Behind an unassuming blue door in Palma Residences on Palm Jumeirah lies one of the most intriguing properties one can imagine. While the clean façade, whitewashed with blue doors and window frames, harks back to the unornamented architecture of sun-kissed Grecian isles, and the front yard peppered with toys, benches and bicycles screams quintessential family clutter, the truth is far more colourful.
The property belongs to Sacha Jafri, the 40-year-old British artist who is credited as a pioneering spirit of the Magical Realism art movement and combines two villas which have been reworked into a home, studio, showroom all under one roof, simply entitled Studio Jafri. Here he lives with his wife Lisa, their 20-month-old daughter Indi and their beloved cocker spaniel, Rocky. Inside, the 12-bedroom home is conspicuous for all the right reasons: a miscellany of kaleidoscopic colour and character thrown together in a seemingly hotchpotch manner is actually a carefully constructed living and constantly evolving canvas on which for Sacha to paint.
99 Brushes by Sacha Jafri
“What I love about this house is the privacy, the fact that it looks like nothing from the road, and its bright energy,” Sacha explains. The family moved in two years ago, began work straight away and have only just reached completion point, a week before our shoot. “It’s very different the way we’ve done it, which is what I wanted. I did it all myself, sometimes up until 4am or 5am in the morning, and it was a labour of love but I think we’re finished,” he says, looking around as if to find one last piece to move or paint.
Foregoing a designer, he sketched the house and the garden on the back of a napkin and then picked up tools and put himself to work, knocking down walls, building furniture and painting everything by hand. The result is extraordinary, a frenetic visual feast. “The design process was quite organically done, which is the same way I paint. I’m in a trance, I work from a stream of consciousness,” he explains. “I don’t know what I’m going to create and nothing’s mapped out. It’s not planned. I created the house like a canvas bringing in line, shape, form and colour – but zero practicality. That’s when Lisa came in and brought in those elements, while I would just splash paint around with lighting, furniture and mirrors.” The property is home to four studios, multiple showroom spaces, a gym – kitted out with Olympic equipment – a yoga studio, meditation room, sun deck with Jacuzzi, and two adjoining gardens. The latter are his pride and joy, with one side a Balinese-inspired tranquil retreat with a swimming pool made of volcanic stone from Thailand, and, through an archway, a bohemian enclave with a bar, café-style eating area, a tuk tuk from Rajasthan, a handbuilt playhouse for Indi and, a handmade table top using the rollers with which Sacha painted the villa.
Tuk tuk from Rajasthan in the garden
The contrast of the two spaces is undeniable. One serene, one social. “I didn’t plan them like this,” says Sacha, openly, “they just sort of happened, but I think they work.” The gardens are like his opus, perhaps his greatest achievement, and a subconscious homage to his heritage, uniting influences from his mother and father’s homeland, France and India, respectively. But there were stiff learning curves. “I had to learn what worked and what didn’t. Plants die in the summer heat, so I had to understand how to combat that, to figure out which wood can withstand the moist Palm air, how to plant a tree [at least 18 feet down, with the hole filled with manure, compost, sweet sand and then soil, he says] and how to understand the natural cycle of plants and flowers.” The garden is now filled with mango, lime, lemon, fig and papaya trees, carefully tended to by Sacha, who spends at least two hours a day “clipping, cutting and looking. It took two years to get it right. It’s my solace.”
Sacha, whose work is collected by Queen Rania of Jordan, Miuccia Prada and Sir Terence Conran among others, has just embarked on his London and Dubai private previews of the 18 Year Retrospective world tour of his artworks. It officially opens in February 2018 in LA, alongside the 90th Anniversary Oscars Ceremony and will go on to visit 35 cities in 25 countries across all five continents. But the starting point is his Palma Residence villa, opened up to appointment-only private viewings of 36 of his works. This means that his home is a living, breathing extension of Sacha with every wall a symphony to his creativity.
Above: In the sitting room hangs Sacha’s Kafka’s Waiting Room, and, to either side, sketch studies for The Child Within Us, Untouched Beginnings and Expressions of the Soul
The sitting room plays host to Kafka’s Waiting Room – which, says Sacha, was Kevin Spacey’s favourite painting from his collection in 2009 – and Universe of the Child, which sits above Indi’s toy cupboard, playing sentry over her playtime, as two worlds of imagination merge into one. The adjoining showrooms house more of his favourites, including Skyline Contemplation, 99 Brushes, which is “10 years of work in one piece,” his very first painting from 1998 of a Venice horizon and his most recent piece, created live for the Global Teacher Prize 2017 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Maktoum, The Soul of the Earth. The most expensive piece to date – it is worth $5 million, says Sacha – the painting was the result of a poem Sacha wrote entitled The Soul of the Earth: The Smile in the Face That Stands Before Us. It is a vibrant, uplifting “celebration of humanity,” he says.
Having raised over $40m for various children’s charities across the world, Sacha was awarded by the United Nations for his artistic and humanitarian endeavours, along with the recent honour of World Artist of the Year in 2016. The house is an ode to both his belief in humanity and his spirituality. He cares less about what’s in the room, more what the room says. “I don’t ever work with an interior designer, you can probably tell, it’s not slick. But it’s more about the energy when you’re in it – you feel happy, homely. It’s uplifting.” If he’s not building tables, chairs or cabinets, Sacha sources pieces from any shop and every corner of the world – from ID Design or rustic Al Quoz furniture outlets in Dubai to Thailand and Kashmir. “I like that you’ve got paintings in here, one that is worth $4m, and a couple at $5m or more, and yet they’re amongst a papier-mâché elephant that Talia, my 7-year-old daughter made, a pink flamingo from the market, and Indi’s doll’s house. It doesn’t devalue the artwork, it just works, and I enjoy the contrast. I like taking it out of context and seeing how it lives and breathes.”
Sacha describes the house as an ever-changing canvas, just like his artworks and he isn’t sure if he will ever be ‘finished’. While Lisa has requested a few months of respite from building work, the seeds of another project are being sown. “We want to redo the kitchen -– to knock it through, strip everything out and make it more utilitarian in its usage. I’d use steel and oak, with a big island in the middle so that we can eat breakfast around it, a sofa in the corner, a hanging rack with pots and pans… A bit country, a bit Cotswolds.”
For all its paraphernalia and carefully orchestrated clutter, the house doesn’t feel overwhelming – it just feels, well, happy. Light pours in from the garden, colour accentuates every wall, floor and surface and there’s an aura that feels almost magical, as if you’ve perhaps stepped through the canvas and into one of Sacha’s magical surrealist paintings. It is a spectacular example of what imagination can do for interiors. “I want the house to touch people in a different way that they’re used to. To feel love when they walk in, something real, something authentic. There’s no show, no superficiality. My artwork is my soul on canvas, so I want people to see the paintings on the wall and feel a projection of the soul that fills the space, an energy of light, truth and beauty, in its rawest and purest form. You might not know where to look first, but I think it makes people happy, hopefully acting almost as an electric shock to the senses, awakening something that is often asleep inside.”
To arrange a private view of Studio Jafri, by appointment only, email: email@example.com
Photography by Aasiya Jagadeesh