Turn your head to the left and there’s a piece of Peruvian pre-Columbian pottery; to your right stands a 1920s German voltage tester given a new lease of life as a drinks cabinet, while straight ahead is a horse statue picked up at a market in Maryland, US. It comes as little surprise to learn that the occupant of this treasure trove, Jennifer Russ, has spent her career working in the arts industry at institutions like the Louvre and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Jennifer and her husband Ian, who works for a government fund, moved to Dubai six years ago from Chicago and found themselves drawn to this three-bedroom house in the Lakes. ‘I love water, and I love being near it,’ Jennifer says. ‘Plus as an older neighbourhood, the Lakes has lovely landscaping that provides a great retreat from some of the more hectic aspects of the city.’
To make this home the relaxing sanctuary the couple wanted, they turned to a tried-and-tested palette of cream and black. ‘I’ve always been drawn to this contrast and the visual balance that opposites can create. In Dubai, where sunlight is such a major component, I wanted to play with the concept of shadow because in many ways shade here can be its own type of oasis.’
Jennifer trained as a lawyer before changing direction to start her career at an auction house. Since then she has worked as a gallery director, a curator for a Fortune 100 company, and worked with major museums including the upcoming cultural centres in Abu Dhabi. ‘In my work, and in my home, I’m really drawn to objects and the stories that they tell – especially anthropological and geological items. So, in that way, I view all of the pieces we buy as part of a curated collection because, of course, they are!’
Every wall and surface display examples of Jennifer’s love for collecting. ‘We literally buy something for the house on every single trip we go on, so we have items from India, South Africa, Djibouti, the Bahamas, the Maldives, Peru, China, Thailand, Korea, Nepal, Turkey, all over Europe and the States,’ she laughs. ‘Really the list could go on for a while!’ Alongside well-known brands – such as Marina Home Interiors, Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie – are one-off antiquities and vintage finds.‘I also have a long love affair with local markets and some of my favourite pieces have been found rummaging around in poorly lit back rooms,’ she says.
It was this unique take on furnishing that caught the eye of the judges, and the reason why, ultimately, Jennifer’s home won the Home of the Year award. LW Design associate Pia Sen said, ‘This home is both classy and aesthetically beautiful. You can see the home owner loves art and has a good eye for interior design.’ Fellow judge Helen Skea, design director at Infinite, agreed: ‘Jennifer has great taste and a timeless style, I love the monochromatic palette, the natural textures and great artwork.’ It was the colour scheme and mix of materials that also appealed to judge Toni Snyder, a design and colour consultant. ‘I love the way feature walls have been blackened throughout the home, and the extreme layering of texture, which shows a real eye and effort.’
The couple’s open-minded approach to decorating often means that unusual and unexpected items find a place in their home. ‘I just buy the things that I respond to,’ Jennifer explains. ‘For instance the beetle pictures next to the bed are photographs of actual bugs, which I realise might creep some people out, but I love their colour and minimalist shape!’ Interestingly, she does try to create a feeling of cohesion between the rooms by duplicating the same iconography in other rooms – a brass beetle statue also appears on her desk in her study.
Jennifer admits that she is always drawn to natural materials and fibres, and wood, horn, hide, jute and stone are prevalent materials throughout her home. ‘I think these items reflect authenticity and add texture and dimension into a space,’ she explains. ‘Plus, these are the materials that are used in almost every culture from all parts of the world from the beginning of time. I love the idea that when you add something to your home you are adding to the history of that piece. I think that’s why I often choose pieces that already have a story of their own.’
The Owner American couple Jennifer and Ian Russ moved to Dubai in 2010 from Chicago. Jennifer is a cultural consultant and Ian is the chief investment officer for a government fund. They live with their two cats Harrison and Elie.
The Home This three-bedroom house in the Lakes has an open-plan kitchen and dining room, with an adjoining living area. Across the hall is a study and cloakroom. Upstairs is the master bedroom with en suite, a guest room, family bathroom, and a further bedroom that Jennifer uses as a dressing room.