Sana Akhtar had always wanted to give her parents something "extraordinary", so when she heard about the Home Centre Room Makeover competition on the radio, it seemed like the perfect fit. "Nothing could be more special than surprising them with a completely different, redecorated room," says the Abu Dhabi resident.
Akhtar was one of 3,500 people to enter this year's competition, which saw Home Centre hand out room makeovers worth Dh10,000 to 20 winners across the GCC.
Submissions were entered online and, after a public vote whittled the original 3,500 down to a shortlist of 100, an internal jury was tasked with choosing the 20 most deserving entries. Seven winners were selected from the UAE, and Akhtar was one of them.
In order to transform the Akhtars' bedroom, the Home Centre team opted for striking furniture that would introduce a more luxurious feel to the space, explains Ann Hayward, Home Centre's senior visual merchandising manager in charge of the UAE makeovers.
"We used a Diamond Poster Bed as the key furniture piece. We then decorated the posts with folded beige curtains, and placed a lot of printed and textured cushions to soften up the look. A big wardrobe took care of storage and added to the rich, dark wood look.
"The choice of furniture colour is dark to complement the pale blue walls. Pairing pastel shades with dark and light furniture was a trend we loved exploring in this season's makeovers. Light walls give the room a clean, fresh and dreamy ambience, which you can never get tired of," Hayward says.
The four-poster bed was a particular hit with the Akhtar family, who now take great pride in showing off their new room to visitors. "I know that no amount of gifts could ever repay the care and comfort my parents have provided us with, but with Home Centre's help I got the chance to add colour and comfort to their life," says Akhtar.
For Qatar resident Omar Zareed, winning the Home Centre competition meant that he could transform his children's four-foot-square bedroom into a comfortable, clutter-free zone where they could sleep, play and study.
In this instance, the Home Centre team focused on creating a design that was fun, playful and safe, and opted for a tangerine colour scheme that was gender-neutral enough to appeal to both Zareed's son and daughter.
The dimensions of the room meant that optimisation of space was a priority, says Cathrine Brauer, Home Centre's visual merchandising manager responsible for the makeovers in Qatar and Bahrain. As a result, the team furnished the room with a bunk bed fitted with pull-out drawers and an extendable study desk.
Spatial constraints and insufficient storage were a recurring theme with many of this year's entries, says Brauer, who recommends that those living in smaller spaces think carefully about the dimensions of their furniture in relation to the space. "Some people end up using too many furniture pieces and cramp them up into a small space or tend to buy big, oversized furniture, which needs higher ceilings and spacious rooms," she says. "Another must-do is to find furniture with a lot of storage facilities, especially if you are selecting furniture for small kids. And if your room is small, opt for lighter colours, and use mirrors over the sofa or bed to create a spacious feel."
These were some of the tricks that the Home Centre team employed in Kuwait, where they were tasked with converting a bachelor pad into a "newlyweds' haven". Minali Bajaj Al Syed entered the competition to win the "perfect wedding gift" for his brother-in-law and bride-to-be.
"The room had very few pieces of furniture in it and the items didn't really connect," explains Hanne Gokstad, the visual merchandiser responsible for the Kuwait makeover. "As it is a small room, space was definitely a constraint when designing. They wished for light colours and a modern and simple style, and they needed more storage space. My focus was to make it cosy and inviting for a newlywed couple, and at the same time include practical solutions. We painted all the walls in a nice peach colour, and for furniture we went for walnut, and bedding and accessories in white and peach. We added a big mirror over the bed to open up the room and make it seem more spacious."
The team selected a bed with built-in drawers, as well as a footstool with internal storage space, and installed a dresser and additional hooks on the walls. "The room is full, but you can still move around comfortably and there is also enough storage space to keep it neat and clean," says Gokstad.
With Fatima Mohammed's room in Saudi Arabia, the team faced a completely different set of challenges. Her room was large and spacious but also bare and lacking in personal touches. "I have never had my own room, and have always shared space with one of my siblings," Mohammed explains. "Now with my sister moving out, for the first time I have a room all to myself and I wanted to make it as beautiful as possible. [But] as an undergraduate student, I lack the money and the interior design skills to make the space reflect my personality."
The Home Centre team started by identifying Mohammed's colour preferences and then repainted the room and selected accessories in vibrant, summery tones. For the main furniture, they opted for the Wave bedroom set in a high-gloss finish, which is very on trend, says Jhumar Gallardo, visual merchandiser, Home Centre, Saudi Arabia. The end result is "fresh and feminine".
With this particular room, one of the greatest challenges was sticking within the allocated budget, says Gallardo. "Fatima had a beautifully spacious room, which is a designer's dream when styling the space. I had to work hard on getting my desired look without overshooting our budget. But focusing on the plan, lots of innovation and choosing striking elements and key statement pieces like the Tango chair made sure that we didn't feel any restraints. Blowing the budget is easy, but sticking to it unleashes creativity like never before."
For those looking to decorate a larger space on a limited budget, Gallardo recommends gathering ideas from websites, catalogues, blogs and home stores.
"Sometimes you end up choosing the latest furniture trends but are unsure of how to dress them up. At times, you have colours in mind but not the style you want to use. Try using pastel shades with dark furniture, or neutral colours with brights. Using colours and mixing patterns is a bold yet fun way to liven up your room. It also gives you the liberty to experiment and refresh often.
"Another common design challenge is laying out furniture. Always measure the available space before making the purchase. And make sure the most striking or largest piece of furniture is laid out first and then work around it."