As grey skies loomed overhead and rain relentlessly fell outside their Kent home in the UK one cold January morning more than a decade ago, Jacky Allen and her husband Mark resolved to follow their dream of living in a warmer climate, and their three teenage children needed very little convincing. The family had holidayed in Dubai since 1998 and it was the obvious choice, but their first month in the UAE was far removed from the dream life they’d imagined for themselves. ‘When we first arrived, a friend let us stay at his villa in Al Barsha so that we could explore and determine where we wanted to settle – but five of us in one bedroom for five weeks was not much fun!’ Jacky says.
After a month of fact-finding trips around the city, the couple came across the Green Community and were immediately drawn to the area. ‘Initially I felt it was quite far out of Dubai, and it wasn’t fully finished, but the peace and tranquillity really appealed to us,’ Jacky explains. The park areas, pools, gyms and tennis courts set around a beautiful lake makes it perfect for families. I find myself taking a deep breath and relaxing every time I drive through the gates, which I never expected to feel in a city.’
When the couple bought their home in 2004, the townhouse was newly built and was originally finished in a Mediterranean style, with terracotta tiles and a sweeping wrought iron staircase. ‘The rooms were all big and bright and it felt like a great family home. Even the Spanish design appealed to us at the time, but over the course of 10 years it started to feel a little dated,’ Jacky admits.
An avid reader of interiors magazines, she began collecting images and ideas of how to transform the villa and her plans became progressively more ambitious, ultimately convincing Mark that nothing short of a full-scale renovation was needed. ‘Thankfully he was completely on board with the idea,’ she laughs, ‘which is just as well as it was a year of total upheaval!’ Moving into a rental property during the construction work was not an option because of the family’s pets, so they decided to still live in the house during the building work. ‘We started with the downstairs renovation first, so we all lived upstairs, cooking all our meals in a makeshift kitchen for months. It was definitely an experience that I’m glad is over, but I think it was worth it.’
Opening up the downstairs to make one massive living zone was the first step. Walls were removed from the lounge, dining and utility rooms, leaving just one supporting column. A new high-gloss white kitchen with curved edges was installed, with a central island that was top of Jacky’s wish list. Meanwhile, as the work was going on inside, a different set of contractors were busy transforming the garden. ‘I worked on the design with the landscaping company as I wanted the living area and the garden to flow into each other, so I had bi-folding doors installed and used the same tiles both inside and out.’ One of the highlights of the build for Jacky was the day the new pool was lifted over the house by a crane: ‘I’m a bit of a tomboy at heart,’ she says,‘so seeing that gave me a huge thrill!’
The traditional ironwork staircase was swapped for a streamlined glass balustrade and white steps, cut from a single piece of granite. Each third step has recessed decorative lighting. The structural changes continued upstairs, too, with a new third storey added to the villa by using some of the wasted ceiling height below. ‘We lowered the existing ceiling and created a lovely en suite loft bedroom that’s perfect for guests,’ she says.
When it came to decorating, Jacky’s vision for a white interior accented with red surprised even her. ‘The funny things is, I never liked decorating with white when we lived in the UK, as I found it too cold and stark, but living in sunny Dubai it’s perfect. I get bored easily and so I used splashes of colour with the accessories that I can easily replace in a couple of years if I decide I want a change.’ She jokingly adds that the blue tropical fish in the entrance hall are the only things that clash with the scheme, so they may be on their way out. ‘As I’ve got older I find myself attracted to more contemporary design. I hate clutter and mess and I like everything to have its place. Most people’s reaction when they walk in is ‘wow’ – I really like that, and of course, I agree with them!’