Selina Denman meets a Dubai family who found their ideal home in a somewhat unexpected location.
Ranch living in The Villa Project in Dubai
The Villa Project is one of those places you may have heard of but have probably never been to.
The residential development sits next to Dubai Academic City, somewhere between Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed (née Emirates) Road and the former Dubai Bypass Road, and is part of the largely ill-fated Dubailand. Don’t bother checking Google Maps – you won’t find it.
Once you get there, however, the Dubai Properties Group development is something of a revelation. Expansive Mediterranean-style villas sit among mature landscaping and leafy trees. It’s a pleasant, bedded-in community to rival (and perhaps even surpass) old Dubai favourites like Arabian Ranches and Emirates Hills.
Which is what Meredith Taylor-Damouni and her husband Ayaad discovered when they decided that it was time to upgrade their home. The had lived in the Ranches for five years and were looking for a place to accommodate their growing brood – 11-year-old son Wolfgang, eight-year-old daughter Leila, and a new addition to the family, the two-month-old Ryder.
“We were looking around at the types of villas on offer in the Ranches and they were quite small and pokey, unless you went up to the Hattan type, and even they aren’t that great. It’s actually also a little bit overpriced there, so we started looking further afield,” explains Taylor-Damouni.
After extensive research – six whole months of what Taylor-Damouni laughingly refers to as “due diligence” – the couple found a place in The Villa Project that, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be just right. “My husband is a polo fanatic, so we have horses at Desert Palm and he is there four times a week during the polo season. And our kids are at school across Emirates Road at Repton, so The Villa Project was really convenient for us.”
In actual fact, the decision was made when Taylor-Damouni walked into the five-bedroom, Marbella villa (one of the five types of property available in the development) and spotted the large, sun-filled central courtyard. Living spaces are all set around this courtyard, with the kitchen, living and dining areas, and a spare room located on the ground floor and four spacious bedrooms found on the first floor. This ensures that there is a constant source of natural light streaming into the property, creating a bright, airy feel. “Having that central area, especially with a source of water in the middle of it, gives a beautiful sense of openness to the house,” says Taylor-Damouni.
This all contributes to creating a enhanced sense of spaciousness. “And with kids, you can’t beat a bit of space. My kids and my husband and I, and also, with the new baby, we all feel like we have our own space in this place, and I think that also comes from having a central area and the rooms circling it, instead of all the rooms being on top of each other.”
The house also appealed to the couple’s love of the “polo lifestyle” – it is probably the closest thing to a laid back, polo-style estancia that Dubai could offer. “Our tastes are very much along that polo- or ranch-style living, as much as you can try to get that in the Middle East. When I saw this villa, it fit our style. We haven’t really bought anything new since moving here. It’s great when you find a house that you already feel your things are going to fit well into. You don’t have to go and restyle everything and remodel your whole lifestyle. I think that was a really important point.”
Thankfully, the couple stopped short of introducing a full scale equine theme in their home. There are nods to the sport of kings – an intricate polo sculpture peeking out from the glass cabinet along the wall or a photograph of Ayaad in the middle of a match – but it falls far short of being contrived.
“It’s not a traditional polo-style, Ralph Lauren-type interior,” Taylor-Damouni admits. “We touch on that, but we play around with it. And this house lends itself very well to that, as a kind of canvas. I think we have this really odd mix of old world and then modern. Because we work a lot with fashion we are quite playful with colour.”
Given that the Damounis are the founders of Capital D Studio, a Dubai-based agency specialising in creative production, covering everything from creative talent management to online and print publishing, it is little surprise that their home is a treasure trove of interesting art.
Many of the pieces were picked up on their travels; taking centre stage in the living room is a wolf sculpture by the French artist Richard Orlinski, which was bought during a skiing trip to Corchevel and is a tribute to the couple’s son, Wolfgang; there are pieces (including a rare self portrait) by close friend and photographer Nadine Kanso, and from British artist Vanessa Hodgkinson’s The Way We Were series, showing a map of Palestine beautifully and delicately overlaid with gold leaf. Upstairs, there are portraits by the Bahraini-born, New York-based Ghada O Khunji, taken during a trip to Cuba; in the kitchen, over a distressed wood table from Pier Import, are prints from Chanel’s The Little Black Jacket book, including one of the Abu Khadra Twins, Haya and Sama, shot by Karl Lagerfeld.
For larger furniture pieces, Doumani-Taylor admits that the couple make almost “tragically” frequent visits to Bloomingdale’s Home, which is where they acquired their eight-seat, etched glass-and-Perspex-topped dining table. “It’s a really cool talking piece. I love it. It’s a great centrepiece for the room.
“Our house is a little bit higgledy piggeldy but we’ve definitely put it together ourselves. The both of us, together. We actually really enjoy buying stuff for the house. Luckily, we have very similar tastes.”
But is it done, or should Bloomingdale’s Home be expecting another visit from the couple in the near future? “I have a fantasy of putting a piano in the living room,” Taylor-Damouni says with a self-deprecating laugh. “When I was young I used to completely redesign my bedroom every month and if you come to our studio, it completely changes four or five times a year. I still have that in me, I think, so I don’t think it’ll ever be done.”
Of course, the location can still be the cause of some consternation among visitors. “I think this is one of those areas that is slowly establishing itself. We always laugh when people are visiting at night because we have to give them all these direction and midway through the directions we have to say, ‘Don’t panic, you’re nearly there’. But when people do come, they are always really pleasantly surprised.”
Most importantly of all, says Taylor-Damouni, “we have lots of fun in here”.
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