A home with a view of the Burj Khalifa or Arabian Gulf, an enormous designer kitchen and branded furnishings is all very well for when you want to impress guests. A far more important and intimate space that has the potential to be the most impressive room in any home, however, is the dressing room.
It's a space interior designer Rhian Clarke specialises in. Thanks to her attention to detail, this former accountant goes to great lengths to ensure her dressing rooms utilise the area to maximum effect, while also reflecting its owner's style. From measuring maxi dresses and transforming a shoe collection into an artistic display, to incorporating secret doors, hidden sections and creating the illusion of space, Clarke aims to add an element of surprise and wonder in all her dressing rooms, stacked or small. These are her top tips.
Choose your space
If you don't already have an existing dressing area, identify a space close to your master bedroom. This might sound simple, but Clarke has some imaginative suggestions. "My most recent projects have 'stolen' space from external covered balconies adjacent to the master bedroom, which were previously serving no purpose. We simply moved the existing windows out to the boundary wall and created the perfect shoe room," she says. In another home, a majlis / family area on the landing, which had previously housed a desk that was never used, was closed off by adding one partition wall, to create an additional 10 metres of wardrobe space. Elsewhere, a guest bedroom next to the master was repurposed.
“The location has to be convenient and easily accessible to create a sense of flow,” she says. “The resale value of the property is also an important consideration, so the new room has to feel as if it were always there; not an afterthought.”
The key is to ensure the dressing room, master bedroom and master bathroom are all cohesive in style and colour palette, even though each space serves a different purpose.
Other considerations include the height of the ceiling and the position of air-conditioning units. “Ideally, you want to maximise the space by going right up to the ceiling and a gap at the top is a dust trap so it’s best avoided. But most UAE villas have A/C bulkheads and vents in every room, and not necessarily in the location that you need them to be,” she explains.
"To resolve this, we either reposition the bulkheads by extending them, shortening the vents or constructing false cupboard doors and decorative panelling to keep the air flowing while disguising unsightly grilles."
Ensure every square metre available is used as effectively as possible. To that end, consider incorporating mirrors into cabinet doors and check your current wardrobe contents, including sizes, says Clarke. “If you build shoe shelves that aren’t deep enough to take the length of the shoes, then you’re in trouble,” she cautions. “You also want to be able to fit in as many pairs of shoes as possible, so leaving too big a vertical gap between the shelves will waste valuable space. Why include one hanging rail in the design when you can include two horizontally? Meanwhile, corner units are tricky, so use these to house the items of clothing that are least used, such as heavy coats, ski wear and ballgowns.”
Let there be light
For optimum functionality, layer your lighting. “For task lighting, choose either a chandelier or modern pendant, depending on the overall style of the master suite. That provides the main source of light,” says Clarke. “Additional lighting can be in the closets that have open cabinets, and shelves that can be operated separately from the main light source, especially if the room is to be dimmed when not in use. If there’s a central island with a top made of glass, look at lighting that. Each source should have its own switch for a variety of lighting options.”
Dressing areas that shine
What makes Clarkes's dressing areas a talking point? "I know from the reactions to my social media posts that shoe rooms and dedicated handbag cupboards hit the mark with most ladies," she says. "After careful consideration, I sketch the room and, in most cases, you will find a woman who is willing to sell half her dresses if it means she can have full and visible access to her possessions.
“Shoes and bags are usually stored in boxes or in dust bags, so we can’t see them – and if we can’t see them, the tendency is to grab the same shoes and bag each time,” she adds. “Having them on display means you can see what choice you have, and you’re more likely to use and wear more of what you own.”
Clarke reiterates that every space counts, not only when it comes to displaying your items, but also storing them. “It could mean utilising what is currently an empty wall in a master bedroom to create some additional storage if need be.” Before you launch into buying rails, cabinets or chests of drawers, however, go through all of your clothes and accessories, and consider your needs. “You can then include the relevant storage based on, say, if the majority of your clothes are hung up, folded on a shelf or in a drawer.”
Finally, consider if you want to be able to see your clothes and shoes in open cupboards and shelving, or if you prefer that everything is hidden behind doors. “If your dressing area is going to be within the bedroom itself, then I would suggest that using closed doors is more calming,” concludes Clarke.