Nabil spent three years to demolish and reconstruct one of Al Barari’s largest homes into the iconic Villa BlackRock. For this edition of 'Open House', we take a tour of the Villa which is jointly designed by the owner and the highly acclaimed Italian architect and designer Frederico Spagnulo. The brief was to create a luxury home mansion that would withstand the test of time.
Nabil: The key attraction of the villa was its location in the development. It has excellent privacy especially as there are no close neighbors at the backside of the property and overlooks beautiful streams, lakes, walkways and lush gardens.
When the house was bought in 2016 the main idea was to do some basic cosmetic improvements and move in quickly. However, after meticulously studying the state of the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) and Structural parts of the property, it became very clear that if this villa was to become our dream home and meet our high standards, we would need to do some very serious work. So, the decision was made to redo everything as part of a major reconstruction. It took about 6 months to translate all our ideas and aspirations into detailed executable architectural drawings.
On the structural side of things, the demolition job alone took 3 months as we tore down the house to the bare core having removed about 26 large-size dump trucks of concrete out of the property. The work required the use of hydraulic diamond cutting equipment given the precast built structure. In many areas the walls and roof were also removed to allow the resizing of rooms and common spaces below. No false ceiling, no pipe, no wire no duct and no flooring was left. It was all stripped out.
On the MEP side of things, it was very important for us to bring in the latest systems and materials in order to have as energy efficient a home as possible. To manage this, we brought in an Italian specialist to re-plan all the MEP work and AC systems. We decided to use Daikin’s top of the line VRV AC-system from Japan. We also integrated a fresh air handling system alongside the AC-system that treats the incoming air in 4 chambers before entering the house delivering fresh treated air 24/7. We also installed a solar system to deliver all the hot water needs of the house with its 13 bathrooms removing the need for hot water heaters. For managing all these systems we installed the latest home automation system by Vantage that integrates everything from the HVAC, audio visual, lighting, curtains and more into stylish yet minimalistic controls in each room but accessible also from phones and I-Pads. We also have an electronic touchpad dashboard in the back kitchen that allows the independent operation of the system in case the home automation fails for any reason.
As far as fit-out and styling of the house the key theme was to blend highly textured materials be it marble or tiles with soft and warm tones be it textured fabric or wood. The color palette was also simple yet timeless and based on white, grey, and black variants.
Nabil: Frederico, our architect, is very famous for renovating many of Italy’s historic buildings but also for being the chief designer of many of the Baglioni hotels around the world. His background with luxury boutique hotels gave plenty of scope to re-imagine the property into a luxury resort home. His obsession with detail coupled with his expertise in architectural and interior design made sure we ended up with exactly what we planned for and more.
Key features influencing the re-design of the home was to make sure we brought in as much sunlight into every area of the house as well as making sure there was the right flow and transition from one space to another in the home without bottlenecks. A key example of this was the addition of a second staircase from the ground floor to the second floor. The ‘flying staircase’ was commissioned with a brilliant Iranian steel fabricator who has works in the Guggenheim museum in New York. The staircase is made out of steel and iron and finished with glass, marble and chrome detailing. For additional sunlight we introduced multiple skylights, a large majestic glass entrance and installed floor to ceiling windows. We reduced aluminum frames to a minimum and used German technology to push out windows.
Nabil: Other key features of the home that I love are the spa and gym. The inspiration was Giorgio Armani's hotel in Milan with the vengai wood veneer contemporary finishing. This is a spa that doesn’t require music to put you in the mood as all the elements interact with each other to create a rich yet calming feeling. The fireplace was custom made from Belgium and adds a very nice touch to the highly textured rock wall. The 85 sq m gym with its 4.5 m ceilings is a great precursor to the SPA and is fully equipped with the latest machines and free weights from top brands including Lifefitness, Technogym and Matrix.
Nabil: The massive master suite is a crowning feature of the home. The bed is raised and overlooks the gardens with a very large ensuite bathroom with a large overflow jacuzzi as the centerpiece. Adjacent is walk-in wardrobes which we have taken to another level. His walk-in room is finished with mahogany wood with inlays everywhere and with every aspect of the room quite deliberately organized as in a luxury boutique clothing store. Her walk-in room is even more personalized, using beveled crystal glass delivering a diamond look and reflection throughout the room. This room was redone twice with hundreds of mirrors replaced before we got it right.
Nabil: The office is also a very unique space in the house. I work long hours and work a lot at home. It's a space where I can close the doors and truly immerse myself in my own space. It has wood panelling with a touch of English style. There is a fireplace to bring warmth to the room and a mirrored TV so I can watch the news and the markets.
Nabil: The home cinema has high-end finishing and top of the line sound systems with an artistic feel to it. We feature stylish Bowers and Wilkins speakers from the UK on the sides of the perforated screen with additional speakers behind the screen driving the ultimate cinema experience. All the walls are padded, but it's not a typical one you'd find in major movie theatres - they're floor to ceiling and acoustic with great technical capabilities and finished off with velvet material.
In terms of the staff quarters, we thought about the space they would need for comfort but also from a functional point of view. We have a purpose-built staff space in the back kitchen to relax when they are off duty or on break. The staff bedrooms all have the same finishing as the rest of the house and we spared no expense there.
For the outdoor space, we wanted a livable environment that we could use throughout the year. The planted 10 m palm trees are all deliberately placed in a way where their full reflection can be seen on the water surface of the pool. We also created a sunken seating area that comfortably accommodates 16 people. The garden area also has an impressive tree lined back entrance/walkway to usher in guests from the main driveway. This is a great feature as it removes the need to navigate people through the house during large events or parties.
As for the pool, it is a knife-edge overflow structure designed by a Belgian specialist. The deep-end wall has a German built-in swimming current machine used by triathletes and Olympians, which is great for endless swimming. Also overlooking the deep end of the pool we have built a steel structured cantilever pergola that is useable throughout the year as it can be enclosed by 3.2 m glass panels that slide along rails The roof opening of the pergola is inspired by the multi layered roof of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.
Nabil: You ask why the name BlackRock? Well, the house was always destined to be branded. It’s a unique structure that speaks many things to many people, but in summary it is a “statement”. It's a statement of luxury and art as every featured area of the house speaks to you with impact. The 'BlackRock' name encapsulates all this but also celebrates the size and solidness of the property.