As an architect in her native Jordan, Ghada Kunash revelled in her love of vernacular design, creating housing for low-income residents that were very much in keeping with her country's rich culture and tradition. "I also worked a lot on the restoration of antiquities and historical sites," Kunash says. "I loved my work so it was a bit of a culture shock when we arrived in Abu Dhabi 14 years ago and the environment was very new, the way of life slightly forced – it was difficult to settle."
After long trips back home several times a year, Kunash decided to take a job with a design company in Dubai, which meant the family making the move to the then up-and-coming emirate with its glittering spires and "bigger-the-better" attitude - the complete antithesis of where Kunash's design principles lay. "There were many challenges but, after a last long trip to Jordan, I came back and started to settle with my husband, Khaled, and our two young children." In an effort to surround herself with a little bit of the history and culture she craved, Kunash started to collect art and antiques, both Jordanian and European, and what started as a hobby soon developed into a thriving gallery.
"The opening of the business coincided with the time people were beginning to buy property in Dubai and make the emirate more of a long-term home. I wanted to be able to offer something beyond disposable home furnishings." The thought of putting down more permanent roots also resonated with Kunash and the family decided to buy a four-bedroom villa in Jumeirah Islands. But, with her warehouse full of antiques to pick from, a lot of internal manoeuvering of space was needed.
"It took ages to knock down walls and completely reconfigure the space," she says, eyes rolling at the memory. The first task was to enhance the small entrance hall. "We decided to make one large, airy space and divide it with beautiful things rather than walls." The villa's portico is the first clue that the Kunash home has its heart very much in the past. Rustic benches nestle beneath fragrant orange trees,complemented by a traditional falaj-style water feature ("probably my one regret in the house's design as its seldom working," says Kunash ruefully). Mosaics grace both the porch and entrance hall - brought in their entirety from Jordan. "They are not antiques but I love them and they give the house character."
The house's soaring atrium is home to several awe-inspiring chandeliers. One, crafted in antique Murano glass, has pride of place in the dining area. "Venetian glass is a real love of mine and on buying trips to Europe I have often sought out old pieces similar to those in museums," says Kunash. Porcelain is another passion, especially 19th-century pieces by Herend, procured on regular buying trips to Hungary.
Kunash's gallery also specialises in antique musical instruments - one of the few in the UAE to do so. Pride of place in the grand living room goes to a delicately carved mahogany gramophone on spindle legs; it still works and quite often she will relax while listening to original recordings of Edith Piaf on 78-rpm bakelite discs. Not everything in the villa has a history. The baronial dining table was bought in Dubai, and two whimsical chandeliers came from Petals gallery. "I try to blend new with my antiques, whether it's the big or small pieces. Among the old porcelain I have a few Lladro pieces, which I adore - especially the flamenco dancer that was a birthday gift. I used to dance and teach flamenco so it represents yet another of my passions."
The Kunashs are big entertainers. "Having good friends around is incredibly important - why have a big house if you aren't going to make friends welcome in it?" she shrugs, and therefore the spacious kitchen with its marble island was another big project: "We knocked down the walls, doorways, corridors - you name it." A small extension overlooking the landscaped garden and pool has also given the family a lovely breakfast area complete with French antique chairs and rustic cabinets.
The two notable exceptions to Kunash's carefully curated home of antiques are the family room with its squashy leather sectional sofa and modernist glossy cabinets - "this is the room the kids [now 15 and nine] have their feet all over" - and, surprisingly, the art. "The art came about as a result of the gallery, but I found that the contemporary pieces really were popular here so we developed a modern art gallery, which is now situated next to the antique gallery. In my home I love the mix of the two."
Kunash says her greatest frustration is that she tends to buy all her pieces for her business on a purely emotional whim, imagining them in her own home: "Maybe it's not commercial but I can't help it," she shrugs. "Ultimately, what I do is ingrained in my heritage. The things that surround me imbue a sense of belonging, warmth and comfort - and they are the things that truly make a home."