The subtle sounds of jazz music emanate from a doorway just a few steps away from Jumeirah’s pristine Kite Beach. The door, surprisingly, is left open – a gesture I would later learn that is part of Emirati filmmaker Abdulla Al Kaabi’sopen-door policy. I don’t have to knock but I do out of courtesy, until a friendly Sri Lankan man by the name of Ravi greets me and takes me inside. Al Kaabi’s white one-floor residence at first seems more aptly placed in Greece than amidst the desert sands of the UAE. Defined by a series of interconnected rooms and spaces, the home uses the structure of what was left of a traditional Emirati home in Jumeirah and transforms it into a contemporary abode filled with a treasure trove of Middle Eastern art and design pieces. I am guided inside the living room area, a space with low white couches, a long coffee table with a variety of candelabras, fruit bowls and artistic trinkets transported back to Dubai from Al Kaabi’s many travels. But it’s the art that immediately grabs my attention and how it has been so serenely and meticulously curated in the space so as to evoke an aura of peace and tranquillity for all who visit. There’s a work by acclaimed Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess in felt on the far right wall, a painting by Marco Djermaghian on the left-hand side, a sculpture by Jazeh Tabatabei and black cushions by Datam. There’s even a wooden sculpture of a resting dog on the floor so life-like that I almost jump until I notice that it isn’t moving. Everything, down to the most minute detail, has been placed with love and care.
A view of the living room with a work by Bahman Mohassess in felt on the back wall. Candle Holders by Bahman Dadkhah and a work by Laleh Khorramian hanging in front of the window.
“Jumeirah is one of the most special neighbourhoods in Dubai because you really get to see people from around the world,” says Al Kaabi. “It’s like an extension of the airport. You go to the beach and you see Asians, residents, Emirati fishermen, the development, people with suitcases – it’s become the heart of Dubai. People on the beach are open to what the sea brings.” Originally from the Emirate of Fujairah, also situated on the Arabian Gulf, living near a body of water is crucial for the filmmaker, known for his powerful work exploring themes central to Emirati contemporary society.
A view of the dining room featuring a table and wall piece by artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hessam Rahmanian. Two paintings on the right wall by Koorosh Shishegaran and on the left are works by Bahman Mohassess. On the table is a sculpture by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim and candle holders are by Bahman Dadkhah.
Cinema for Al Kaabi is one of the most powerful genres of expression. His 2016 film Only Men Go to the Grave won Best Emirati Feature at the 13th edition of DIFF (Dubai International Film Festival). His previous films include the acclaimed short film The Philosopher (2010) and Khoshk (2014), which won several awards at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014. Exploring culture through art and design is something that aids Al Kaabi in the creation of many of his films. “I love discovering new cultures; the artwork is a way of retaining the soul of a place that I visit,” he says.
Abdulla wears a kandura by Bait Al Kandoura. Chairs by Frank Gherry. Bronze sculptures by Bita Fayyazi and Simin Ekrami. Painting by Koorosh Shishegaran and candle holders by Bahman Dadhkah.
This is not a house decorated by an interior designer but curated by the filmmaker himself as well as Farshad Mahoutforoush, a UAE-based art collector who is also Al Kaabi’s producer and business partner with whom he runs El Booma Films. The filmmaker worked hard to bring this Jumeirah home back to life. “The house was in ruin when I found it; they were going to tear it up and create a series of compound buildings,” he explains. Al Kaabi purchased the home and it took around six months to do all the paperwork and renovate it in the way that he wished. “I saved the house from destruction; and saved a piece of Emirati heritage and I hope the neighbours will do the same,” says Al Kaabi, who says that his plan is to buy other old Emirati homes, restore and decorate them.
A view of Abdulla’s outdoor patio. Overhead is the tent he commissioned to be made in Rajasthan.
In many ways, the home is an emblem of Al Kaabi’s many travels. There are chairs from India, rugs from the Philippines, a fauteuil from Bali, African sculptures, fabric from Iran and objects from contemporary Emirati artists and designers. Every nook of the home offers an opportunity to discover something new about the different place around the world. “Every time I travel I decide to choose one piece to bring back that will remind me of the entire trip,” he says. “The house is made up of a memorabilia of my travels and through these pieces I try and find a story.” Mahoutforoush has been instrumental in the placement of various objects and artworks. His innate eye and appreciation for line, colour and texture has bestowed the home with an otherworldly and yet homely quality. It’s unlike any other home one will find in Dubai and yet it immediately feels like a home to all. “I work by feeling and by chance – it often feels like all of the artwork and objects magically fit together,” says Al Kaabi. “I just wish there were more walls!” he laughs as he pours a glass of rose-infused water.
Abdulla’s bedroom featuring Bijan Saffari’s drawings on the right wall next to a work by Sabhan Adam and on works by Natalie Dumitresco (left). Cushions by Datam.
“Every artwork, every object reflects a special moment,” adds Al Kaabi. “There are many stories to be told in this home.” He points to a tent outdoors on the patio from Rajasthan, India. “I was in the middle of this camp in the desert, the scene was lit by dozens of stars and it felt so cinematic,” he recalls. “I commissioned the creation of this tent and it arrived a year later.” Al Kaabi goes in search of what he wants. He may get inspiration from here and there along the way, but once he knows the particular make-up of the object he desires, he finds a way to have it made. The sculptures of dogs that rest in the living room were from a gallery in Indonesia. “I tried to buy them but the owner didn’t want to sell them because they were from his own collection and the artist was already very old,” recalls Al Kaabi. “But I wanted them too. I became obsessed with having them. I went around Bali in search of the artist and found him. He was almost blind but I commissioned the pieces to be made over a period of two years.”
The outdoor pool area.
The house is also symbolic of Al Kaabi’s love and support of artists based in the UAE. In the dining room, a long vibrantly painted and collaged table by Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian. There’s also a wonderful large-scale sculpture of a camel by Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim from Khorfakkan. His vibrantly coloured abstract sculptures are evocative of the UAE landscape. There’s a childlike wonder to them, his sculptures, of which Al Kaabi has several – a baby camel and an adult camel – bring joy to any space. “Rami, Rokni and Hesam have been friends for many years,” he says.
An outdoor view of Abdulla’s home with antique monkey sculptures from Udaipur.
Art and design becomes one at Al Kaabi’s home. “I live with my art; I don’t just put it on display,” says the filmmaker, who points to a chair in the kitchen and says how he found it at an art exhibition and brought it back to use for decoration. Another chair outside – a rendition of a contemporary rocking chair – is made by Palestinian brothers Elias and Yousef Anastas who form the Local Industries brand from Bethlehem. Wander outside past the bedroom and living room and a separately attached room is home to Al Kaabi’s study. A large computer, dozens of reels, books and more artwork, like Bita Fayyazi’s charming bird sculptures, gives this space a personality of its own.
“I WORK BY FEELING AND BY CHANCE - IT OFTEN FEELS LIKE ALL OF THE ARTWORK AND OBJECTS MAGICALLY FIT TOGETHER"
An interior view of the living room area.
“A space must have a soul – it’s very important,” he says. Al Kaabi’s home certainly has this and more. There’s a special energy, a magic here. While so many homeowners employ interior designers to endow their homes with a unique personality, Al Kaabi couldn’t dream of having anyone else decide on the whereabouts of his various objects. “They are a reflection of me,” he says. “I mix and match but I don’t say, ‘this lamp I need to get from this designer and this couch from this person.’” Al Kaabi becomes friends with the artists he displays. Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim regularly visits him just as the filmmaker often goes to see him in his studio. It’s become a creative exchange of sorts. “I commissioned him to create a donkey sculpture,” he says. “He brought it to me and stayed here for several days. Every object has a soul. I need to get to know the artist and I need to get to know their unique vision. If I don’t like the energy of an artist then I can’t buy or commission their work.” Al Kaabi buys art and design pieces largely by commission. “The artwork becomes a dialogue between you and the artist,” he says. “My favourite pieces are the commissioned ones and it is these works that gives a special quality to the home.”
Abdulla in his office. Crow sculptures are by Bita Fayyazi. Abstract sculpture behind him on the shelf is by Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. Wooden dog is by Iwy Pasti.
Abdulla wears Burberry pants, a vintage Chinese vest and shoes by Rick Owens.
This is artful living at its finest, an inspiration to all who live and breathe through their art, and a model through which to renew an Emirati home and heritage with a contemporary and continuously innovative present. The next time you’re in Jumeirah and near Kite Beach, don’t forget to walk through Al Kaabi’s open door.
Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh; Styling by Nilou J.