“Formal-looking yet liveable.” That was the brief given to interior designer Kate Instone when she first met with the owners of a spanking new villa in Dubai’s District One.
The founder of Blush International, a company through which she has decorated the houses of Madonna, Sting and Seal, Instone was well aware that "the traditional understanding of opulence has been redefined. It is no longer about over-detailing and gold leaf, but rather about clean architectural lines, fine craftsmanship and understated elegance", she says.
That philosophy is apparent in every aspect of the design scheme, from the bronze and smoked-glass screens that separate the Bianco onyx-carved bar area from the main hall, to the hand-stitched media wall in the living room, clad with burnt orange Nappa leather.
It’s the attention to the littlest of details that most impresses in this property, which is home to Canadian Marina Tuboly, her investment banker husband and their baby daughter. The master bedroom, for example, has walls inbuilt with copper mesh, which is said to decrease electromagnetic radiation and promote better quality sleep. The metalwork is hand-forged, the veneers hand-selected and each feather and filler carefully weighed and measured in tandem with the other.
That is not to say the space is short on eye-catching elements. It is, in fact, replete with several larger-than-life pieces, at once elegant and awe-inspiring.
The entrance to the 11,000-square-foot home is punctuated by a hand-blown light installation with 100 crystal orbs, a special commission from Austria, while the U-shaped sofa in the living room ensconces a pair of bespoke solid walnut coffee tables. Instone reveals the chandelier cost in the region of $40,000, while the coffee tables were custom-built for $15,000.
One of her favourite pieces is the dining table. “I was in a meeting with my friend Houman from the Slabhouse and I noticed the most spectacular slab of wood," says Instone. "It was South American parota wood, and I became obsessed. It even smelt divine.
“Just that afternoon, I was meeting Marina Tuboly and her husband for the first time to walk around their shell and core villa. As soon as I went in, I knew that the slab of wood I had gone on to reserve earlier that day would be the perfect piece for them. It was the first item we purchased for the villa, and the rest of the scheme was developed around this central dining table.”
Complementing the five-metre-long hunk of wood is a set of original mid-century tubular metal dining chairs sourced through a specialist dealer in London.
So far, so formal. In keeping with the liveable half of her design brief, Tuboly, 29, reveals her favourite spaces are her daughter’s playroom and nursery. “Since I’m a new mom, I absolutely love that we created such a fun space for her to play in.”
A passionate cook, Tuboly says the “kitchen is where all the magic happens. Having a huge kitchen allows my culinary skills to blossom, and I feel like the openness between the kitchen and living area allows us to enjoy each other’s company more.”
Instone also created a garden to the side of the house next to the kitchen “as Marina loves to cook and grow her own produce”, the designer says.
The owners’ penchant for books and art, too, is well reflected throughout the house and plays out in the form of a plush library and double-height antiqued bronze LED immersive art installation, plus an enviable collection of contemporary paintings peppered across the space, including in the “car museum”.
“The car museum, as we like to call the garage, was my husband’s idea," Tuboly remarks, a tad wryly. "He wanted a closed, air-conditioned space with resin flooring for the supercars that are clearly his obsession. I’m not very much into cars; as long as they take me from A to B, I’m content. I did hang some street art pics just to make the space a little more exciting.”
A swimming pool with integrated water fountains and a Jacuzzi, a commercial-grade outdoor kitchen and an on-the-grass seating area with firepits are some other places where the Tubolys welcome their guests.
To demarcate the entertaining arenas of the home from the couple’s living space, an entire wing of the property has been converted into the master bedroom suite, accessible via a private lift.
Copper mesh aside, “the bedroom is a very uncluttered and focused sleeping area”, says Instone. “The dressing room replaces an additional bedroom and has been ergonomically designed to suit and optimise the client’s needs, rather than them adapting to a pre-existing closet design.
"The bathroom, too, is designed with well-being in mind with a steam room, chromotherapy and aromatherapy showers, and heated towel shelves.”
Unlike most villas of the same stature, the Tubolys have chosen to keep their gym private. This can be accessed directly from the dressing room and has one wall made entirely from glass to let in natural light.
Instone says the couple were “very much involved in the development of the schemes and selection of the finishes. They are an amazing family, funny, kind and generous, as well as very style-conscious; they knew they wanted a sophisticated and opulent home from the outset.”