I'm seated in the A W Rostamani headquarters in Dubai, the tall, glistening tower overlooking the city of Dubai, as I'm greeted by Roberta Calarese and Huda Al Rostamani. The founders of Apartment 51, the new online site for luxury homewards, immediately strike me with their charm, elegance and business acumen. “We were actually great friends long before we became partners,” shares Roberta, emphasising their strong bond.
Apartment 51 is Roberta and Huda’s labour of love. An e-tail multi-designer homeware store that launched in December last year, it houses modern design pieces reflective of their personal taste. “It's a concept that reflects our lifestyle, taste, background and education, who we are and where we come from,” says Huda.
Huda runs her family enterprise, the AW Rostamani Group, and Roberta is currently Chief Legal Officer at retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim. “But we enjoy the time we devote to Apartment 51. It’s time we spend gladly,” says Roberta. “I’m Italian and Huda is Emirati so she understands the Arab woman much better than I do,” she adds, explaining she draws on her Italian heritage for creative inspiration. “We always meet halfway and this is also why we work so well together.”
Apartment 51 was conceived over a casual conversation back in 2014. “It was really just a simple evening with friends,” says Roberta. “Huda, her sister Hana, who is a silent partner, and I were sitting and talking about how difficult it is in Dubai to find things that are edgy in design, of good quality but at affordable prices.” So they thought why not open a concept store that would meet their needs as buyers, offering items they’d like to put in their own homes.
HM Koleksiyon tea set available at Apartment 51
Over two years later in December 2016, the idea came to fruition in the form of a smart, one-stop shop for kitchenware, tableware and decorative accessories. From quirky Dutch designs that are signature Pols Potten to the traditional Turkish aesthetic of HM Koleksiyon to the craftsmanship of Italian brand Riviere. “We bring products that have uniqueness to them, ethnicity, culture,” states Huda.
The aesthetic at Apartment 51 is modern but not without tradition. There are tea sets, pots and pans, trays, glasses, mugs, bowls, and coasters and candle holders; the ones with Arabic calligraphy by Lebanese brand Kashida, for example, are utterly delightful. More recent add-ons include the minimalist chic Norman Copenhagen lighting and furniture.
Apartment 51 is now 18 brands strong, the virtual doorway to affordable luxury. “We look at three components when selecting brands – design, quality and price,” Roberta shares. “There’s an Italian brand called Carlo Moretti that does beautiful, long glasses, but each glass retails at Dhs500, which is too much. But then we look at, for example, a Portuguese brand called Porcel that does fine bone China and Limoges but is extremely affordable. The quality is fantastic, the design is great. So these are brands we want to incorporate into Apartment 51.”
Porcel tea set available at Apartment 51
The site’s name is not without purpose. “We picked ‘51’ because in Numerology, it’s the number of freedom of expression and of family, so for us, it’s really about creating a warm environment at home,” Roberta explains. “It’s also the number of something that’s destined to achieve great heights.”
So, what’s next for Apartment 51? “The final vision is to have a 360-degree store that covers everything for the house,” says Roberta. Huda shares that a showroom is on the cards but it’s something that’ll happen in due time. “We don’t want to rush into something customers feel isn’t the right place,” she notes.
They both feel the virtual space, however, comes with greater possibilities. “The things you do online aren’t what you can do in a physical store,” says Huda. “Sometimes, people get bored when they go to the same shop and see the same thing, so if you notice now, the new trend is to re-shift the products in a shop so that customers feel like they haven’t seen them before when they come again.”
Apartment 51 was also showcased at this year’s Modern Woman Show, a three-day exhibition in Dubai featuring luxury brands across the board. “We created our stand like an apartment where you have all your things put together in a mix and match way,” shares Huda. “This is the experience we want to create for people, to feel they have objects surrounding them in their home that bring good energy and a sense of taste of creativity.”
Apartment 51 showcase at Modern Woman Show2017
Apartment 51 currently ships across the UAE and in select GCC countries. For more information visit Apartment51.com/