It was when former Foster & Partners architect Lulie Fisher moved from London to Italy that she developed a real interest in interior design. Operating from a studio in Umbria, Fisher began restoring Belle Arte-protected properties and remodelling their interiors.
She continued working with Foster on projects such as the London School of Economics Library, Yacht Club de Monaco and MGM Lifestyle Hotel. Fisher moved to the UAE in 2009 as the design director at Aedas Interiors' Studio, and in 2016 she founded the Lulie Fisher Design Studio in Dubai, through which she's overseen projects such as the art zone, cinema and events pavilion on Manarat Al Saadiyat, One the Palm Omniyat in Dubai and the upcoming Zabeel House by Jumeirah.
Perhaps it was this multifaceted expertise in the residential, hospitality and commercial design arenas that led to Fisher being approached to oversee the interiors of the 47 double-storey luxury villas that are part of the ambitious Blue Amber resort in Zanzibar, a project that allows non-Tanzanian property seekers to invest in the archipelago for the first time.
View from the top
Spread across about 650 hectares and along four kilometres of the Indian Ocean coastline, when completed in 2021, Blue Amber will be the largest mixed-use development in Africa. The private estate, which is being developed by Pennyroyal, will include five international hotel chains and a signature Ernie Els 18-hole golf course. In keeping with its identity as an island resort, homeowners and visitors will also have access to a tropical aquapark, deep-water marina, and an underwater restaurant and nightclub.
Residential options range from penthouse condominiums and private islands to the first set of three- and five-bedroom villas, which went on sale earlier this year and range in price from US$670,000 to $1.7 million (Dh2.5m to Dh6.2m). The villas will either face the beach, golf course or an artificial lake, digging work on which is under way, and which Fisher and her team hope will yield a treasure trove of materials for the interior.
“The design brief for the villa phase was to focus on sustainable development, as though it just grows out of the land, thus taking on a strong sense of place and the essence of this frankly stunning site,” says Fisher. Accordingly, when the team visited Zanzibar, they spent a lot of time in Stone Town, exploring its history, terrain and architecture, as well as its markets, handicrafts and building materials.
"I envision using the rustic colours, weathered timbers, and the African textiles and handicrafts we spotted during our visit," she says. "And to these – although it may sound trite – I'd like to incorporate the amazing colours that make up the waters in that part of the world, so pale blues for the free-standing sculptural bathtubs and vessel wash basins in the bathrooms."
Homeowners can choose from three palettes for hard materials and three furniture packages, which will take in locally sourced materials, such as the beige and red-marked Tanga sandstone and coral stone cladding, a material that is no longer sustainable in many parts of the world, including the UAE where it is on the banned list.
“A lot of excavation is going on at the site to create the lake and an underpath road, so we’d like to use what’s dug up from the ground and use that to create feature walls, for example,” says Fisher. “We want to put together families of materials and furniture, so each type of villa has its own unique identity. I think texture is very important in interior design, it provides a play of light, shadow and depth.
“Colour psychology, too, plays its part. In the old days, traditional materials would have been naturally dyed using spices and vegetables, so we are looking to rusty and muddy colours redolent of the spices still grown in Zanzibar, mixed with deep and light blues, and juxtaposed with light whites to better set off the wooden accents,” she says.
The luxury aspect of the villas comes through in the high-end Italian kitchens, top-notch white goods, double glazing, statement lights, and the use of live-edge timber and marble on the vanities and countertops.
“The houses also come with internal courtyards, where we will introduce greenery for a lovely cooling feature,” says Fisher. “Then there’s the open-plan layout itself, which affords length-wise views across and out in both directions.
“We’ve put together representative mood boards, but it’s still early days,” she adds. “The harsh effect coastal climes can have on the façade and interior will come into play, of course, and until they bring in seaplanes, travelling and transporting materials to the site will be a bit challenging, but that’s what makes it really fun for me.”
What’s in it for you
The growing appeal of Zanzibar will be in evidence at the Arabian Travel Market, which will be held in Dubai between April 22 and 25, for which the team behind Destination Zanzibar collaborated with the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism. The partnership is a result of the rise in tourism to what's being touted as East Africa's next luxury holiday spot. From an investment point of view, then, a well-appointed second home on the island not only provides access to a personalised holiday experience, but also potentially opens up opportunities to earn a second income.
“The resort development is aiming to place Zanzibar on the map as a high-end lifestyle destination, offering sound investment opportunities as a year-round permanent residential or rental location,” says Andrew Golding, chief executive, Pam Golding Property Group.
“Numerous airlines around the globe are now flying daily into Zanzibar; Blue Amber is just an hour’s drive away, making it easily accessible.” Blue Amber’s managing director Saleh Said adds: “For the first time in history, non-Tanzanian residents will be able to buy and invest in residential property in the country on 99-year leases, with the option to extend their ownership by up to 49 years.”
Another plus is that property owners, their spouses and all children under 25, will be eligible for Zanzibar residence permits; these will remain valid for as long as the buyers remain owners. The country also offers significant tax benefits for homeowners: 15 per cent tax rate on local income if any, no tax on worldwide income, and no capital gains tax, stamp duty or inheritance tax on properties purchased.