Step into space

Yayine Melaku opens the door on a contemporary high-rise DIFC apartment where light and space are the backdrop to exquisite taste

A high-rise apartment in DIFC and a brownstone in New York City couldn’t be further apart in terms of architectural aesthetic but as an experienced developer straddling two worlds, Yayine Melaku takes inspiration from both.

After relocating to Dubai with her husband and three children for what she expected to be a short-term sojourn, this stretched to seven years and the opportunity to establish her practice this side of the globe.
Looking to kick things off with a “smaller, manageable project,” the decision to go with a 3,400-square-foot three-bedroom apartment on the upper floors of the statuesque Index Tower makes for a grand opening statement. Says Yayine: “It was the building exterior that originally captivated me, but I initially missed out on another unit in the building, so when this apartment came up and I saw the amazing bones it had, it was meant to be.”

“Dark, dated and dreary,” was her summation of the previous décor but with panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows commanding one of the best city views in Dubai, coupled with the sheer volume of available space, the potential was uncapped.

Yayine’s vision was both ambitious and practical. “With DIFC a major financial hub that attracts expats from around the world, everything had to be clean lines and modern with functionality a super important consideration while still having the glamorous connotations of its location.”

“Everything had to be clean lines and modern”

Initially apprehensive about navigating local permitting requirements, she was bowled over by how accommodating Dubai is, as she explains; “While some elements couldn’t be shifted due to safety protocols, other requests were met with a desire to help and to find a workable solution; the opposite of my US experience.”

Although the unit was already semi-open plan, Yayine wanted to open it up further to accentuate the spatial advantage, maximise the natural light, and still create cosy focal points. In terms of colour palette, a mix of cream tones and brushed brass, accented with hints of browns and black, was chosen to amplify the light and airy concept.

“The kitchen was opened up and elevated, with the sink re-sited away from the back wall, and a relaxed breakfast nook added in what was essentially a dead space that had wasted views out over the Museum of the Future and the Sheikh Zayed Road skyline,” she elaborates.  In keeping with the clean, uncluttered mandate, hidden storage was incorporated under the breakfast nook banquettes, a theme that continues throughout the apartment with a series of discreet cupboards and closets designed for everything from the washing machine to empty suitcases.

“I work with high-end manufacturers and suppliers around the world who craft custom pieces and materials for my projects”

Walls were knocked back, levelled, extended, and doors removed and repurposed to create a grand living space that clearly delineates the dining area and lounge. In a previously unloved corner, a practical semi-private office alcove abuts a grand brushed brass statement bar that wouldn’t feel out of place in a chic boutique hotel.  Lighting obviously plays a big role and was configured to make sense in each space without detracting from the wealth of natural daylight streaming in, or take away from the glittering night-time vista.  An extended hallway through to the three en suite bedrooms also received an aesthetic upgrade. “I wanted it to have an art gallery ambience and so we sited a collection of my own artworks along its length and used centered lights to draw the eye and light the way,” she remarks.

The trio of generously sized bedrooms are calming oases of pared back décor, once again allowing the views beyond to take centre stage. Closet doors were simply repainted with bespoke handles creating a point of difference and vanity spaces added to showcase room potential to prospective owners.

Luxury minimalist hotel vibes are abundant, from the flush modern simplicity of bedside light switches, choice of lamps and side tables to the bathroom of the master bedroom where a made to measure bathtub and humungous walk-in shower overlook the city below.

“I wanted to change the bathtub initially  because I didn’t like the design, but we couldn’t find one to fit the space, so we revamped it within the context of the entire space to create a practical and impactful one-of-a-kind bathroom with a view,” shares Yayine.

It’s a close tie but the pièce de resistance, however, has to be the hidden dressing room. By extending the original maid’s room, which also involved moving the entrance doorway, Yayine has created a custom Sarah Jessica Parker-worthy space that is undoubtedly a major selling point.

“I did weigh up the pros and cons of letting go of the maid’s room, but this adds an entirely new functional area to the apartment,” she says. Another area where Yayine refused to compromise was in sourcing materials and furnishings. “When I began looking for specific products and pieces here, I struggled to items of the quality I was used to from the US and pieces were often unavailable.

“As a result, I decided to launch my own company, LIU Luxxe. I work with high-end manufacturers and suppliers around the world who craft custom pieces and materials for my projects.”

Kitchen cabinetry and bathroom vanities, for example, are made by a Spanish company with a luxurious sustainable vegan leatherette used to line non-wet use cupboards and exclusive to Yayine’s company.  “I’m obsessive about quality and also about health and safety. In the US, for example, there are stringent regulations regarding formaldehyde levels in MDF board and in flooring, or the lead content of brass faucets like the ones we have. As a mother, I need 100% clarity when it comes to the materials I use for my projects.

The three-quarter-inch superior quality engineered flooring used throughout the apartment is sourced from Eastern Europe with the light switches coming from a respected supplier in China and bathroom sanitaryware also sourced through LIU Luxxe contacts. “It’s important that all the things a homeowner would touch or feel on a daily basis be the very best quality – and different from what is out there in the market; this is my unique design voice,” she adds.

Her choice of bespoke lighting pieces, all from the US, riff on the uniqueness, adding a visual wow while seamlessly supporting the ambience in each space.  That’s not to say that familiar brands don’t have a place in the apartment. Says Yayine: “I’ve used soft furnishings from H&M Home; Zara Home accessories in the bathrooms; bathroom tiles from Casamia; Luxxe Home pieces in the living spaces; and bedside lamps from ID Design and Crate and Barrel, who also provided the stunning textural table in the breakfast nook.”   The centrepiece dining table is also a stroke of genius. “I wanted a cement table but the prices I was quoted were astronomical, so I found a square table on and had surface specialists Horizon 7 add a micro cement finish as well as create the distinctive pedestal detail,” she says, breaking into a smile.

Seven months in the making, how does she feel about the end result? “On days when we had to queue to gain access to the one service elevator or stop working due to noise ordinance regulations, it felt like we would never finish but, together with my brilliant contractor CS Interiors, seeing it come to life as I imagined it could, was awesome.

“I didn’t want to pigeonhole it into a specific demographic or even age group. It could suit a young professional couple, a growing family or empty nesters looking to live in the heart of the Dubai action. What I want someone to say is: ‘This feels like home’.”

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