Anita Saldanha was well aware that her husband was planning to throw her a "surprise" birthday party for her 30th. Still, when the advertising executive first entered her Dubai Marina home, she nearly walked straight back out. "I thought I'd entered the wrong flat. I could barely recognise the place," she says with a laugh.
"My comfy but tatty grey couch was nowhere to be found, nor the television it points at. Instead, there was a big round table in the centre of the living room, covered with a crisp white cloth, and with the craziest collection of colourful chairs, tableware and candleholders." Saldanha had walked into her own Mad Hatter party, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, her favourite book as a girl. Fairy lights twinkled amid the unfamiliar faux plants, and a fuzzy purple carpet that she "wouldn't in my right mind buy" covered the floor. "It wouldn't have been the same without the furniture and the crockery," says Saldanha. "It really set the tone of the evening."
Creating a one-of-a-kind experience
Like Saldanha, many of us would never consider investing in a rug the colour of raw aubergines, plates adorned with bespectacled rabbits or, hopefully, a bar unit in all gold, but these one-off items do come in handy when you want to transform your space, if only temporarily. One foolproof solution is to rent furniture.
“One of the biggest advantages is the flexibility and choice this brings to the table. Clients can achieve a fresh and unique look that nobody else has seen, thus creating a one-of-a-kind experience by transforming a space with furniture combinations,” says Paul Harding, general manager at Innovative Hiring.
The furniture rental company from Australia opened an outpost in Dubai in 2013 and branched out to Abu Dhabi in September. It stocks an expansive selection of seating and lighting options, tables and bar units, linen and carpets, shelves, design props such as wire flower carts, vintage bicycles and rope stanchions, and even pergolas and swing sets for a spacious or outdoor venue. "This year alone we've seen everything from a Daft Punk-themed wedding in an art gallery to an enchanted forest party at the beach," adds Harding. "It all depends on the size and scope of an event, but people can save between 60 per cent and 80 per cent by hiring furniture for a day instead of buying it."
The choice to buy or rent an item
Silsal Design House is another company that recently forayed into decor hiring. Founded in 1989 by sisters Reem and Rula Atalla in the basement of the latter’s home in Amman, Silsal started out as a small family business intent on preserving Jordan’s traditional ceramic crafts. It quickly gained a reputation as Amman’s best-loved gift shop, selling artfully crafted Middle East-inspired tableware, vases, bowls, plates, teacups and coffee mugs.
When Reem’s daughter, Samar Habayeb, took over, she sought to make Silsal the go-to store for the home, which led to the brand moving its headquarters to Dubai in 2015, launching an online store with worldwide express shipping and expanding its offering to include dining tables, consoles, chairs, sofas and side tables. Each piece displays the geometric patterning, Islamic art and Arabic calligraphy that have proven so popular on the brand’s smaller accessories, many of which can now be hired through the Silsal Rental service, which launched in September.
On offer are hand-blown candleholders and porcelain vases; glasses, tumblers and mugs, servewear such as cake stands, soup tureens and gravy boats; and a vibrant selection of plates and bowls, all from across the design house's famed Tarateesh, Ghida, Ashkaal and Kufic collections. "A mix of flat items and vertical items offer new undulations to a tabletop setting," advises Habayeb.
She says the rental wing came about on the back of customer requests. “People have become more focused on personalised gatherings, and we’ve noticed a growing interest in tabletop styling, as opposed to the usual white plates. Renting decor items is useful for those who have spatial constraints and lack of storage space in the home, as well as for price flexibility. We give you the choice to buy or rent an item for about 10 per cent of the purchase price.”
For example, a dinner plate from the design house’s Ghida collection costs Dh117 to buy, but rents for Dh12. Likewise, an embossed vase costs between Dh244 and Dh384 to buy, but it can be rented for Dh25 for up to three days. “Oftentimes when people have parties or larger settings, they tend to start decorating a day or two before the event. So we set the renting prices for a three-day period to give customers enough time to receive the items, style them, wake up the day after the event and then deal with returns,” adds Habayeb. “This also gives you flexibility to keep changing styles and themes.”
Who is it best for?
Both Silsal and Innovative Hiring deliver, pick up and clean the products, with the latter offering to rearrange your existing furniture for an additional fee. Harding says: “We look to stock familiar styles and pieces that are trending in the market – items that people would want to display at their events. Items heavily go in and out of fashion based on specific markets and influencers, so we try to keep our portfolio wide and varied. At the same time, we look for items that are long-lasting and durable, that will work outdoors even during UAE summers, and that we can locally rejuvenate with either powder coating, painting or reupholstering.” Likewise, Silsal’s primarily porcelain products are all dishwasher-safe and scratch-resistant.
Browsing through the furniture and accessories on offer, it’s almost tempting to consider renting some of the items for long-term use, which would also go some way towards protecting the environment. Unfortunately, Harding says this will not work out too well for your wallet. “We cater to people who wish to hire furniture for two weeks or a month, and also offer yearly hiring. However, in this market you will find that heading to Ikea ends up being a lot cheaper.”
Just as clothes libraries are cropping up in many parts of the world to put paid to the damage wrought by the fashion industry, maybe a similar concept will unfold in the furniture business. Until such time, though, you can look to this service for its aesthetic value and ease of access.