Nez Gebreel Enlists Local Artists To Create Her Dream Nursery

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / May 31 2016 / 18:19 PM

Supporting the Middle East's design talent is at the heart of a stylish nursery makeover courtesy of Dubai Design & Fashion Council's CEO, Nez Grebreel

Nez Gebreel Enlists Local Artists To Create Her Dream Nursery
Nez Gebreel Enlists Local Artists To Create Her Dream Nursery
From left: Palestinian fashion designer Faissal El-Malak and Saudi artist Hadil Moufti with Nez Gebreel and baby Gabriel

As a key player in Dubai’s burgeoning creative industry, Nez Gebreel has the region’s design talent on speed dial. So when it came time for the inherently chic 43-year-old CEO of Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) to decorate her son Gabriel’s nursery, she was thrilled when her friends, Palestinian fashion designer Faissal El-Malak and Saudi artist Hadil Moufti, offered to create a bespoke mural.

“I trusted Hadil and Faissal completely, so the design was very much driven by them,” Nez tells Bazaar Junior when we visit her at the stylish duplex apartment in Jumeirah Heights she shares with her husband, Omar Qirem, and four-month-old Gabriel. Faced with a blank wall, Nez and the artists bought lots of paints from the hardware store then decamped to the nursery to brainstorm ideas over a Lebanese feast of man’ousha and music.

“We’d never done anything like it before,” says Hadil. “I work on canvas and paper and my work is not particularly suited to a nursery. But Nez has always been supportive of me and Faissal, so the idea was for the three of us to work together, have fun and create something meaningful for the baby.”

Gabriel's nursery features a chest of drawers from Pottery Barn Kids, wicker bins from Ikea, laundry basket from Zara Home and toy container from MarMarLand

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design in Paris, Hadil typically uses paint, colour and objects to depict fantastical landscapes and imaginary worlds, and trees are a recurring theme in her work. “We all liked the idea of a forest so we chose strong vertical trunk lines,” says Hadil. “There are lots of palm trees in Dubai but not forests,” adds Faissal. “So we wanted Gabriel to have a little taste of England and to feel like he is in woodland rather than the desert.”

The family are a bi-lingual household – born in Libya and raised in Britain, Nez has a mixed heritage of Arabic, Greek and Turkish, while Omar is half-Irish and half-Palestinian – and it was important for these different cultures to be reflected in Gabriel’s nursery. “I painted a really simple design of the sun with Gabriel’s name in Arabic and English calligraphy,” says Faissal, adding, “My Middle Eastern heritage is very important to my designs; it’s what I base my practice on. I use mainly traditional textiles, such as hand-woven fabrics from the mountains of Yemen and silks from Tunisia.”

"There is a real entrepreneurial spirit in Dubai and a trend towards supporting home-grown talent"

The cool greys, blues and green base colours of the mural, along with the golden fluttering leaves, give depth and warmth to the light grey nursery furniture. “I didn’t want to go for the obvious blue or pink based on gender. I wanted a soothing, neutral colour, so chose grey,” says Nez. “We didn’t want to know the sex [of our baby] but the doctor told us by accident. It’s nice not knowing, but after she told us it was actually quite good because then I got excited about buying stuff.” Another key theme in the nursery is animals. “We have two cats and I’m a huge animal lover so I’m desperate for Gabriel to love them too and be kind in that respect,” she says. “Anything that I can put an animal on – cushions, soft toys, storage – I do.”

Nez and baby Gabriel in his nursery, with wall artwork by Faissal El-Malak

Along with the bespoke work by local artists on the walls, Nez also sought out pieces for Gabriel from home-grown businesses such as MarMarLand, The Change Initiative, Soul Souq and Noah’s Garden. “I love going to the Ripe Market where there are lots of up-and-coming businesses and brands,” Nez says enthusiastically. “There is a real entrepreneurial spirit in Dubai and that’s what I love about it. Even talking to our bigger partners in terms of retail, there’s a trend towards buying home-grown talent. They want to support the economy and talent here. It’s something I’m seeing across all industries and different sizes of businesses.”

"I hope that when Gabriel is older he will look at me and be really proud of what I've achieved. That will make me feel even happier than I already feel to have him in my life"

With a mother whose impressive CV includes managing projects for David and Victoria Beckham and working with designers such as Roland Mouret, Richard Nicoll and Teatum Jones, can we expect to see little Gabriel decked out in head-to-toe designer? “When they are little I think you can’t buy really expensive brands, although I was given very generous gifts so Gabriel has been lucky to wear big brands as well as high street,” says Nez. “He has been promised a little kandora by Emirati designer Ahmed Abdelrahman of the label Thamanyah, so I’m looking forward to receiving that. I also like Brighteyez – it’s a local business with really cute jersey trousers and T-shirts – and when I went home to London last summer when I was pregnant, I found Gap had some really great things.”

Dungarees by Gap Kids and shoes by Ralph Lauren

Nez says she enjoyed being pregnant but found the first four months really tough. “It was a busy time for me at work and I didn’t realise how bad I felt until later when I was like, ‘Oh, this is what feeling normal is like,’” she explains. “It was important for me to keep fi t so I did Pilates and had a trainer at Urban Energy Fitness. Sometimes you worry, ‘Am I pushing myself too much?’ but I felt in very safe hands with them.”

Gabriel was a big baby and Nez recalls walking around the block with her aunt one evening and feeling like her stomach was going to explode. “I thought, ‘My tummy can’t get any bigger’ but during the last month it just got bigger and bigger,” she says wryly. “I worked until literally the day before I had him. I had an amazing doctor who I trusted 100 per cent so it was a really good experience.”

Trees are a recurring theme in the work of Saudi artist Hadil Moufti, with this bespoke mural giving Gabriel's nursery a woodland feel and a taste of England

After the birth, Nez and Omar had Gabriel to themselves for a week before Nez’s parents came to stay. “In hindsight, having that week together was the best thing we did as it meant we could really bond as a family unit. Then my parents came for four weeks and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. My mother has been a huge strength through all of this, even for my husband. Initially he was like, ‘How am I going to cope with all these people in the house?’ Then, by the end of it, he was offering to pay to change their flights so they could stay.”

Having her parents close by helped Nez cope with the huge changes brought about by Gabriel’s arrival. “Your life gets turned upside down but in the best way possible. Particularly the first month or two... It’s almost like warfare! You batten down the hatches and you feel like you need to have a strong team to support you because the level of work that has to be put into a newborn is quite exceptional. But it has been the best experience of my life.”

"Your life gets turned upside down but in the best way possible... you need to have a strong team to support you because the level of work that has to be put into a newborn is quite exceptional"

After three months’ maternity leave, Nez returned to her role at DDFC and found that motherhood has also impacted her approach to work. “They are so little and your heart really does pang for them, but I’m very passionate about my job and it’s great to be back at work so it’s about trying to balance the two. I’m a huge perfectionist and always will be but I’m a bit more forgiving at work... Or so my team have said,” she says with a laugh. “It puts everything in perspective. I’m beyond happy and so content.”

Nez says she is proud to be a working mum. “I never really realised what working mums had to go through,” she admits. “We all need to support each other with balancing the two aspects. I hope that when Gabriel is older he will look at me and be really proud of what I’ve achieved. That will make me feel even happier than I already feel to have him in my life.”

Nez, with Lottie, one of her two cats

With her parents back in the UK, Nez is grateful to have the support of friends and family who live nearby. “There seems to be an epidemic of people having babies in Dubai. Everyone seems to be pregnant or have a baby,” she says. “I also have two cousins here who I can call up and ask, ‘Is this normal?’ No matter how many books you read, it doesn’t touch on reality. Even in terms of breastfeeding – it’s not necessarily a natural or easy thing for a mother to do and it can be very stressful as you never know if they are getting enough food. But at the end of the day, however stressed or upset you get, you know it’s worth it.”

Clearly enamoured with motherhood, what’s Nez’s advice to other mums? “Stop blaming yourself for everything – don’t feel guilty and just try and take a deep breath and enjoy it. It really is the best thing that will ever happen to you.”

Words by Julia Maile | Photography by Sueraya Shaheen