x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wide open spaces

My space Silvia and Gianluca Zamarripa transition from Rome to Abu Dhabi with modern style.

"If it's not done the right way, modern can seem cold," says Silvia Zamarripa of her apartment in Khalidiya.

Silvia and Gianluca Zamarripa certainly like things neat. Their three-bedroom split-level apartment in Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi, is bright, breezy and immaculate. "I'm not particularly fond of clutter," says Silvia, an American-born executive assistant, who arrived in Abu Dhabi in January with her Italian husband. "My mother was very particular about having things in order, and my husband was in the military and is extremely organised, so it has been a common theme. I appreciate it. It's important to have an orderly home because you can flop on the sofa and not worry about the mess." The open-plan sitting and dining room, with its sleek, modern furniture, has a calm, spacious feel which suits the couple's needs perfectly. "I like the open plan feel; I cook a lot of dinners and it's very visitor-friendly."

They moved into the apartment in February, and set about decorating it immediately. Silvia admits that Gianluca, who works for an Italian aerospace company, was largely responsible for its starkly contemporary look. "He single-handedly picked, ordered and arranged all of the furniture, and had a very clear idea of what he wanted. He really wanted to push the whole modern thing, but it's difficult here, because there aren't that many shops selling modern things. I think he did a really good job."

Two cream leather sofas from Natuzzi dominate the living area. "We wanted to invest in good couches so that we could take them back with us, when we eventually go back to Rome." The couple met in the eternal city last year, where Silvia was teaching English as a foreign language, and Gianluca was her pupil. They married earlier this year, before moving to Abu Dhabi. "It's ironic because my journey to Rome, which was something I wanted to do in order to live and breathe a different culture, has brought me here, to an entirely new environment and culture."

An enormous flat screen television presides over one wall. "I'd have to say the TV came first and then everything else fit around it," she laughs. "My husband is an electronics guru and he likes to have state of the art appliances." They watch mostly Italian television, which suits Silvia perfectly, since she is learning the language. "And it's nice for Gianluca to have a mental break from speaking English."

Despite the "blank canvas" look created by so many clean lines and block colours, small traces of Italy have made their way into the space. Two cheerful figurines are perched on a book shelf. One is an Italian theatre character, native to Naples, where Gianluca attended military school. The other is Totò, the much-loved Italian actor - also from Naples - who starred in over 100 films during the last century. Black and white images from Roman Holiday, La Fortuna di Essere and Ben Hur line the walls, and small plaster images of Roman doorways and drinking fountains covered in advertisements and graffiti give a strong sense of the bustling city they have come from.

But despite these keepsakes from home, the Zamarripas have also embraced some of the local culture, and a procession of four brightly painted camels line another shelf. "We wanted to have a little piece of this culture in our home. It's important for us to have a mix of things that are about us, and these are representative of where we are and what we're doing at the moment." A studded red leather daybed is bathed in sunlight from the window, which leads to a large balcony. A set of book shelves on the wall above the daybed groan with books and DVDs in both English and Italian. "We watch a film every night with dinner. For me, films are therapeutic. So I'm lucky if I get to the end. I'll be watching and then the next thing you know, I'm out."

A translucent glass table is the focal point in the dining area, which connects through to the kitchen via a large window. "I love this kitchen because it's perfect when we have people for dinner. Italian dinners are quite different from what I'm used to in the US. They're served in three courses, with the pasta first. It has to be served piping hot, so the opening means it can come straight from the kitchen to the table. We recently bought a house in Rome with a solid wall next to the kitchen and I told my husband I would like the same set-up there."

Silvia is also bravely getting to grips with Italian cooking. "I'm not very good; it's a work in progress. I didn't realise how many different ways you can make pasta! I went on holiday with an Italian family when I was in Italy and we had a different kind of pasta every day." On the table sits an oversized glass filled with dried flowers. "They were the flowers our witnesses brought to our wedding, which I dried myself. They should last forever."

The Zamarripa's home is a shining example of how modern design can be combined with comfortable living. "If it's not done the right way, modern can seem cold, with all those sharp edges. Initially, I wasn't very fond of the modern idea, because I consider myself a little more classic." Despite the almost terrifying neatness, their clever use of texture and colour, combined with personal accents, has created a warm, welcoming home. "Home is where I want to feel a blanket around my shoulders; where I feel protected from the stresses of work and life. I was very happy with the result, and very impressed by my husband; he did it in such a short space of time."