After sitting down to meet with the British-Dutch 31-year-old at her elegant three-bedroom Jumeirah villa, it is easy to guess the secrets behind Tanya Ivin Karam’s fruitful and meandering career trajectory. For one, she is oh-so-easy to talk to. I leave with tips on everything from which flowers last the longest – pale pink roses – to the softest shade of grey to paint my bedroom in. “I enjoy jobs that are very social. I can’t just sit behind a desk,” Tanya says as we sip ginger tea in her immaculately decorated living room, the morning light streaming in through white linen curtains. “I love developing and seeing the change in a home, or the emotional reactions of women when they finally wear a bra that fits. It’s so satisfying.”
Sean wears: Shirt, Dhs360, and trousers, Dhs330, Lapin House. Shoes, Dhs190, Polo Ralph Lauren, all at Level Kids. Elephant, Kartell.
Tanya, who grew up in Oman, is currently the marketing manager for K-Lynn, her Lebanese husband’s renowned, family-run lingerie boutique. “The company is named after my Texan mother-in-law. She would go back and forth to the States buying stock in the late 1980s. Back then, Lebanon was at war, so their success came from the novelty of providing Western labels.” K-Lynn now stocks around 30 international brands and owns stores across the Middle East, including Lebanon, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Tanya’s husband Christopher Karam is managing partner. “Christopher graduated from university and moved to Dubai at 23. He went knocking on Mall of the Emirates’ door, which was still under construction. He wanted to open a K-Lynn shop and they initially said no. The mall was the first of its kind so they were only taking on international Western boutiques. He decided to sit at the Majed al Futtaim office every day until they gave him a small store. We are still in the same place today and he never wants to move.” Tanya joined the business when she got engaged. “I really enjoyed my job in events, but the work schedule included many late nights and weekends and I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable with a family to look after.” Not one to rest on her laurels, Tanya continued to go into the office throughout her pregnancy until she got put on bed rest in her eighth month before giving birth to son Sean last year. “We had the launch of a brand we were distributing and I had to attend the event a week after Sean was born. It forced me back into work so I literally started from the day I came home from hospital and I haven’t stopped, but I only go to the office two days a week now and have taken on more of a consultant role. As a family company, I do feel the pull to stay involved. I run the Instagram account, I visit the stores every week.”
Christopher’s family clearly value her talents. Her father-in-law entrusted her with the task of bringing US lifestyle brand Trina Turk to the UAE. “He said to me, go find a label that isn’t represented in the Middle East. I had been following her for her interiors and prints. She also does fashion and swimwear and it’s bright and beachy, so I thought it would work well here. My husband and I set up a meeting with the designer while we were in California for a wedding. Dubai is their first venture outside of America.” Trina Turk is available in Galeries Lafayette and is set to open a flagship store in Dubai at La Mer, Meraas’ upcoming Jumeirah beachside development.
Left: Statue, dining table and cabinets, all The One. Silver basket, O de Rose. Limited edition Chanel black & white print. Centre: Hermès scarf framed as an artpiece. Right: Cabinet drawers from Bloomingdale’s Home and mirror from 2XL. Marble bowl, Irony Home
While Tanya has had her fingers in many pies, her true passion, which she says has been lying dormant for several years, is for interiors. She has a degree in interior architecture from Paris. After graduating, Tanya went on to work for B&B Italia, furnishing show homes before the department closed down due to the economic downturn. “It was a high-pressure job because Dubai was booming but then the recession hit and all projects were put on hold. I took a break and got offered a job helping out in events, which lasted four years – it was only supposed to be temporary.” Tanya is now in the beginning stages of setting up her own home styling service. “A lot of furniture stores here have a hard time promoting their products. Unlike the fashion industry, where you can lend clothes, host a show or get great exposure through digital influencers, furniture stores don’t really have that platform. I would like to create it, by helping clients furnish their homes – and then filming my visits to stores for social media. A lot of people tell me they hate to furniture shop – I love it! I was helping out so many of my friends with where to go in Dubai so I’ve discovered a few hidden gems in the last year. I do love the malls but I do think people get caught up in shopping in the same places. I like going to stores that people have forgotten about. My New Year’s resolution for this year is to try and stop buying things from abroad, it hurts the local economy.”
Tanya’s first project is her own home, which she moved into last year when Sean was just a few months old. “I didn’t really have time to decorate and then one day my husband just motivated me. I got this sudden burst of energy and got most things done in a week, before that, I had no curtains, no rug, no side tables, no lamps and I went to every store and said, ‘it has to fit in my car’. I’ve been documenting it all for a vlog.”
Sean wears: Jacket, Dhs280, and shorts, Dhs175, both Billybandit. Top, Dhs215, Magil. Shoes, Dhs330, Lacoste, all at Level Kids.“Adventure” letters, Pottery Barn
Tanya describes her decorating style as modern, contemporary and neutral. “My home style is not very colourful. I love black, whites and greys. I had to push myself to add colour to my son’s room.” I notice even the Stokke highchair in the corner of the living room is grey with a monochrome graphic print. The safari-adventure theme nursery upstairs is understated yet fun – with bright hot air balloons, bought on Amazon, dotted along the ceiling. An airplane light, purchased on a buying trip in France, hangs in the middle. One wall is papered with a zebra-print from New-York based designers Sissy & Marley. Above the Pottery Barn Kids cot is an animal map of the world. “I wanted a room he could grow into it. Not too babyish but not too old for his age either.”
Despite having a one-year-old crawling around, there is a sense of calm and order to Tanya’s life – and home – with clean, soft lines, white orchids and monochrome simplicity throughout. “My favourite designers are Kelly Hoppen, also Greg Natale and Jonathan Adler, and I recently found out that they’re interior friends so my life is complete. Fashion-wise I am in Sandro and Maje most of the time, this is the most colour you will see me in.” She points to her stylish bright striped Trina Turk blazer, which she has teamed with jeans and classic Chanel flats, “Other than shoes, I would always rather spend my money on furniture.”
Left: Hot air balloons, vintage. Centre: Sean wears: Top, Dhs230, and shorts, Dhs210, both Magil at Level Kids. Right: Hot air balloons, vintage. Basket, Pottery Barn
Tanya likes to add homely touches to offset the modern minimalism. A triptych from their wedding hangs above the sofa, “I didn’t want a typical stiff portrait. This is a shot taken from behind us, when the confetti, cake and champagne came out.” She also likes to restore pieces, she tells me, pointing to a light in the corner. “I found this lamp in my grandmother’s closet, it was bronze and bordeaux, so I painted over it to give it a more modern feel. Dubai is very afraid of DIY, but you can recycle. One of my favourite vases is an old crystal bottle. You don’t always have to have everything be brand-new.” She repainted the drawer fronts of her son’s white Ikea changing table – grey, of course – and replaced the handles. “I’m not about to build furniture but here, people are very much like, ‘I don’t like this colour so I’m going to throw it out’ but don’t, just paint it. Or get someone to do it.”
For pops of colour around her home, Tanya relies on artwork such as a bright Hermès scarf she had mounted. She also has a weakness for graffiti – much to her husband’s dismay – from her days spent managing talent. “My husband let me get a small canvas by artist and fashion designer Lauren Moshi.” The heart-shaped design is made of bullets, with the quote ‘Love is a Battlefied’ etched inside it. It seems it probably is when it comes to their artistic sensitivities. “Christopher prefers landscape and traditional art, that’s how we settled on this painting.” She points to a modern photographic recreation of Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch, bought from Marina Home. “I try to balance his classic and my modern taste.” The couple go to great lengths to capture the right tone to suit them both, especially as they spend a lot of time at home since becoming parents, preferring to have people over rather than go out. What are her secrets to entertaining? “Always have too much food but don’t go crazy on dessert, people are mostly on a diet but being married to a Lebanese man, I make sure I have fruit. If you don’t have fruit in the Middle East, it’s like an insult. All my dinner parties have a theme and I get so excited, I go all out with candles, I go flatware crazy.” What else does she do for fun, in between raising her son, managing her careers and regular hosting? “I love to travel and explore cities, I make a list of furniture stores or hotels with cool lobbies and make sure to visit. Career-wise, I would also love to have my own black-and-white office and see the interiors project develop. I wouldn’t want a big office though; I have a hard time delegating. But a team of three would be nice.” Something tells me – as I realise we have been talking for so long, that I am late to pick up my son from school – it would be an ideal place to work.
This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia Junior
Styling: Malak Rabbat
Photography: Aasiya Jagadeesh
Hair and Make-up: Blowout & Go