Dubai gallery owner turns her villa into an extension of her passion

Sharon Harvey, who runs Showcase Gallery Art & Antiques in Dubai, advises that to begin a home decor scheme, start off with some special pieces and build around them.

The Umm Suqeim neighbourhood in Dubai. Duncan Chard for The National
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The clues are there from the beginning. Walk through the door and your eye is drawn to a huge, haunting Sabhan Adam canvas, guarding the hallway. With no doors on the lower floor, the ground level of this five-bedroom villa is a seamless space filled with decorative antique chests, several Rokni Haerizadeh paintings and lots of interesting coffee-table books on design, travel and architecture. The home of Sharon Harvey is a testament to her background, (she is originally from Zimbabwe) and to her profession as a gallery owner (Showcase Gallery Art & Antiques) and former interior designer. The house is comfortably chic with many striking conversation pieces.

"I was attracted to the villa primarily because of the incredible light; there are massive windows and glass doors in every single room, so no matter what time of day it is there is sunshine pouring in," says Sharon. Apart from the visual aspect [natural light] also brings amazing energy into a home."

She's right; the ambience is serene yet uplifting. This is complemented by the interior design scheme and Sharon has followed a classic combination of neutral furniture (squashy sofas in creams and white linen union) accessorised by richly coloured cushions, kilim rugs, artefacts and paintings. Describing herself as a "creature of habit", Sharon has been living in Dubai for 24 years and says: "My style is so ingrained in me and my lifestyle; it's eclectic and overflowing with furniture, accessories and art."

Her top tip to begin a home decor scheme is to start off with some special pieces and then build around them. But, says Sharon: "try to create a home to suit your lifestyle, make it comfortable and not a showroom".

It's relatively easy for Sharon, but she admits that having an art gallery can mean she is unwilling to part with many pieces and so it also becomes an expensive pastime. "I have a personal collection of Arab chests in my home. These have come my way and I have not wanted to part with them; from the traditional wedding chests to the sea chests, which are more simplified. I just love them at the base of a bed, as side tables next to sofas and I also have them in my entrance hall. They are wonderfully decorative as well as functional. I see the gallery as an extension of my home and not vice versa. It has to be in a way, as I spend more time there than I do at home sometimes."

Sharon bought Showcase Gallery six years ago and she has been fine-tuning it ever since, but her interest in art began much earlier. "As soon as I could, I started buying original art, usually from artists who were also friends. I cannot see any point in putting anything on the wall if it isn't real art and means something to you personally."

Sharon's been fortunate to exhibit many emerging artists who have become friends, including up-and-coming Amartey Golding. "My best pieces are by Rokni Haerizadeh. I fell in love with his art when some of it was brought to the gallery five years ago when he was unknown. I purchased my first piece then, and in fact his earlier works are my favourites, and being a friend now makes his work more meaningful. Another of my favourite pieces is a sculpture by the Indian artist Debanjan Roy, which I purchased at Art Dubai - from a series called India Shining and is a humorous bright red Gandhi reclining on a chair."

These artworks are all juxtaposed with family photographs and work by Sharon's daughter Michelle, who is graduating this year from Central St Martin's in London; she has clearly inherited her mother's passion.

Of course the Sabhan Adam mixed-media canvas always elicits a reaction from guests. "I am fortunate to be exhibiting many of Sabhan Adam's older works in the gallery this month. He is slightly controversial. I have his books in stock and often encourage potential buyers to read a little about him before they make any judgement. It creates a much better understanding of who he is and why he paints a figure of a man, or it could be an animal, over and over again in various shapes and forms. I think this sort of research is always wise before investment anyway as quite often it transforms a would-be critic into a collector of his work. Whether you love it or hate it, you cannot walk past and not take notice."

It's Sharon's quest for knowledge and her diverse interests that have driven her enormous book collection - displayed on Omani chests and throughout the house. There are references to her African heritage, too - ebony sculptures, pen and ink drawings of ostriches, safari style skins all shout of a contemporary colonial vibe.

Showcase Gallery's reputation as framers is second to none, and Sharon is used to giving other people advice on buying, framing and hanging art. "I definitely believe certain art is for certain places," she explains. "The Sabhan Adam could never be in the bedroom for example. I believe that bedroom art should be peaceful and seductive. Art should also be hung at eye level so in a passageway it is quite high whereas in a living or dining area where one is seated it should be lower, of course. I like to mix and match different frame styles, as I have done here - if you don't then your home will look like a gallery space."

Although Sharon has deliberately enhanced the light in her villa by making the interior open plan, she has also resisted the temptation to use curtains or blinds. This also brings the outside in.

"I moved in last February and the garden was a total mess apart from the enormous bougainvillea hedges separating me from the neighbours which bring year-round colour. I planted an easy-to-maintain garden, with some lawn and lots of potted plants on the paved living space for outdoor dining. I use the outside for entertaining and I like to eat al fresco as much as possible." The latest addition to her home are two chickens, who seem content to roam the spacious garden. They provide the finishing touches to an idyllic address.

Showcase Gallery is located on Beach Road, Dubai. Sabhan Adam's exhibition opened on March 17 and runs until April 15, followed by an exhibition by Amartey Golding.