Entrepreneur and mum-of-two Donna Benton redefined the regional restaurant and hospitality scene when she moved to Dubai 17 years ago and launched The Entertainer, a book (now a mobile app) of two-for-one offers incentivising tourists and residents alike to visit restaurants, spas, hotels and attractions, and enabling the participating venues to reach a wider audience. With a portfolio of over 10,000 vendors across 15 countries, The Entertainer has become a household name in the GCC and beyond – however, that hasn’t meant the businesswoman has slowed down.
As well as investing in numerous restaurants, such as Black Tap, she’s delved into fitness and beauty, including a salon in Jumeirah named after her seven-year-old daughter.
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With several ventures to keep her busy, it’s no wonder that her home is a calm oasis in soft taupe tones where she can relax with her two children. She met her interior designer, Martina di Lorenzen, through mutual friends and ‘clicked straight away’ she says, at a time when the house needed a fresh look. ‘I could tell we had the same taste; clean, classy and contemporary and favouring neutral colour schemes,” she recalls.
While the villa originally featured dark wood doors and old-fashioned furniture, Martina strove to transform it into a family home filled with light, space and comfort. The project took just six weeks and Martina honed in on her German efficiency and interior know-how to complete it effectively. Using her keen sense of material and colour selection and failsafe design tactics such as placing large mirrors, she accentuates light and spaciousness. ‘My signature palette is perfect for breathing light and life into a home,’ explains the designer and entrepreneur. ‘It’s amazing how much of an impact this has had on the villa.’
Originally from Hamburg with several successful businesses, including an advertising agency, Martina moved to Dubai seven years ago, bringing her flair for residential interior design with her. She has a show-home in Hamburg where clients can see her work firsthand, displaying furniture she has created under the label Lavinia di Lorenzen, named after her daughter.
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‘Not surprisingly, entertaining played a big role in the brief, so aspects like the entrance, the bar and the dining room were very important,’ she says. ‘I am very social and as I have been in the UAE for a while I have a great group of friends that I catch up with regularly,’ adds Donna, who’s from Melbourne. ‘They come over for grape and cheese nights, and we gather around the lobby bar, which has become a sociable spot at home. We have dinner parties and I invite my staff over for work functions; it’s quite a good home for entertaining,’ she laughs. ‘I love the “welcome” sign and daybed Martina chose for the entrance as I wanted something bright, fresh and different so people feel comfortable straight away.’
The redesign of the dining room was challenging as there needed to be space for approximately 12 guests but it also had to avoid looking empty during the day-to-day of family life. Their former round wood table and chairs were old fashioned, formal, and looked redundant with no guests around. Martina’s idea of four custom-made sofas, each seating up to three people, around a glass-topped table was one that Donna was initially apprehensive about, yet she trusted Martina’s instinct. The space now looks contemporary, relaxed and inviting, and the materials and colours flow seamlessly with the décor of the living room, lobby and master bedroom.
Much of the bespoke Lavinia di Lorenzen furniture was made locally by carpenters in Sharjah and Dubai, using soft materials for warmth and tactility, and with storage and concealment in mind to keep each room light and tidy.
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Photos of family and friends were also important to the mum-of- two. Martina, a trained photographer, shot the family in their newly refurbished home, framing the black and white prints in matching silver frames and displaying larger photos on silver easels from Marina Home, creating sentimental focal points.
As the villa is rented, Martina had to work with the existing framework of the property. She repainted the kitchen white for a fresh look and warmed the beige marble floor tiles with complementing paint shades of mushroom, light grey and white on the walls. A white ceiling border in the lobby-cum-bar provides a modern hotel-style feel. Previously sporting dark wood which dampened the entertaining spirit the bar should evoke, Martina painted the woodwork grey and bought luxurious looking bar stools upholstered in grey velvet from Marina Home. ‘Small changes such as these have a big impact,’ says the interior designer. ‘Contemporary, simple design, good materials and being practical with where the investment is placed are all important factors when I design.’
The owner Australian Donna Benton (right), founder and chairman of The Entertainer, and her two children, Chloe (7) and Jack (4), live in this spacious Jumeirah villa, with their six-month-old golden retriever Archie.
The house After eight years, the family home was in need of a modern update and Donna commissioned German interior designer and friend Martina di Lorenzen for the project. The villa has four bedrooms plus a maid’s room, an upstairs lounge, an open-plan living/dining room, a large kitchen, a large foyer with a bar, plus a garden with a swimming pool.
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Photography by Stefan Lindeque