Now is the time to deck those halls. And to provide some interiors inspiration, or simply ignite the spirit of the season, The National's festive homes series takes you into some of the most fabulously decorated residences in the UAE.
Here we take a peek into Robert Bradley’s winter wonderland. With festive fervour in full swing, the Abu Dhabi resident has gone big with his home decor … by going small.
Inside Bradley’s apartment in Al Muneera, a miniature wonderland – complete with a rotating carousel, dancing figurines, slope-roofed houses with lit-up windows, swinging snowboards, and Santa’s workshop – comes alive every December.
The numerous moving, musical parts are spread across the family’s 2.1-metre-long dining table. The display is divided into three sections: there’s a community area, with tiny houses featuring festive decor. Beside it is a town centre, showcasing grander houses, a fountain and dolled-up shops. Finally, there’s the North Pole – complete with a flying Santa Claus sleigh, an elves workshop and Mrs Claus’s bakery. Infrastructure aside, there are wee inhabitants amid the Christmas trees, snow and other miniature decorations.
“Every year, we change the layout depending on the new pieces,” says Bradley, who stays in the two-bedroom apartment with his wife, Noleen, and their three children, Evie, 5, Tom, 2, and Adam, 11 months. “I usually have a plan in my head of what I want to do.”
Bradley started collecting pieces for his miniature Christmas village about seven years ago, after a visit to the Ace Hardware store on Yas Island. “I’ve always been a fan of Christmas, it’s a big tradition in my family,” he says. “But I had never seen anything like this before. It was our second Christmas in the UAE at the time, I bought two or three pieces and I was hooked. Every year since, I’ve added to that collection.”
Today, he owns more than 250 miniature collectibles, with most bought in the UAE, and some imported from the US and UK. Bradley is the joint owner of The Chippy in Abu Dhabi, and he’s also set up similar miniature wonderlands in both branches of the restaurant chain, with approximately 170 pieces still left on his own dining table.
With individual figurines priced between Dh50 and Dh800, Bradley admits that collecting Christmas miniatures is "an expensive hobby to have". Other than Ace Hardware and other local shops, he constantly keeps an eye out for unique pieces online, such as those by US-company Lemax that creates designs based on Christmas moves like Home Alone. His personal favourite in the collection is a National Lampoon-themed miniature imported from the US that cost Dh800. Evie, whose favourite piece thus far is a moving Ferris wheel, is also instrumental in selecting new pieces.
Additions this year are miniatures of fairground attractions, as well as some village homes and Mrs Claus's bakery, which Bradley says added up to Dh4,000, while the entire collection has set him back about Dh18,000.
"We've definitely spent a bit more than usual because it's been a horrible year and we wanted to make it a little more special," Bradley says. "Christmas has been important but, even by my family's standards, I tend to go a little overboard." he adds with a laugh. "My wife thought I was crazy when I first started the collection. She's come around to it now, although she doesn't admit it. But she also gets involved with the placement of the pieces."
A family set-up
The family start setting up the display starts at the end of November. Bradley first envisions the layout he wants each year, and makes tiny snow “mountains” or slopes using polystyrene. He then goes about placing the tiny buildings, homes and fair rides, and ensures they are all wired. This is followed by scattering the tiny people. Once everything has been set up, he uses snow spray to cover up the wiring and creates walkways, paths and roads to complete the village.
“The process takes about a week,” he says. “But when building them, Evie likes to help with the placement, and Tom likes to sit out with it every night. It makes it more of a family activity.”
While the miniature wonderland is clearly the star attraction, there are other decorations scattered around the house, including two Christmas trees. The family tree features baubles that have been collected from all over the world – including Oman, China, Mexico, Hong Kong, the US and Seychelles. It also features custom-made baubles with the children’s names on them, and each child’s date of birth.
Along with the miniature winter wonderland, the trees make for a festive backdrop for cosy December evenings spent at home. "We switch the display on when it gets dark, so the children can see it when we're all having dinner or watching a Christmas movie," says Bradley. "They love interacting with it, and seeing the enjoyment they get makes it all the more special."