Zainab and Farhan's Colorful & Contemporary Dubai Apartment

House Tour

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Name: Zainab Ahmed and husband Farhan Ahmed (and for six months of the year, Farhan’s mom who divides her time between Pakistan and here)
Location: Business Bay, Dubai
Years lived in: Renting 3 years

The rental apartment Zainab shares with her husband (and an occasional visiting mother-in-law) is considered large by local Dubai standards. But it's just the right amount of room for her family, and it's filled with cozy seating arrangements, colorful accent walls, fun accessories and thoughtful art.

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From Zainab: I’m an investment banker with a growing love of pop art and mid-century modern design. My husband, Farhan, is a freelance marketer and graphic design enthusiast. We both share a love for art, travel, photography and each other! Our house is peppered with colorful items we've made / collected / assembled over the years from different parts of the world, with a lot of influences from our native Pakistan.

My favorite design style is mid-century modern, but my home is more eclectic — in part due to the fact that we have several 'legacy' pieces (from a café my husband used to own to hand-me-downs from our families when we were just starting out). My favorite piece currently is an installation of wood birds on round perches that my husband and I crafted from toy birds, embroidery frames and bicycle chains. It took a couple of months to complete, trying to get the look we wanted — a smooth enamel like finish for which we spent hours scraping and sanding the birds, and trial-and-error to find the right primers and paint. My home is characterized by vibrant colors in an essentially contemporary setting. I love the fact that I can curl up with a book and cup of tea in any part of my house.

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It's a fairly large kitchen with built-in appliances and lots of counter space running along the walls. I received the IKEA dining set as a house warming present from my sister, and it perfectly matched the kitchen faux-woodwork finishes. We painted the wall yellow, and added a laser cut foam detail pattern around the fire extinguisher which was oddly placed right in the middle and couldn't be moved due to building regulations! The colorful pottery is from my home city of Karachi (Pakistan) which I picked up in a weekend street bazaar and has managed to survived years of use. Yellow is such a cheerful color for the kitchen. It always brightens me up.

My mum-in-law spends about half the year with us, so we designed the guest bedroom to make her feel at home, with lots of textiles from Pakistan (the animal hide, the ethnic throws on the bed and sofa, and the quilted bed linen).

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I’m a big fan of mid-century modern design, but our home is more a combination of modern and eclectic!

Inspiration: Traveling the world. Everywhere I go, I want to bring back something of my experience from a new city or a new country to my home. And although I prefer clean and uncluttered rooms, I am fast accumulating collectibles from around the world that I have to figure out a way to feature in my apartment! Iconic pieces designed by Ray & Charles Eames, Ingo Maurer and Tom Dixon.

Favorite Element: The fact that every room has something unique, something of visual interest. Whether the Moroccan wood panel in the guest room, the birds in the living space, the framed fire extinguisher in the kitchen… every time someone new visits, we have so much to talk about just by taking cues from our home’s unique design features.

Biggest Challenge: Storage space. We have a few small built-in wardrobes in the bedrooms, but finding space to store larger items like suitcases and boxes is a constant challenge, especially since I abhor the idea of stuffing things under the bed. Besides I have a box spring in the guest room and a low platform bed in the master bedroom so that’s not really an option!

What Friends Say: All my friends love it. Especially the kitchen and the balcony, both areas where we can eat, drink and chit chat to our hearts content!

Biggest Embarrassment: The beige flooring tiles that run throughout the house. The surface tends to chip easier if something heavy falls on them and the grout is a nightmare to clean. It’s a rental so we decide against installing carpeting (I’m not a fan anyway) or wooden flooring since we’d have to take it all out when moving out.

Proudest DIY: That’s easy: the birds installation Farhan and I made when we moved in. We wanted something really eye-catching, and on a tight budget at the time we couldn’t find anything large enough for the space. We bought wooden toy birds from a street stall and removed the legs and paint using sand paper (and lots of elbow grease). Once we had sanded them smooth, we used a primer and painted them with an enamel finish. I found embroidery frames in several sizes and we used the inside rings to fix the birds. We spray painted some bicycle chains we found at a local Ace Hardware outlet, and then drilled these into a wooden beam that went up on the ceiling. The whole thing took over 3 months to finish.

Biggest Indulgence: I like for rooms to have a focal point so I buy a lot of art. I’m typically attracted to clean lines and vivid colors and the will try to find the biggest pieces I can fit in an available space. Since I’m usually on a budget, this often calls for creative solutions!

Best Advice: Declutter, declutter, declutter!

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • Living room grey feature wall: Clark + Kensington Paint (color Charcoal Cashmere)
  • Guestroom feature wall: Clark + Kensington Paint (color Playas de Cancun)
  • Kitchen feature wall: Ace Hardware paint (color Zesty Yellow)

ENTRY

  • Rug from Fes, Medina
  • Console is custom made from Pakistan
  • Plants and pots from Ace

LIVING ROOM

  • Photographers tripod lamp from Pottery Barn
  • Klyne 2 piece sectional from Crate and Barrel
  • Courtyard Dhurrie from West Elm
  • Honey crewel patterned cushions from West Elm
  • A frame Tin Tin poster from the Herge Museum in Brussels, Belgium
  • Metal and glass coffee table was a thrifted find from an office that was closing in the building where I work. I didn’t have to pay anything for it.
  • TV console from Crate and Barrel
  • Grey suede sofas were custom made in Pakistan
  • “Favorite throw” from West Elm
  • Caged glass table lamp from Pottery Bard
  • Silver and brass chest set on a tortoise shell board from Istanbul
  • Wooden coffee table on casters and wool carpet from Marina Home (shop in Dubai)

DINING ROOM

  • Dining table and chairs were custom made in Pakistan.
  • Mosaic glass lantern chandelier from Istanbul

KITCHEN

  • Ikea Fusion dining table and chairs set

GUEST BEDROOM

  • Box spring from Pakistan
  • Arm chair custom made in Pakistan
  • Wood panel from a Moroccan furniture supplier in Dubai.

OUTDOORS

  • Balcony wicker furniture from Pakistan.
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Thanks, Zainab!

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(Image credits: Atif Hyder and Zainab Ahmed; Zainab Ahmed)

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Adrienne photographs beautiful homes in and around her home base of Austin, Texas. She's a contributor to UPPERCASE Magazine and spends all her free time exploring small town Texas. She watches a lot of Star Trek.