Open House: A 'Tree of Life' inspired Dubai Hills mansion

Devayani Shivnani & Helen Skea discuss the design direction of this stunning mansion in Dubai Hills.

18 Jul 2021, words by Aneesha Rai in Portfolio

Devayani & Helen - Dubai Hills grove mansion

When it comes to completing a project of this scale, it's essential that you find synergy (and friendship!) with the people you work with. Modeled after the concept of the 'Tree of Life' - this Dubai Hills Grove mansion's design and development story gives kudos to the vision of the owner, Devayani and the execution & implementation by the Design Director of Infinite, Helen Skea. In this edition of 'Open House', we follow the design journey and the story behind how Infinite & BW Interiors brought Devayani's ideas to life.

Devayani: We bought this property about eight years ago, and it arrived shell and core for us to develop it into the style we wanted.I told my husband that if I were to take on the project, I would do it well or I won't do it at all. I knew exactly what I wanted. We went to stay at a place in Andermatt, Switzerland and I loved the wooden feel throughout the property as well as the ability of the open plan space to turn into a private space if needed. We have used this concept in building space, for example when we have visitors, we can close up the office at the entrance or even close up the lobby space. When I found Helen, I told her what I wanted through some photos and she was able to precisely understand what I was talking about and put it into architectural drawings, which I have found is really rare. We hit it off at the first meeting, I don't even think we looked for anyone else! BW Interiors were involved in the execution of the project and they made it exactly as we saw it. This is one of the few houses that I've seen that actually look better than the renders.

Helen: I met Devayani through a lighting designer who put her in touch with me. I come from a hotel design background, designing and delivering high end luxury hotels including the One & Only on the Palm and The Address Downtown. The advantage of having this background is the attention to detail required to deliver exceptional products. My husband and I founded Infinite 8 years ago, our focus now is mainly on boutique hotels and luxury villas. We were not involved in the architecture of the villa as it was delivered to the Client as shell and core. The only things we changed on the external facades are the front entrance door, ground floor pool side glazing and in the basement area we extended the footprint to allow space for the gym, massage area and the sauna underneath the existing structure above. We opened up the interior formal living area spaces onto the outdoor terraces adding a bridge link over the basement void to the pool area to enable inside-outside living. As for the interiors we stripped out the entire villa and started from scratch. 

Devayani: The interior spaces are connected to the external entertainment areas, manicured gardens and pool via 4 meter high glazed bi-fold doors. When open these increase the perceived living area by allowing a seamless integration of the interior and external spaces.

I knew exactly what I wanted.
Living 2
Living1
Bed2

Helen:   The design inspiration is a concept born from nature, our aim was to create a sophisticated interior mood and style with a design language of dramatic proportions, changing textures, calming hues with the importance being in the play of light throughout the interiors. The double volume spaces created a wonderful drama to the arrival experience but a challenge when it came to MEP requirements. With the large glass sky lights we installed in the entrance and courtyards areas we had to ensure the cooling mechanisms were in place, especially for the intense heat of the Dubai summers. We worked closely with the engineers to ensure this was met. We designed a bespoke natural oak 3-dimensional sculptural wall feature which returns into the ceiling sky light creating a beautiful sunlight filter that brings about light and shadow that fills the volume and highlights the dramatic proportions spilling out into the adjoining spaces on two levels.

Devayani: It felt more organic to have open plan spaces with the option for privacy. All the ceilings have a beautiful layering quality, the way the light filters through the interior spaces and bounces off the walls is simply amazing.

Helen: The first floor brief from the client was to maximize the bathroom and wardrobe spaces in all bedrooms. To accommodate this we re-planned the entire villa, revising the original layout of nine bedrooms to seven bedrooms. The luxury of designing high end villas is that we can specify high end furniture, we shipped in beautiful pieces from Moroso, Italy; Agrippa, Spain and Restoration Hardware, USA; with the additional quirky show piece chair from Peter Qvist sourced from Ikonhouse here in Dubai.

Chair

Devayani:How we went about sourcing the furniture was that both of us used to walk into a shop and I'd pick out the items I loved. Helen gave me feedback on what she likes and what she didn't. Whatever we agreed on, is now in the home. I chose the 'Tree of Life' concept because I wanted everything to be organic and minimalistic. With achieving a minimalistic look, it's actually more work!

Helen: We have taken the five elements in nature to define the language of the design, Earth - to create warmth and texture, Water - to depict calmness and tranquility, Wood – organic and sculptural, Metal; for contrasting accents and framing elements and Fire - to create a welcoming, inviting and warm atmosphere. The seamless nature of the villa is further underlined by the carefully selected palette of materials creating a shared aesthetic design language throughout.

Upstairs Helen

Helen: The Grand Staircase feature light installation is a bespoke design by ‘MOLS’ from the Czech Republic. It is made of handcrafted Bohemian crystal glass leaves with a 10 meter drop.

Devayani: The library was very important for my husband and I, but I didn't want a closed space to sit and read. We wanted it to be organic and open.

Helen: The Library shelving is definitely one of my favorite pieces I've designed in this house. The oak burl veneer adds life to it.

Master bed
Image by Duncan Chard
Library
Bedroom2

Devayani: My husband really wanted the basement space to have an entertainment area and he had a very clear idea of what he wanted too.

Helen: The basement was a bit of a challenge because the existing ceiling was very low, but this now compliments the interior making a cosy environment. It is divided between areas catering to entertainment and areas designed for relaxation and wellness. The design language of the Whiskey Bar Entertainment Area is moulded to evoke a sense of drama defined by the dark hues, textured and embossed finishes with discrete lighting to create a moody atmosphere. The show stopper being the six and half meter long copper bar. We continued the organic natural feel here too by created stunning features including a beautiful end-cut wood feature wall, a bespoke wood slab table of Costa Rican Parota, that we had specially made from Table House in DIP, and the real whiskey barrels that we shipped from America. The barrels were cut in half to create a wall display to feature the Clients Whiskey Collection. Then there's the bespoke designed wine cellar. It's such a wonderful project, with a wonderful client!

Devayani: We had a great team! I also have to add that I really appreciated every individual that was involved in this project from the foreman to the night watchman. All of them were absolutely fantastic. 

Helen: The success of the project resulted from the formation of an exceptional team. The client was an integral part of this team. Her outstanding taste and fantastic eye for detail resulted in her meaningful contribution to every aspect of the design process.

Entertainment area
Image by Duncan Chard
Bar
Bar2

Photography unless specified is by Francois Jabre.