liisa Goggs and her husband moved into their villa in the capital's Al Mushrif district two years ago, all its interior walls were painted a standard shade of cream. They still are, but by using a rich blend of textures, patterns, pictures, high-specification wallpaper and soft furnishings, the couple have reinvented this previously plain and functional space as a distinctive modern home.
The house has four first-floor bedrooms, one of which is used as a study. On the second floor there is a maid's room, while back on the ground floor a well-proportioned entrance hall and reception area leads to a large lounge/diner and a kitchen.
The design phase has taken more than two years. Unsure of how long they intended to live in the property, Anna-Liisa began some basic redecoration: "I did the work that, when you leave a rented property, you would not be too bothered about having spent the money on," she says. "Then, when we decided to stay on here, I felt that I could do the things I really wanted to." Those details quickly become apparent.
A feature rug lies in the heart of the open-plan space that serves as a living and dining area. With soft pink and blue pastel shades, this antique dhurrie rug acts as both a centrepiece and a divider between the two spaces.
The couple bought the traditional Indian piece from Joss Graham in London with money they received as a wedding present. Fittingly, in many Indian states this type of rug is often offered as part of a dowry.
Villa Nova Delores Pearl patterned wallpaper provides an understated backdrop in this part of the house. Anna-Liisa says she didn't want "to overwhelm the rest of the room [with it], but I did want to create a sense of there being two rooms here, a living and a dining area, without either clashing with the other.
"You can buy this type of wallpaper in Dubai," she says, although the local price proved prohibitive. "I found the same pattern online and had it shipped over from the UK. In the end we only needed three rolls. I then used some skilled decorators from Dubai to hang the wallpaper. They did an exquisite job - you can't see the joins even when you get close up."
A picture of Abu Dhabi in the 1950s has been hung over the wallpaper, its frame and mount in colours that blend with the surface on which it sits. It is a typically clever and playful touch.
An old washing bowl from Brazil, a memento from the memorable year Anna-Liisa spent in South America, rests on the dining table. The chairs that surround it use cushion cover fabric from Cairo, their cream design subtly reflecting the wallpaper's mid-size pattern. A more traditional ornate silver drinks tray, which contrasts nicely with a low, modern dining set, has been positioned in the corner of this space.
A high screen separates but maintains the connection between the living and dining areas. Finding the right piece to do this job proved harder than one might anticipate: "Many of the screens we looked at were ornate or heavy. The one we chose is from Crate & Barrel. We picked it because it is not as solid. You can see through it."
In the living space, a pair of sofas link the couple's past with their Abu Dhabi present. These are some of only a few pieces of furniture the couple owned before they married: "I like that they are not too 'matchy-matchy'," Anna-Liisa says. "They work well together but are also quite different." A leather armchair from Andrew Martin in Dubai was a joint purchase but, she says. Her husband "quickly adopted it as his own".
An unframed painted canvas by Gilles Rieu, a French transcendental artist, also hangs in this area. Rieu takes an interesting approach to his art, travelling to cities around the world and simply wandering the streets, getting to know the people, the vibe and the culture. Later he paints whatever emotions the place evoked in him.
"This painting is about [Rieu's time in] New York and there is a lovely phonetic spelling of 'have a good day' contained within it." As a non-native English speaker he's written "hathe a good day" instead.
"My husband used to live in SoHo in Manhattan and always used the same route to walk to and from work. By chance one day he saw a light on in what initially appeared to be a boarded-up store and went in to investigate. There he met Rieu and they started to chat away. Later, when the artist staged an exhibition, my husband bought this picture."
A Sozani wedding bed cover from Uzbekistan hangs halfway up the stairs, although the rest of this area is what Anna-Liisa describes as a "work in progress". The couple eventually plan to fill the space with a series of family pictures.
An original Art Naif painting from Galeria Jacques Ardies in Brazil, another keepsake from Anna Liisa's time in the southern hemisphere, occupies wall space at the top of the stairs. It portrays a man burning palmito. "To me it sums up Brazil, with the exotic colours of the forest and the rhythm of life in rural areas," she says.
Moving into the study, lyrics from Umm Kulthum songs have been printed on to fabric that has been crafted into made-to-measure blinds. Once again, these materials are from Cairo.
The master bedroom has been finished with "evocative and strong" wallpaper, also from Villa Nova. The print is called Greta Pacific.
"I imagine Louis XIV would have had these peacock prints on his wall," Anna-Liisa says. "I chose this pattern because I love blue. I was flicking through the catalogues and it just stood out to me."
The wallpaper frames the bed, while a large mirror on the wall opposite reflects the peacock patterns. It sits above an occasional sofa. A pashmina sari shawl has been draped on the sofa, its light flowery pattern referencing the piece and linking it to the vibrant blue tones around it.
The spare room is another work-in-progress, with hand-woven woollen Kashmiri rug hanging on the wall. Anna-Liisa's mother-in-law helped her buy this in Dubai. "We haggled and she made sure I got a good price. So many Kashmiri rugs now depict modern designs, but this one is a traditional pattern.
"Colours and patterns are my source of inspiration," she says. "If I find something I like, then the rest of the room - the furniture and other accessories - will follow.
"When I go shopping I often take the items with me so I can match colour and see how things would look together. I nearly went to art school rather than into the law, and I enjoy finding ways to cultivate my creative interests."
Finally, the nursery for Nour, the couple's daughter, has been finished with soft green, flowery wallpaper, an Ione print from Sanderson.
"I spotted this one and thought that it was fresh and delicate. I wanted it to be grown up, not baby-like.
"The bed comes from Kashmir. I bought it when I first moved to the UAE. The bedspread, simple cream-satin in contrast to the ornate bed, came from Zara Home. The chair is from Laura Ashley. Again, the original cream colour on the wall has been retained and wallpaper has been chosen to match it. I also tried to pick furniture that Nour could use when she was older, too."
A picture on the wall was a wedding gift from her husband's best man. "The artist is from Paris and when she was told about our wedding this was her inspiration. We were married in the English countryside but had a traditional Egyptian wedding zaffa as part of the festivities. On the back of the painting is a poem that the artist incorporated a line from into the picture to better express her vision of our wedding."
Anna-Liisa has made a beautiful, calm home for her young family. With a creative twist she has blended modern and traditional, so that every corner, wall and piece of furniture reflects her and her husband's life. Nothing has been chosen by chance. The villa is a perfect reflection of the people who live there.