My Dubai Rent: Interior designer spends Dh400,000 transforming four-bedroom villa

Karen El-Khazen, who rents in Umm Suqeim for Dh300,000, has built a meditation room, a Bali-inspired bathroom and a ‘cuddle puddle’

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My Dubai Rent takes you inside a reader's home to have a look at what they get for their money, how much they pay in rent and asks them what they like and don't like

Interior designer Karen El-Khazen has spent Dh400,000 completely revamping her rented villa into one of Dubai’s most whimsical homes.

Ms El-Khazen, chief executive of Karen K Sanctuaries, pays Dh300,000 for the 14,000-square-foot four-bedroom home in Umm Suqeim 3. Payments are split over four cheques on a five-year agreement.

Since moving into the property in 2021, the 37-year-old has added a meditation room, a “cuddle puddle” and a Bali-themed bathroom, with a “fashion library” and a “Garden of Eden” in the works.

As well as designing and crafting bespoke furniture, including a floating library and enchanted forest ceiling adornments, Ms El-Khazen, from Lebanon, has designed an eclectic boudoir and a games-themed kitchen from the former “blank canvas”.

Here, she invites The National inside and explains why creating a dream home shouldn’t be limited to property owners.

My Dubai rent: Dh300,000 for a four-bedroom villa in Umm Suqeim

My Dubai rent: Dh300,000 for a four-bedroom villa in Umm Suqeim

Why did you choose to live here and not somewhere else?

Before I even entered the villa, I knew it was mine. The energy and the space are incredible, and the garden has plenty of room for my eight chihuahuas and my cat.

I previously lived in Jumeirah 3 and I wanted to stay by the beach, while the low-rise building helps me feel more grounded. This part of Dubai just feels so authentic.

All I wanted was an old palace-type building with columns and a big garden. I had to do a nice facelift on it because the interiors were really bad. I think that's why I got such a good deal on it.

What kind of facilities do you have around you?

I’m within walking distance of Burj Al Arab so I have endless options of restaurants, shops and beaches.

It’s very quiet here but then you cross the road and you're in the centre of everything. Then, when you cross back, you're back in your own little haven.

There’s an amazing 24-hour bakery close by and I love Brew coffee shop. There are also some nice, quirky, vegan places and local cafes. It’s a charming little neighbourhood that needs to be discovered on foot to find the hidden gems.

The property also has a pool and an outdoor kitchen, which I’ve transformed into my design studio where I upcycle furniture, throw paints and make hats.

Did you have to look at many properties before settling on this one?

I saw a few but when I saw this one it just felt right. I actually wanted somewhere old and battered because I wanted to completely renovate everything.

I was just looking for my own blank canvas. Transforming the old into the new is a big part of what I do, and I was looking for a challenge.

I saw a nice villa before this, but the view was mainly of the neighbour's children and laundry, which put me off.

I used to live in a very prestigious but small eight-villa compound and I wanted to break away from compound life. Previously my neighbour would just take the liberty to swing my door open and come in uninvited.

Do you think living here offers value for money?

Absolutely. I started my tenancy during Covid so I got a great deal. Everything in the area that resembles my villa is now priced up to Dh800,000.

At the time, a lot of people were leaving the country but I wasn’t going anywhere.

Often people say Dubai is expensive but I came from living in London so I was used to a robust market. I’m getting great value for my money here and the five-year tenancy sealed the deal.

What touches have you made to the apartment to make it feel like your own?

I redid everything in the villa to create my inner child's playground. When you walk in there’s a Marie Antoinette/Breakfast at Tiffany's living and dining space, which is open-plan.

To the right, I have my own little home bar and entertainment space with a glorious enchanted forest theme, with golden branches draped from the ceiling so you feel like you're in the woods.

The guest bathrooms are adorned with Renaissance steel with a modern twist and a whole mirror wall of baroque frames.

Under the stairs, I've created a secret Alice in Wonderland-themed cuddle puddle, which is basically a cosy relaxation space, right next to a three-metre floating library.

I also turned a food storage room into a meditation room and spa where I start my day with a morning water gong.

The kitchen is also super fun. I've turned the breakfast table into a billiard table where we play pool and have dinner parties.

Upstairs I have my office area with an M16 gun lamp and vampire red drapes and my bedroom is super modern with a classical twist, with a huge four-poster bed and custom-made furniture that I crafted myself.

Finally, my Bali bathroom features a massive bathtub with greenery dangling from the ceiling and white pebbles everywhere. I spend hours in that tub.

What future renovations do you have planned?

The second bedroom is going to be turned into a fashion library. There will be a massive three-metre closet with a steel ladder and another wall will display all my headpieces.

The third wall will display all my shoes and there will be a daybed in the centre and a sofa by the window.

I’m also planning to convert one of the bedrooms into a Garden of Eden in the next month or two. It’s going to be my inner garden sanctuary with a hanging bed on ropes and greenery trailing down the walls.

Why have you invested so much in a rental property?

I’ve spent every dirham with all of my heart and I’m so grateful to live here. I’ve had the opportunity to create my canvas and build a home that gives me inner peace. I might not own it but in this moment it’s mine and I get to own these moments for the rest of my life.

To buy this villa, I'm probably looking at around Dh50 million, but I get to pay humble rent. Yes, I invested in it, but I'm living in my own dreams and that is priceless.

Also, I’m the sorceress of sourcing, so it looks like I’ve spent way more than I have. It’s all about knowing what materials to use and how to make the most of a building without spending an arm and a leg.

I have no plans to leave so I’m happy to keep working on my dream home.

Updated: October 23, 2023, 6:17 AM