Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Inside designer Nadine Kanso’s charming Dubai home

An old-style villa in Jumeirah that is a treasure trove of Middle Eastern art must be the home of a creative mind

A quiet side street in Dubai’s Jumeirah 2 is where you will find the residence of Beirut-born designer and entrepreneur Nadine Kanso. She and her family have lived in this “old-school” villa for almost 20 years, ever since she moved to the UAE with her husband, Aziz Koleilat, and two sons, Amr and Jassem. At that time, Koleilat was working for Johnson & Johnson and a colleague of his suggested they look at this house.

“You will not find a better location,” he told Kanso, who was, at that time, a mother to two boys under the age of two. “You have to remember this was before there was a Dubai Mall,” she says. With a Park N Shop a stone’s throw away, and Safa Park around the corner, it did seem practical. “But it was the garden that really made me fall in love with the house,” she recalls. The outdoor area surrounds the home and a shared pool and, during winter, Kanso loves to entertain outside.

“The location is just as ideal now as it was then, although for different reasons.” Today, Kanso’s jewellery brand, Bil Arabi, has its head office in Dubai Design District and her photographic works are hung at Cuadro Art Gallery, located in Dubai International Financial Centre’s Gate Village, both of which are about a 10-minute drive from her home. Now it’s about convenience.

You know Kanso is a typographist from the moment you walk into her living room, as large cushions bought from The Odd Piece sport the initials of her two children. They immediately catch your eye.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , JULY 1 -2019 :- Interior of the Nadine Kanso’s house in Jumeirah 2 in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Weekend. Story by Sujata Assomull
Distinct design at Nadine Kanso’s Dubai home. Pawan Singh / The National

Meanwhile, a giant black and white ­photographic artwork by Iranian artist Reza Aramesh greets you from the back wall. The subjects in the picture are Egyptian prisoners who were captured by Israeli troops during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Sitting next to it is another monochromatic ­photograph that comes from Kanso’s 2006 show, Meena Ana, which translates in English to “who I am”.

Kanso’s own work is ­interspersed with pieces by other artists throughout her home. “I am drawn to artists who talk about social [and] political issues in the region,” she explains. She has a collection of works by accomplished contemporary Lebanese artist Mohammad el Rawas and pieces by Beiruti calligrapher Samir Al Sayegh, a pioneer of Modernism in the Arab world. There is hardly any space left on these walls, but that does not stop Kanso from ­collecting. Sat next to a wooden writing desk in the foyer are pieces still parcelled up in bubble wrap, waiting to be hung.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , JULY 1 -2019 :- Nadine Kanso at her house in Jumeirah 2 in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Weekend. Story by Sujata Assomull
Nadine Kanso in the living room of her Jumeirah 2 home. Pawan Singh / The National

The living room wall is a majestic purple, while the adjoining dining room boasts a bottle green theme. In both, the art pops. We spot stools by Nada Debs featuring vibrant fruit prints and another, the palm stool, by Emirati creative Khalid Shafar. Every piece has been placed with both love and an accomplished artistic eye; the home has been curated by Kanso herself, as she does not believe in using an interior designer. It is filled with curiosities, from objet d’arts to myriad candles.

While her villa may pay ­homage to Middle Eastern art, it is also very much a home. One of the first things that Kanso did when she moved into the house was tear out the wall-to-wall carpeting, exposing the terrazzo tiles. “It reminds me of my grandmother’s house in south Lebanon,” she says. But, of course, she ­ensured these tiles were accessorised with carpets and kilims – one piece is more than 150 years old and another is from modern British spot, The Rug Company.

The more contemporary pieces inject edge to the house, but the use of wooden furniture adds warmth and a “lived-in” look. Her coffee table was bought from Marina Home and was originally a dining table. She had the legs cut down as she could not find a coffee table large enough. Her actual dining table is from Dubai Design Days – it is a wooden piece created by a Mexican ­designer, and this is combined with stainless steel chairs from Samir Al Amin. A wooden wall cabinet completes her dining room; its surface is filled with candle stands and ceramic cacti she picked up from d3’s The Lighthouse. This cabinet, like the wooden table in the corner of the living room, came from a flea market in Prague, where Kanso lived with her family before moving to Dubai.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , JULY 1 -2019 :- Interior of the Nadine Kanso’s house in Jumeirah 2 in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Weekend. Story by Sujata Assomull
A decorative British phonebox in Nadine Kanso's home. Pawan Singh / The National

The largest wooden piece in the house is a custom-made cabinet that houses the television, family pictures and an extensive DVD, book and magazine collection. In it, there are design and advertising journals that date back to 1988. “These are from my days at university in Beirut,” says Kanso, who was a student of communications, art and adverting design.

There is no question that Kanso is a bit of magpie. “I always find space for new things,” she says. But only a creative person would have the know-how to make so many different objects look like they belong together. “I think of it as a collage,” she adds, admitting she also enjoys transforming the decor.

She changed the colours of her walls just last summer; she often picks up artworks when she attends new shows; and she uses items she comes across creatively, such as some 1950s-era radios that are now fashioned into consoles at the entrance of her home. This is why she describes her abode as a “­continuous work in progress”.

The living and dining spaces are definitely the home’s epicentre, where Kanso loves to entertain. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms; this area is more private, although Kanso admits she thinks the rooms here are a little small. In fact, the only reason she would ever consider moving is because she would not mind having more space. “I sometimes think maybe I should add a dressing room to a balcony,” she jokes.

While creating another space with the cheer, charm and refinement of this villa might seem impossible, with Kanso at the helm you know that, if the family does decide to move, it will be as much of a dream home as this is.

Updated: July 21, 2019 12:49 PM

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