Impressing the judging panel with a consistent style interwoven with personal pieces, the winning abode of InsideOut’s Home of the Year 2019 award, sponsored by 2XL Furniture and Home Decor, presents a tactile tapestry of travel mementoes, custom-made furniture and treasured finds from all over the world, which come together seamlessly in their Dubai home.

Valentina Piscopo and Michael Ogden have turned the blank canvas of their rented villa in Arabian Ranches into a treasure trove of stories, inspired by life in their native countries, Italy and England, their adventures in Africa – where the couple met 10 years ago – and Valentina’s passion for handcraft and ethically sourced furnishings.

Tactile accents add to the safari feel in the living room, and one of Michael’s sketches sit on top of a wooden chest from Kenya. Right: The beachy, custom cabinet in the dining room.

With rustic wood furniture, cane cabinets and bamboo daybeds clustered around thick pile hand-woven rugs, a life-size wooden panther with Kuba markings, and walls adorned with baskets, juju hats, paintings of lions and photographs of zebras and elephants, their compact, cosy home brings the African safari camp to life in Dubai’s leafy suburb.

Thanks to 15 years spent holidaying in Kenya at her mother’s camp and beach house, Valentina’s African furniture and objet are wholly authentic and infused with fond family memories. When her mum downsized, bulky furniture like the daybed in the living room went to the Piscopo’s house in Rome, and from there to the couple’s first home together in London. ‘Since I was young, mum spent a lot of time in Kenya and we have a family home there where we have lots of holidays,’ says Valentina.

‘We were so lucky to get all these lovely things from my home to London, especially because we had just moved in together and the flat was unfurnished. I was happy to have furniture that I had a connection to, otherwise a home can be very impersonal.’

In the dining room, the table and cabinet were custom-made in London while the mirror was made bespoke in Dubai; the ladder, peacock chair and chandelier are from Tribe.

Four years ago, the couple married and decided to uproot themselves to sunnier climes, choosing Dubai for its central geographical location and relatively short travel time for Valentina’s 13-year-old dog Schumi, who shares her expatriate adventures.

‘Because of my time in Kenya at the beach house, I am used to being outside a lot and I don’t like to look out of the window and see tall buildings, so Arabian Ranches is the perfect community for me,’ says the Italian. ‘This is the kind of house I grew up in and its my idea of home.’

The couple brought along her heritage-rich furniture, which includes the panther, the daybed, the wood cabinet in the guest bedroom, vintage lamps, wooden chests, and various ornaments and accessories. ‘The daybed is quite deep and I have memories of all my family sitting on the daybed and our five dogs,’ she adds. ‘I would never be able to have a regular, boring sofa now.’

She met her British husband Michael during a conservation trip in Namibia 10 years ago, and their shared love of the continent has filled their home with tactile textures, vintage artefacts and striking photographs and artwork. Michael is a keen artist and photographer, and his sketches of animal skulls and framed photos of wild animals create striking gallery walls in the living room and entrance hall.

Valentina and Michael designed the wood and cane bed and cabinet while the lights, wall hanging and rug are from Tribe.Shell accessories on the balcony; a tribal painted bedside table from Kenya; Schumi’s bed in the master bedroom, with a painted accent; this cane cabinet matches the bed’s headboard.

The couple have also designed several key pieces of furniture in their home, including the wooden beds, the contemporary office desk and the rustic dining furniture. ‘The master bedroom is my favourite room of the house,’ says Valentina, who has dressed their custom-made, low-level wood and cane bed with whitewashed, tribal-patterned bedside tables from Kenya, rustic rattan bedside lights suspended with twine, a large, heavily tasseled wall hanging made from jute and raffia, and fringed white cushions.

‘We moved from a smaller villa so we needed another bedroom set, but we couldn’t find something that we loved in the shops. So we started with the idea of making a cane headboard and cabinet and designing it together was really fun.’

With white painted walls and tasselled fabrics, the master bedroom balcony matches the interior décor.

Like the rest of the house, the colour palette in the master bedroom and the balcony of earthy tones against white is simple and fresh, with layers of natural materials and plants adding texture, warmth and vitality. ‘I really like how calming white is. Michael and I want to come home from work and relax in a space that is tranquil and calm. We have recently started meditating on the daybed on the bedroom balcony, so we are not the type of people that would have a “loud” house.’

The guest bedroom has a romantic holiday vibe, thanks to the custom four-poster from London, sisal rugs from Pottery Barn and IKEA and wood side tables from White Moss; the cabinet is from Kenya. Bamboo hangers are an unusual accent, adding to the tactility of the guest bedroom. Valentina made these shelves from leather and wood, and the light shade using yarn.

The dining table and matching cabinet were designed and made for their London apartment and used to have a vintage, Indian-style patina of distressed teal and red with tin door fronts tacked onto the cabinet. For their Dubai home, Valentina whitewashed and sanded the wood to reveal its natural tones, removed the tin and added quirky pineapple drawer knobs to match their new scheme.

‘After university, shabby chic was the style that I liked, but it’s not something I would go for now so I worked on it, upcycled it and changed the knobs so it’s more beachy and more relevant to my current style. I love that I wasn’t scared to work on it with a sander and hack it myself. ‘I see these things that move with you from place to place as value pieces, and if you are into DIY you can adapt them and change them. Then the lifespan of the furniture you commission can be really long compared to anything store bought.

‘I love designing furniture and I have always seen the huge value that you bring to something that’s been custom-made, not only to fit your space nicely but in the exact style that you want. I also love the story behind handcrafted pieces and I love to work closely with carpenters as I admire their skills so much.’

The home office features a bespoke desk inspired by an airplane wing, while the easel is from Valentina’s childhood.

Add to this Valentina’s background as the general manager of the ethical home furnishing boutique Tribe, where she worked for three years, their home is a haven of artisanal, handmade pieces that are sustainably sourced from across the globe. Wall hangings from Mexico, handwoven rugs from India, handmade ceramics from Australia, all from Tribe, add to the artisanal flair in their home.

‘Even though they are store bought they come from all over the world, and many are made by people in under-privileged communities who are paid Fair Trade wages or are supported by charitable foundations,’ she adds. ‘There is sustainability behind the shopping of this furniture, which I think is really relevant today. To know where your things come from is really important for me.’

The veranda off the living room is a peaceful spot with a Byron Bay daybed and tribal cushions.


Michael Ogden and Valentina Piscopo with their dog Schumi at their home in Arabian Ranches.

The owners Italian national Valentina Piscopo and her British husband Michael Ogden have been in Dubai for four years.

The home The couple live in a three-bedroom rented villa in Arabian Ranches. One bedroom is used as a home office, while the ground level features a living room, dining room and a kitchen.

Photography by Stefan Lindeque

Art direction by Eleanor Joslin

Read more about InsideOut's Home of the Year 2019 campaign

Tour the stunning shortlisted homes and meet the owners

Meet the design experts making up the Home of the Year judging panel

Find out how the judges made their decision