Italian-born Lara Higginson and her British husband Mark were living in Madrid with their three daughters when the opportunity arose to move to Dubai in 2013 with Mark’s job in aviation. Outdoor enthusiasts and fans of open green spaces, the family were keen to find a neighbourhood where they could enjoy long walks with their three dogs while being surrounded by nature – a tall order for an urban city, they assumed, but they were pleasantly surprised.

‘We stumbled upon Jumeirah Islands and were immediately captivated by this green gem in the middle of the desert,’ says Lara. ‘It felt so picturesque with its flowing water, crystal waterfalls, the quaint walkways and lush landscaping and we knew it would be ideal for our family.’

This house had been empty for several years, and the couple had to look beyond the state of disrepair to see the jewel that they knew it could once again become. ‘We put our heart and soul into bringing it back to life and it is finally a place we can call home,’ says Lara. Despite being a rental property, Lara and Mark have made significant changes to the space, starting from the driveway, with lush landscaping surrounding the villa. Previously just a bereft sandpit, the garden is now a flourishing oasis, with palm trees, lawn and oversized pots filled with indigenous plants and shrubs. The pool has been retiled in vibrant blue and a gazebo seating area added, providing the couple with the perfect spot for al fresco entertaining.

Inside, the space has also been cleverly reconfigured by the installation of mashrabiya screens between the different zones. ‘Open-plan living is a good way to have a more inclusive family life – it’s great to be able to talk to the children in the living room while I’m cooking in the kitchen, for example – but knocking all of the walls down can make a home feel more like an aircraft hangar!’ laughs Lara. ‘The screens were a very easy and cost-effective compromise. They define the various spaces within the home effectively, and not least, introduce a distinctive Arabian design that’s very appropriate here.’

The warm golden brown tones of the mashrabiya screens are picked up in Lara’s use of furniture, most of which made the journey with the family from Spain, and from their previous homes when they lived in London and Italy. Lovingly sourced souvenirs from the US, Europe and the Far East have already found their perfect spots in this spacious home. ‘I like to see simplicity contrasted with a piece that’s really interesting and captures your attention, so that your first impression doesn’t tell the whole story,’ Lara says. As a self-confessed ‘organiser’, the sense of balance and symmetry she has achieved is entirely characteristic: there’s a pair of lanterns here, matching cushions there, harmonious pops of colour against neutral backdrops, and a deliberate sense of flow and accord throughout.

The living room is home to a huge U-shaped sofa that was custom-made and shipped from Spain. ‘It fits with my interior design concept of light with clean lines, and what’s more, it’s a blank canvas that I can use to combine interesting accessories,’ she explains. ‘I like to change the cushions on the sofa regularly to refresh the room, and I am always on the lookout for new additions to my cushion family!’

A lover of all types of accessories, Lara is also a keen painter and many of her artworks adorn the walls. ‘Painting is a passion of mine – it’s another way for me to introduce colour and a focal point for each room, as well as being able to express myself in a way that is not possible using only furnishings.’

Lara and Mark’s home was a worthy finalist in our Home of the Year 2016 event in association with Marina Home Interiors, and caught the judges’ attention for its sense of harmony and serenity. Colour consultant Toni Snyder loved its ‘clean, fresh look and use of locally available materials’, while interior designer Dina Murali commended Lara’s ‘personal approach and Arabian cultural references.’ Indeed, such intuitive combinations have resulted in a home that is unique, considered, and undeniably comfortable.

Styling by Charlotte Butterfield

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The Owner Italian Lara Higginson and her British pilot husband Mark moved to Dubai in 2013 with their three daughters, Deva, 11, Amirah, nine, and Sienna, seven, and have just been joined by their newborn baby boy, George. The family also have three dogs called Winnie, Nina and Henry.

The Home This five-bedroom detached villa in Jumeirah Islands boasts an open- plan living and dining room, kitchen and family living room as well as a downstairs guest bedroom and cloakroom. Upstairs there are four bedrooms, three of which are en suite.

Photos by Stefan Lindeque