A career in government contracting that has included stints in Iraq and Afghanistan means that Judi Porter is no stranger to upping sticks and moving country. But that doesn't make the prospect of furnishing an entire apartment from scratch any less daunting each time.
Porter, a US citizen, arrived in Dubai three months ago and after a sojourn at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Media City, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina. "I arrived in Dubai with just my suitcases. All I had was the clothes on my back, so it was a bit overwhelming to then have to furnish an entire apartment," she says.
Fortunately, she had done her homework. Before leaving the US, Porter had researched the possibility of renting rather than buying furniture for her new home. A quick Google search offered up Indigo Living, a Hong Kong-headquartered furniture retailer and rental company with a strong presence in Dubai. On arrival in the UAE, she discovered that a colleague of hers already used Indigo's services. She was sold. "I had a first-hand recommendation, so everything fell into place."
Indigo Living is one of only a few companies to offer this service in the UAE. Furniture rental is still a relative rarity in this part of the world, says Joe Hepworth, the general manager of Indigo Living's Middle East base. Even among the UAE's countless international residents, generally only North Americans are completely familiar - and comfortable - with the concept, he explains.
Which is surprising, perhaps, given the transient nature of the UAE. Furniture rental is an obvious choice for people who are unsure how long they will be in a country or are unable to justify the capital expenditure of buying a house-full of furniture in one fell swoop - both common occurrences in the UAE.
"I don't have security of tenure," says Dan King, a chartered architect who also opted to rent from Indigo Living. "One tends to come to the UAE on a one-year open contract that is renewable. And, as you know, the market is highly volatile. I didn't have the certainty of knowing I would be here for two or three years so I couldn't invest in buying furniture."
Indigo Living offers both long- and short-term rental options. Short-term rental might be suited to people who have just arrived in the UAE and need some furniture to tide them over as they wait for their container, explains Hepworth. Or, more simply, someone who needs a bigger table and extra seats to host Christmas dinner, or a spare bed for mum and dad when they visit once a year.
Long-term rentals are aimed at people that are in the UAE for between one and three years and want to "take the stress out of relocating", says Hepworth. Customers can rent anything they see in Indigo's various shops in Dubai, comprising a store on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residences, a presence in the Home Design shop in Mall of the Emirates and a brand new flagship on Sheikh Zayed Road.
"You can have anything that you find in our store, down to linen, towels, accessories - anything. And we can even add things that we don't stock to the rental agreement. We have a good curtain company that we work with and we can supply kitchenware, outdoor furniture and so on," Hepworth says.
Customers are asked to put down a three-month deposit and pay a one-off upfront Dh1,000 charge for delivery, installation and collection. The remaining amount can be paid off over a period of 12 or 24 months. "At the end of that, you can pay a final month to buy the furniture," says Hepworth.
Or you can keep the bits you want and give back the bits you don't. When we meet, King is coming to the end of his rental agreement and is in the process of moving to Hong Kong. He is unsure whether his new home will be as generously proportioned as his one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina, so he aims to return much of his rented furniture to Indigo Living. One thing he will be holding on to, however, is the mattress, which, according to his wife, offers the best night's sleep she's had in years.
For both King and Porter, the quality and flexibility of Indigo's proposition sealed the deal. "When I contacted the company they sent me a list of what they would suggest for a two-bedroom apartment and I was able to go through it and say, 'I like that, I don't like that.' They make a recommendation but you are not tied to that; you can add to it, you can subtract from it, and you can mix and match," says Porter.
She eventually opted for a dining room set with six chairs, a sofa, two armchairs and two beds. She particularly liked the bed Indigo proposed for the guest room, so she asked for two. She selected her preferred colour for the headboards and these were made specifically for her. "It was so lovely to have that basic layer. I think you decorate in layers and to just have that first layer there was perfect for me," she says.
The European, understated style and inbuilt neutrality of Indigo's products also appealed to them both. "Obviously, there are very distinct styles in this part of the world. There is the very exotic, very ornate, very over-the-top style, which I don't like," says King. "With Indigo, there are three or four basic packages and it comes down to styles. I went for one that was very Italian; very light, very airy, very contemporary and very comfortable. Which is the thing I liked about Indigo. What tends to happen a lot of the time is you get furniture that looks good but isn't actually very comfortable to use.
"I also like that it is brand new. I did go and look at other warehouses in Al Quoz but they tried to give me second-hand furniture and when I looked at the state of it, I realised it wasn't an option. With Indigo, the quality was first class on everything."
Ease, speed, choice and financial flexibility are obvious upsides of the renting route. There's also the benefit of knowing that when something breaks, you can call someone in to fix or replace it. "If you buy something from someone, you get your receipt and that's the end of your relationship. When you're in a rental contract, there is a mutual commitment," says Hepworth. And you don't have the hassle of having to organise a garage sale at the end of it all.
But is it all a little impersonal, one wonders? What of the joy of building a home, item by item; of experimenting with your interior; of piecing together a space that reflects your personality, your experiences and your aspirations?
There's still scope for that, King insists. It's just a matter of striking a balance. "I personalise my apartment with all my pictures and rugs and uplighters and ancillary accessories. That's the personalisation bit. You can go over the top with Indigo because they offer so much. That would look impersonal. There's a balance to be struck there. While my apartment has Indigo furniture, is not an Indigo show apartment."
The cost at Indigo Living
A basic package for a one-bedroom apartment is priced at Dh1,935 per month over a 12 month rental period and Dh1,548 per month over a 24-month period. This package includes a three-seater sofa, one-seater sofa, coffee table, side table, TV cabinet, side table lamp, a dining table and four dining chairs, one king-size bed with a mattress, two bedside tables and two bedside lamps. Although this is the standard formula, Indigo Living is keen to stress that every package can be customised.