‘For me, winning is a stamp of approval for this kind of style that I have, it will really boost my self-confidence,’ says Bettina Frimann Larsen, the winner of InsideOut’s Home of the Year 2018 and our celebrated cover star. ‘When people visit, they say it’s homey but all I see is what is missing – even when I knew I was shortlisted my first instinct was to change things!’

While the Danish expat remains modest about her sense of style and ability to accessorise, she displays a naturally talented eye for styling and design, custom-making furniture, upcycling pieces the family has had for years, and mixing a cool Nordic aesthetic with fashionable statement trends. 

Left: The open-plan living-dining room shows Bettina’s artistic talents, and her latest artwork in honour of the Year of Zayed. The IKEA sofas have been upcycled with new upholstery and the Tribe light shade customised with netting. Right: The black feature wall displays a curated selection of Bettina’s artwork and family photos. Brass details in the living room are a hint to the Art Deco direction Bettina took upstairs.

There’s a subtle cohesion between all the spaces, which the judges picked up on and praised. Brass flourishes throughout – living room vases, the kitchen cupboard handles, the bedside tables, the geometric detail on a wardrobe door – paired with green glass and marble, and offset with black accents, all subtly hint at one of the greatest movements in design, Art Deco. This meets a crescendo in the master bathroom, a stunning marbled space that perfectly represents this bold era.

The kitchen is fitted with Carrera marble and custom-built units that hide the refrigerator for a seamless aesthetic. Note the brass handles Bettina added.

This creative home, full of life and personality, is the result of a year-long project. After 15 years of renting in the UAE – and moving nine times – Bettina and her husband Jacob became  homeowners in February 2017, buying in Mira where they knew they would feel at home amongst the other working families that are drawn to the area.

Before they moved in, Bettina instinctively knew the property would benefit from a Danish uplift and she set to work creating an open kitchen with bespoke units, and resurfacing the floors in a satin-soft, cement-grey finish. ‘The house was brand new – it had just been handed over from the developer – so everyone thought we were mad demolishing the kitchen walls and ceiling,’ recalls Bettina. ‘While we’re used to open-plan living in Denmark I also think you need to have separated areas, so we opened the doorway and half a wall, making a window that overlooks the dining area.’

Left: Bettina likes the simple serveware designs from Maisons du Monde and H&M Home. Right: A pair of these lights from Mumbai cast a soft glow in the living room.

Bettina has successfully created distinct zones on the ground floor, embracing the challenge of the compact rooms. She’s used paint to effectively transform the space and her furniture; in both the living room and entrance hall she’s given old IKEA furniture a new lease of life in dramatic black, painting cabinets, shelving units and walls so they blend together to create a feature wall or corner.

Bettina created a focal point in the entrance hall by painting the wall and their existing IKEA cabinets black. She accessorised the shelves with books and travel mementoes, while the rug is from Urban Nest.

‘This dark colour was a big risk to do,’ she says. ‘Because we weren’t sure, we bought a sample pot and started in one corner…then we kept painting and painting and ended up covering the whole wall. It really works and I like that it gives the living room a more modern look.’ 

She’s painted much of the striking artwork that’s on display, too – a talent she discovered 12 years ago while pregnant with her son Oliver. ‘Before then I had never even picked up a paint brush, but being pregnant suddenly kick-started it,” she explains. ‘Now when I have an idea I just want to paint it straight away. I enjoy it and Jacob loves to have it on the walls.’

Left: A vase from Maisons du Monde in Paris, one of Bettina’s favourite shops. Right:  Decorative pieces sit together harmoniously in the entrance hall cabinet.

She’s created a striking focal point in the dining area with a floor-to-ceiling canvas of an elephant, and the soft grey hues complement the Nordic palette. To ensure that the ceiling light from Tribe wouldn’t block the view of the painting, she customised the shade with netting from IKEA.

Somewhat unusual in the UAE, wood panelling is commonly found in apartments in Denmark. Bettina painted the side tables from Pan Emirates black and spray-painted the handles a brass colour. The spherical lights from West Elm add to the Art Deco feel. The chair is from Sri Lanka and the rug is Indigo Living,

‘One of my favourite pieces in the house is the dining table because I designed it myself and had it made,’ she adds. ‘It was hard to find a Danish-style table with hairpin legs, something that was a bit rustic and not too polished, so I asked a carpenter here in Dubai to make this design, and I asked him to bang the wood with chains to give the top a worn look.’

While she’s sourced the furniture, lighting and accessories from a variety of international and local brands, the master bedroom is a true nod to her home country. With only four pieces of furniture – a large bed draped with crushed linen, two repainted bedside tables, and a leather chair from Sri Lanka – surrounded by white, wood-panelled walls, the bedroom is a fuss-free, breathable space. ‘I love this room; it’s the first time we’ve had a bedroom where we think it’s a really lovely place to sleep,’ says Bettina. ‘Wall panels in this period style are very common in apartments in Denmark, and because I was moving towards an Art Deco style I liked the clean lines and bare walls that the panels bring to the room; they’re a focal point themselves.’ Using Pinterest for inspiration, she measured and drew the panels before showing the design to a carpenter. ‘It’s a cheap and easy way to change your walls,’ she says. ‘I would love to have them all over the house, however, the rooms are too small for this style.’

Bettina’s Art Deco bathroom showcases a natural eye for design and a confident application of the colours, materials and motifs that are intrinsic to the era, creating a beautiful style statement in a small space.

Her favourite room by far is her Art Deco bathroom, a space that really tested her creativity and design skills. ‘In the other rooms we had to compromise but not here,’ she explains. ‘The process of making this bathroom was one of the best experiences in my life – although I think it was quite stressful for my husband! Designing it was amazing because I drew everything myself, I had it exactly how I wanted, and the builders understood it. I wanted an old style for the vanity, I didn’t want it floating, which would be natural in a small bathroom, but it’s made just for me and I love it.’

The guest bedroom mixes Nordic and Art Deco features, with geometric patterns and brass details. Bettina designed the sliding wardrobe door, while the painting won her a Knoll FK chair.

The bathroom was the last big project in their home; next on the list is recovering the floors upstairs, perhaps in parquet, and redecorating Oliver’s bedroom when he grows out of it. He’s a champion of his mum’s artwork and has it hanging in his room – the only other thing he insisted on was a big bed, laughs Bettina.

While the garden was a labour of love it is now a scenic spot where the family can relax.

The garden was also a major undertaking, transformed from a sandpit into the lush, bountiful garden it is today, with customised tables overlooking a tranquil water fountain. While it was hard work Bettina enjoyed the preparation more than she does the maintaining and pruning that it needs now it’s established. ‘Perhaps because of my entrepreneurial work I love to have something empty and to be working on a project – a bit like a blank canvas for a painting.’

Profile

The owner Bettina Frimann Larsen, her husband Jacob Rikard Nielsen and their son Oliver moved to Mira in February 2017. Bettina works with start-ups in the maritime industry as the director of strategy for Marcura and Jacob is a business development manager at Semco Power Projects.

The home Bettina has created their dream house inspired by the couple’s Danish roots. The ground floor features an open-plan living-dining room, a custom-built kitchen, a guest bedroom and a cloakroom. Upstairs, there is a master suite with a stunning bespoke bathroom, Oliver’s bedroom, another bathroom and an office. This is the first property the couple has bought in the UAE.

Get the look

Clockwise from top left: Lanterna suspension light, I Light You, from Dh2,111; Butterfly armchair, Dubai Garden Centre, Dh595; Pure soap dispenser, Indigo Living, Dh208.95; Polka Dot cushion, Home and Soul, Dh240; Glass vase, Maisons du Monde, Dh45; Leora coffee table, THE One, Dh2,995.

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

Click here to explore the seven shortlisted homes for Home of the Year 2018, sponsored by 2XL Furniture and Home Decor, in association with The Home Arabia

Read about our prestigious panel of judges for this year's competition here

Find out more about our Home of the Year initiative and see previous winners here