Out of Africa

A villa in Emirates Hills provides the canvas for a family's love of design and mementoes of a life well lived

07 Apr 2014 words by Alexandra Duchemin in Portfolio

What constitutes a good house? A yardstick might be this: one that lends itself to different owners, adapting itself to their life and style and, for each, becoming a real home. By that measure, the Emirates Hills villa that has been home to Lene Dewji, her husband and family, for several years now, is a good house. Blending the cultures of Scandinavia and Africa, with many years spent in Tanzania and Congo, the couple has amassed a fascinating collection of tribal art, as well as some notable examples of modern Danish design. The two styles, and the cultures and times from which they come, could hardly be more different - and yet, in the large and light-filled spaces of this contemporary villa, they complement each other very well. And everything works just as it should, to accommodate the daily life of a family with young children.

The layout of this superb villa flows from the spaces indoors to the reflective central pool (top) with its view of the lak
The layout of this superb villa flows from the spaces indoors to the reflective central pool (top) with its view of the lak

The front door opens into a space that immediately sets the scene: acting almost as a majlis, pair of contemporary sofas face each other across a polished chrome coffee table stacked with modern art books and ancient tribal artefacts. On each wall is an attention-grabbing painting by the Danish artist, Kristian Hornsleth. Beyond this is a very large abstract in black, white and earth tones by another Danish artist, Vibeke Tøejner.

Two steps down from here, the space opens out into a huge, lateral living area, on the far side of which a wall of glass overlooks a wading pool that runs the entire width of the house, and draws the eye out to the garden.

Lene has divided this space into two seating areas - one is cosy, with a wall lined in  heavily laden bookshelves, the other more open. The furniture is clean-lined and contemporary - a neutral foil for more African artefacts. Texture and colour is provided by beautiful, quilted throws made by Lene herself.

The main rooms are all arranged around a series of courtyards, with huge areas of glass allowing the natural light to flood in
The main rooms are all arranged around a series of courtyards, with huge areas of glass allowing the natural light to flood in

To one side - with folding doors that can be close it off if wished - the living room flows into a large dining area and open-plan kitchen, ideal for both family living and informal entertaining. A long, solid wood table dominates the dining area, with modern Danish chairs providing contrast.

Upstairs is a family sitting area, with the bedroom suites arranged around it. This arrangement of spaces invites different stylistic treatments for each - in Lene's case, a lot more scope for mixing the African and Scandinavian, the ancient and the new. No doubt a different family would make a very different kind of home in these spaces. It would be easy to do - and by that measure, this really is a good house.