Courtyard quest: Abu Dhabi family holds out for their garden dream

Sarah Nicholas, her husband and two children found a neighbourhood they liked living in as it was close to work and school. However, finding an apartment that matched their needs has taken over two years, and two moves.

The three-bedroom apartment was rented directly from the landlord for Dh145,000. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
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Property rented

Three-bedroom apartment with a small courtyard garden in the Churches Area of Abu Dhabi, close to the British School - Al Khubairat. The property was rented direct from the landlord for Dh145,000.

Key features

Living space includes a lounge and separate dining room, kitchen with small adjacent utility room. The property has windows on three sides making it very light and bright. A patio door leads from the lounge to steps down into the garden.

The hunt

Our search for this property started in 2009. At this time demand far outstripped supply and prices were spiralling ever upwards; it was impossible to find what we wanted within our available budget. After several frantic days of searching, we eventually found a small, ground floor two-bedroom apartment with outdoor space, close to the Mushrif children and ladies' park.

Somehow we coped in this relatively small living space, although it wasn't ideal for our two children to share a bedroom - which they hadn't done when we lived in the UK. The garden, however, was a bonus and we created an extra family space outside, with an outdoor sofa, table and chairs shaded by a gazebo.

But after 11 months we had totally outgrown the space, and started to look around for a new home. We loved living in this part of the city, so we restricted our search to just a few streets, using our spare time to drive or walk around the neighbourhood in search of elusive "For Rent" signs.

Our house-hunting turned up next to nothing and just as we were giving up hope, and with time running out to give notice to our current landlord, a three-bedroom apartment came up close by. The indoor space and the location were ideal. There was just one drawback: the apartment was on the first floor, so we would have to live without a garden, although the new property did have balconies. We decided to accept the compromise and took the plunge.

But after we moved we did, as almost expected, miss the garden. Ten months later we decided to look again at what was on the market. Again, we restricted our search to a small area close to our children's school and my husband's work.

With more rental properties now available I viewed anything that looked even vaguely promising. We even negotiated on one lovely villa, but our discussions with the owner stalled and, regrettably, we had to walk away. I was on the verge of giving up hope again, when out of the blue, our downstairs neighbours told me they were planning to move out and wanted to give us the chance to talk to the landlord before he put their ground-floor garden flat on the open market.

A year before, I'd joked with the landlord that what we really wanted was a garden flat. He'd promised me at the time, that if one of them became available, it would be ours. He was true to his word. We even managed to negotiate a better annual rent.

The result

My checklist for an ideal Abu Dhabi home is three bedrooms, a good-sized lounge, a small outside space, in our preferred location and at the right price. After two years and two moves we now have exactly what we want.

Our previous apartments always felt temporary and although we made them comfortable to live in, we didn't really do a lot in the way of improving them. Here though, we have transformed our house into a home - we've bought some additional furniture, put up nice light fittings and even paid for the apartment to be painted before we moved in.

The move itself was straightforward. The furniture was simply carried downstairs and put in place. Indeed, with so many windows - 16 in total - it took longer for the removal company to take down and rehang our curtains than it took them to move our belongings.

In our bedroom we simply recreated our room upstairs, but we've changed things around in other rooms. We took the opportunity to move our younger son out of a toddler bed and into his brother's cabin bed, while our elder son's room has been made over with a new set of Ikea furniture.

In the lounge we have repositioned the sofa, creating more space for a dining table. I scoured the second-hand market and eventually found the exact table I wanted. We are very pleased with it, and it even came in under budget - the table, chairs and "a man with a van" cost less than Dh300.

For the garden I also bought a second-hand table, umbrella and six chairs and in the Home Centre sale we found a white sofa and chair set. My plants, which had been adorning the balconies in the apartment upstairs, now look lovely against the freshly painted garden walls.

The kitchen has fairly basic units in it. When we moved, the landlord kindly organised for the kitchen cupboards to be adapted to make space for a dishwasher. He also had the doors changed to be white, rather than the mottled pink pattern that I thought made the kitchen look fussy.

The landlord has also redecorated what was previously a dirty and shabby stairwell. With a lick of fresh white paint, windows cleaned and new hall lights, he has created a welcoming entrance to the building.


We did think that moving downstairs would not be that expensive. But in the end it has cost us roughly the same as it would to have moved to a completely different neighbourhood.

We've moved to the other side of the building, to a mirror image of our old apartment, meaning that the light switches that were on the left in my old kitchen upstairs are now on the right downstairs. It's the same with the air-con controls in our hallway.


We love the outdoor space, and with shading from a gazebo and trees we hope we will be able to enjoy it even in the hottest months of the year. The apartment is well designed with a clear division between living and sleeping space. There are sliding doors between the dining room area and the lounge, which allow us to create separate spaces. And it goes without saying, I love my dishwasher!


We have enjoyed moving but are now quite thankful that, at last, we have found our ideal home in Abu Dhabi. The garden makes all the difference, giving us extra space for the children to play in and for us to enjoy some quiet time on the sofa listening to the birds twitter away.