"The consumer is really very smart these days," says Maana Abu Daqqa, the man behind Ebarza, an online retailer of mid-century furniture. "The shopper knows that if you go to a showroom or a store, you are paying part of that shop's exorbitant rent in your final bill. The running cost of an online store is so much less, so you are always getting a deal when you buy online. It just makes sense to provide our furniture online; you give your customer what they want, which is high-quality items, at an affordable price."
Abu Daqqa is not alone in making this realisation; an increasing number of unique and well-curated online shops offering furniture and home accessories are popping up across the UAE. Whatever’s “in” in the decor world can be acquired in the UAE with the simple click of a button.
Maren Gerber, founder of MarMarLand – which stocks beautifully designed children's furniture as well as grown-up home accessories inspired by minimal Scandinavian design – says choosing to launch an online store made sense for a start-up like hers. "I personally love online shopping. Especially if you have small kids, it is so much easier to do your shopping online and get it delivered straight to your home."
For someone like Audrey Soler, founder of lifestyle brand The People of Sand, launching an online business made sense, she says, because she can do everything herself, "from anywhere around the world – it's the dream life".
Like all the other online entrepreneurs we spoke to, Soler handles business strategy, digital strategy, art direction, photography, sourcing, buying, customer service, web development and social media coverage herself, at least until the business grows enough to hire employees and assistants.
Choosing to be an exclusively online business, says Soler, allows her to price her products attractively and to also customise products specifically for her clients.
Here are six go-to sites for home decor in the UAE.
One of the first on the scene when it comes to offering homeware online, Ebarza, founded by UAE-born Palestinian architect Maana Abu Daqqa, has become something of a household name. Before it launched, finding affordable mid-century furniture in the UAE was nearly impossible.
"I chose to focus on the mid-century style because it was really growing as a trend," explains Abu Daqqa. "Stores here don't have this. Ikea is more Scandinavian, with just a few examples of mid-century design, and there was a gap in the market."
Ebarza launched as a stylish online option for design lovers, retailing well-priced reinterpretations of classic mid-century pieces. It also stocks original contemporary artwork, lighting, rugs and accessories, all conveniently delivered to your doorstep, with the option to return and exchange if things aren't exactly to your liking.
"We now create our own designs, to meet a minimal, sleek, slim, almost Scandinavian aesthetic, where our underlying approach is 'less is more'," explains Abu Daqqa.
Ebarza's overdyed, handmade Bursa rugs are among its best sellers. "Each rug has a story," explains Abu Daqqa. "Each is between 80 to 100 years old. Factories in Turkey gather the old carpets from villages, knocking on people's doors and asking them if they have rugs for sale. These are all handmade, 100 per cent wool rugs that are a piece of art, a piece of heritage and culture."
The rugs are dyed with a new, organic, vibrant hue that still allows the original pattern of the rug to be traced. The rugs, as well as the Ebarza-designed sofas and artwork, can be customised in terms of size and colour. "We listen to what people want, and we provide it. This is where design is heading these days, and the UAE is as aware of design trends, if not more so, than anywhere else in the world."
The People of Sand
Fans of a Bohemian chic look in their homes needn't look much further than The People of Sand. Founded by Dubai-based Audrey Soler, who boasts French, Spanish and Berber roots, the brand specialises in Moroccan home accessories. Think leather poufs made using Sabra silk by leather artisans, Berber rugs of the Boucherouite variety, Moroccan wedding blankets known as Handira and coffee tables of brass and carved wood.
"We specialise and focus only on Moroccan products," explains Soler, who spent 10 years working in digital advertising before choosing to follow her passion for beautiful design full-time. "Our carpets are made by a team of women in the Atlas Mountains and our leather poufs are made in Marrakech. We also offer lamps, tables and blankets. Everything is handmade by people we know."
Soler says customers who want to add a bit of an Arabic touch to their interiors are big fans of her company. "We get many western clients buying our products right before leaving the region, as well as Arabs who want a mix of modern and Arabian in their decor."
Soler regularly travels to Morocco to meet the craftspeople creating her products. "It takes 280 hours to weave a carpet. Just imagine."
Maren Gerber has always believed that beautiful design shouldn't be limited to grown-up spaces. The Dubai-based, German mother-of-two refused to compromise on style just because she had a 5-year-old and 3-year-old to look after. "I refused to put ugly, plastic, 'made in China' toys in my living room, or teddy bear and princess bedding in my kid's rooms. So I started to search for products that are stylish, of high quality, preferably organic and fun for kids and adults."
The result was MarMarLand, which brings together trendy children's brands from around the world, such as Ferm Living, Design Letters, Cam Cam Copenhagen, Mrs Mighetto and Sebra. Most products are gender neutral, catering for both newborns and older children.
Gerber's aim is to create playful environments for children that are defined by their clean lines. "Take our Jupiduu slides. They are made of wood and look extremely stylish but are so much fun for little kids. Or the Luckyboysunday knitted toys, made of 100 per cent baby alpaca wool, which makes them incredibly soft, combined with a super cool design."
MarMarLand provides everything from accessories and decor items for nurseries and children's rooms, including carpets, lamps, cushions, blankets, bedding, poufs, mobiles, wall stickers, posters, playhouses and toys. A grown-up category that comprises bedding, cushions, minimalistic planters and edgy kitchen accessories. Soon, larger furniture items for children, like cot beds, changing tables, chairs, tables, shelves and desks, will be added, all while maintaining a Scandinavian-like aesthetic.
The Bowery Company
The edgy, urban feel of New York design, coupled with the clean minimal lines of Scandinavian furniture and accessories, is the focus of the Dubai-based online concept store The Bowery Company. Founded by Lebanese-Canadian Christiane Nasr Daou, whose full-time job is actually in finance, the online store's collection is dominated by accessories made with on-trend materials like marble, concrete, copper and brass, combining an industrial look with a luxurious edge. Nasr Daou was wandering the streets of New York, in the Bowery neighbourhood of Manhattan, admiring shops full of distressed, industrial lamps, when she had her own lightbulb moment. "Design like those lamps was something that's missing in Dubai, and I thought, why don't I start importing them?"
Two weeks later, she started researching, teaching herself, and ordering home accessories and furniture online. She booked her first container before she had even drafted a business plan. "When I had my first order, I was the happiest person on Earth," she says. "I couldn't believe how much interest there was."
Considered one of the first to bring decor trends like light boxes and letter boards to the UAE, The Bowery Company also stocks rolls of highly coveted banana leaf wallpaper. In addition to brands from New York, the website also stocks items from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. "I'm known for affordable luxury," explains Nasr Daou. "It's about providing items for those clients who appreciate good design."
If one person deserves credit for popularising Beni Ourain rugs in the UAE, it would have to be Miruna Valcu Zekkri, founder of Maison Saadah. The Romanian native, who lives in Dubai with her Belgian husband and young daughter, says the idea for her online rug business came during a "magical trip" to Morocco in 2014.
"We were wandering through the streets of Marrakech and I saw these gorgeous rugs which I had only seen in magazines before. I remember saying: 'I love these rugs so much that I would buy them all'," says Valcu Zekkri. "There was a gap in the market, with no Beni Ourain rugs in the UAE at that time, but they were present in some of the most well-known fashion magazines, like Elle and Vogue. I had found only one very small vintage Moroccan rug in a famous concept store on Jumeirah Beach Road. That was about it."
Hand woven by people of the Beni Ourain tribe in the mountains of Morocco, the authentic version of these wool rugs, which are all the rage right now, feature a black diamond pattern woven into a cream foreground. "But Beni Ourain rugs are not all the same," explains Valcu Zekkri. "Quality strongly differs depending on the quality of the wool and its colour, on the weight of the rug and also on the skills of the lady who created it."
Valcu Zekkri's initial stock of rugs sold out in a few weeks, and today, Maison Saadah – which is a French-Arabic combination of words meaning "home of happiness" – produces its own rugs, designed in Dubai and handwoven in the Moroccan mountains by women in their own homes. "It takes about 20 days and 20 kilograms of wool for a rug to be created," says Valcu Zekkri.
It took a spiritual awakening to propel Shazia Ahmed, a Canadian biologist who also has a degree in interior styling, to launch her online homeware store, Emaan Home, in Dubai. Emaan, which means "faith", seemed the right name for her biggest venture yet.
After living in Dubai for 18 months with her husband and two sons, Ahmed moved into a new villa. "I was searching for contemporary furniture and accessories that would complement our simple but modern style. I couldn't find what I wanted at the price point that I could afford. It was either stunning but too expensive or it was beautiful but wouldn't last six months."
Having fallen for the minimalism of Scandinavian and Nordic design – "It's beautiful in a shy way; it's functional and has purpose," she says – Ahmed began searching for home and lifestyle accessories that would "infuse calm and serenity" in a home.
The design elements she curates are mostly in neutral colours like grey, white and black. "We have handcrafted products made in small batches in boutique studios in Vietnam, Melbourne or India," says Ahmed, as well as products from Australia, Denmark, Korea, Singapore and the US. "Concrete is our first love, but we also love our marble."
Emaan Home stocks everything from kitchenware and tableware, to pots, vases, trays, cushions, area rugs, wall prints, wall hangings, notebooks, journals, stationery and phone covers. Among its more popular items are marble covers for MacBooks and, next month, it will launch its first lighting collection.