Our new ‘At Home’ series puts us in some of Dubai's most inspiring homes and the designers behind them. This week, we met Monica Arango, the Founder of C'est Ici - a home-grown interior design studio based in Dubai at her charming Jumeirah Golf Estates home in Sanctuary Falls.
Here, she talks about how C'est Ici came to be and how she decided after 12 years of renting in Dubai to finally purchase a home and make it her own.
Monica: Well, I don't know whether you would say a long time, but I've been in Dubai for the last 12 years. We moved here in 2008 from London, where I studied and trained as a lawyer. When we first moved here, we thought we were going to be like a one year thing, but we ended up staying here. I worked from 2008 to 2017 as a lawyer.
When I had my second boy and he turned one, I realized it was just too impossible to manage with the timings of the corporate world. I have always had a very keen interest in interiors, and my family is in real estate development. My mother is a real estate developer in Colombia and she does a lot of interior work - she built our house in Colombia from scratch. So I've been very familiar with the process.
We have several properties around the world for which I have completed the interiors. My work really came to life when we bought a place in Nice in 2016 and I was given the layout of the property by my husband and told to furnish it. So I did! We furnished it remotely, all the way here from Dubai. My husband then suggested that I should do this as a living.
I started from scratch, like zero. I started doing the houses of my colleagues and created nurseries for any new pregnant lawyer mums. Then it escalated a little bit more - people saw the nurseries and loved what they saw. Then I did a house for my ex-boss. It was then word of mouth and through community. My business partner and co-founder of C'est Ici, Tati she came along after seven or eight months of work and then we actually properly incorporated the company. It's been five years now - it's been a really nice journey actually.
Monica: This was almost not a house when we bought it. So we've been in Dubai for 12 years and we've been renting for 12 years. The idea was floating for years and I didn't want to buy myself but my husband was very keen. But then we finally decided and then we started looking at Jumeirah Golf Estates, which has always been our favorite community, by the way. It's really nice, we love the greenery and it's great for the kids!
I know most of the communities here, so I was keen to buy and recognized that this particular community has not been finished yet. But we took the risk and we bought the home. We bought before the pandemic in January and put down our 10 percent. In February, no one knew what was going to happen. Things were shutting down. We wanted to complete a lot of things for the house, but we couldn't do that. I decided if it goes with the flow, we go for it. If everything is against that, then we'll stop the presses and everything. The ex-owner was OK for us to postpone the closing because of Covid-19. We waited until like April..and then in May we closed. I had one and a half months to redo the whole house. We kind of did quite a lot of changes for the amount of time we had. The house was completely finished and there was a family living here.
I turned the house completely white - from the stairs to the walls to the curtains. Everything is white. Before it was that kind of magnolia yellow, you know. There was a lot of really dark wood. These floors were horrible - there were white tiles, like bathroom tiles - which we replaced with a wooden porcelain from Spain. The formal living room had really dark tiles, which we also changed.
Then in the kitchen, we changed the whole look and feel. So the layout is exactly the same, but then we change all of the cabinets to black and white. They were a dark chocolate, but we changed it to be less chunky, added a marble kind of slab in the middle and cladded the bar counter as well as less shelving. The kitchen fitout is Scavolini with Miele appliances. We incorporated some lighting fixtures from Normann Kopenhagen.
The informal oak dining table is custom designed by The Line Concept - I remember spotting this table at Milan's Design Week and I wanted something like that. The living room couch is designed from scratch. I used my team for everything. One of our designers draws all our furniture and did a fantastic job. We took a few trials to finalize it, but I was happy with the end result. The living room white table is also custom made by The Line Concept, but designed by us. The wooden console was something made out of two benches. I love a wood touch. That's one of the things that I love, love, love. And that comes from my family actually, because my mom is a distributor of wood in Colombia. So as much as I do love the minimal and clean look, I loved adding the wooden touches; it also brings a lot of nice energy to our home.
The formal living room is actually a reinvention of the previous home we lived in. We added the nooks and shelves. We added a centrepiece from Crate and Barrel, put in our old dining table, reupholstered the chairs by changing it to white ash, painted the black frames and then powder coated it. The sofas was also an addition from our old home; I just added a few olive cushions. We also sourced a local artist to create two special white paintings. The formal living room console is from Fronteriors. I love plants, they are placed throughout the apartment. I love green - it reminds me of home. I grew up in a house surrounded by a forest. In our aesthetic at C'est Ici - green is key!