We meet the Danube Group’s Adel Sajan and his wife Sana at their Emirates Hills mansion
Whether you’ve been in the UAE for fifteen years, or fifteen days, the name Danube will have almost certainly have entered your consciousness. Perhaps you’ve been a loyal customer of their affordable furniture for years, or their bold red advertising boards have caught your eye on the highway. Maybe, you even catch the metro from their Jebel Ali namesake station. However you know of them, there’s no denying that the Danube Group has a strong national presence. While it’s true that their public relationist – quite literally – does not sleep, the Danube Group’s domination is more than just great marketing.
A family business, it was launched in 1993 by Indian-expat Rizwan Sajan as a small trading company. 28 years later, the Danube Group, still operated by the Sajan family, is a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate. Rizwan remains the chairman, while his brother Anis Sajan is managing director. His son Adel Sajan stands as the director, and his nephew Azhar Sajan runs sister bathroom company Casa Milano. We were invited inside the family’s Emirates Hills mansion to get a better insight into what makes this family of design enthusiasts tick.
“We bought the plot in 2010,” explains Adel as his staff lays out trays of fresh juice and snacks in front of us. He goes on to tell me that after living in Dubai for 30 years and finding success with the Danube Group, when it came to purchasing their dream family home, customisation was key. “When we first came to look around Emirates Hills our initial plan was to buy or renovate a house. We looked at a lot of villas, some had nice exteriors but bad layouts, and ultimately we couldn’t find the perfect house. My dad was willing to compromise and not too interested in the headache of building our own,” explains the 30-year-old businessman. But, much like his spirited approach in the office – which has been the driving force behind Danube Home’s success – Adel pushed for a custom-build. “My reasoning was, it’s the one house we’ll have for many, many years, get married and have kids in. It’s the ultimate house so let’s not compromise. Although, I knew it would be difficult in the short-term, I also knew it would be worth it in the long run.” After being convinced by his son, Rizwan bought the land and handed Adel the responsibility of conceptualising, building, and furnishing the multi-generational home over to his son.
Taking control of the build, Adel flew across the world sourcing materials and furniture for the home. “Danube Home’s tagline is about making your home easy, but believe me there’s nothing easy about making a house like this,” he laughs. “Even though we come from an interiors background and have the expertise, it was still a lot of work.” Of course, loaded with years of interior design experience, the Sajan’s had a few non-negotiables for the look of their villa. “We wanted a very modern house,” says Adel. “It had to have double-height spaces, with a lot of sunlight coming in.”
To mark his passion for the ocean, Adel installed a huge light-blue mosaic wall to reflect the light that beams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Large chandeliers, which were made by the same supplier as Atlantis Hotel, were used to replicate hanging water droplets. And the finishing touch on their living room is the famous eight-metre-long aquarium, which you might have spotted in the Instagram stories of the rich and famous – including YouTuber David Dobrik, and India’s finest female tennis player, Sania Mirza.
But designing the family home wasn’t the first time Rizwan had handed over responsibility to Adel. “During the summer holidays from age 13 to 15, I was working in the warehouse,” explains the only child of the family. “My dad made sure they were strict with me and didn’t give me special treatment. Then at 17, we (Danube Group) launched our first major catalogue, so I spent three months with a creative agency getting an idea of fonts, picture placement and whatever,” he explains. At 18, Adel was set to move to California to continue his studies, but his dad encouraged him to study at the American University of Sharjah, so he’d be able to continue learning the ropes at the same time. “I wasn’t too happy back then, but looking back now I think that was the right move. “I remember at 19 my dad gave me one million dollars to go to China and source chandeliers. And though, “When you’re in your second year of college you don’t really notice chandeliers,” laughs Adel, he made a success of the trip.
By the time he graduated, the 23-year-old had gained experience across the business and though the building materials facet was doing well, the retail section, formerly known as Buildmart was not turning over a profit. “My dad was about it shut it down,” says Adel. “I told him, listen, let me see if I can take over, give me two years. If you see a silver lining, this could be something big in the future.” Proving himself right, under Adel’s leadership, in just six years Danube Home became the fastest growing home improvement retailer in the region, with 40 stores and 27 franchises in another 15 countries.
Talking to Adel and spending time in his home, I’m quick to understand the family’s natural ability to accommodate – even mid-interview as I’m continually offered drinks and breakfast foods throughout. This love for hosting certainly is echoed in the intention of their home, which has the capacity to turn into a large ballroom. And indeed, if you were reading the news around 2017 you will know the Sajan’s know how to party. Spending a whopping Dhs110 million on the wedding of Adel to his former-beauty queen and qualified dentist wife, Sana. What with Adel informing me that the family throw parties nearly every week, I’m pretty sure their ain’t no party, like a Danube party.
In addition to plenty of party space, the Sajan mansion is also equipped with a games room, cinema, and spa for casual hosting. “We like being able to call our friends for matches or movies,” explains Adel. “And then we wanted a nice games room, slash lounge because both of us (meaning himself and his father) are very social.” The highlight of the games room is undoubtedly the classic Ford-Mustang-now-pool-table which exudes a retro feel that is ricocheted in the black and white panelled wall lighting. “We have a lot of dinners and karaoke nights so making a hub for friends and family to hang out was very crucial,” says Adel.
With three children of his own, ages three-years, one-year, and two-months, along with his mother and father in the villa, multi-generational family living was also a key element of Adel’s design. “We eat breakfast together every morning, it’s a ritual, whether it’s a workday, or a weekend,” he explains as Sana is looking over the new dinnerware sets brought across from a Danube Home store for her to choose from.
Sana then takes us upstairs to get a glimpse of the family bedrooms, and more personal living spaces. The young couple’s bedroom has a large TV and even larger fish tank that looks into their Versace-decked-out en-suite. “I wanted a good part of our bedroom to be black and gold, but in a way that balanced the white as well,” explains Sana as she shows us around their huge walk-in wardrobe, which would be the envy of Carrie Bradshaw – even post her dream closet installation.
Much like Carrie, Sana has a space all of her own. There’s a large wall adorned with pictures of her partying and pageanting in her younger years, along with subtle Disney decals dotted about as if part of the ‘Hidden Mickey Challenge’. The roof terrace has been decked out with an Alice in Wonderland theme, though not in use when we visit mid-summer. Notably, in her private bathroom, there’s a bathtub carved from a single piece of green marble with a delicate chandelier hanging above. “It was custom-made in Pakistan,” the mum of three explains, “we had to get a crane to bring it in, and if I’m honest I don’t really use it!”
Though the gorgeous bathtub may not be used, it represents something that’s evident throughout the Sajan’s home, which is the level of care that has gone into each and every step. It’s a kind of diligence that has been passed down through the family, and the same attentiveness that has seen a small Deira-based trading company, become the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that it is today.
Words by Sophia Dyer