Colour addiction this week! Welcome to the bright and colourful home of Marie Jeanne, french journalist and mom of two, passionate about home decoration, fancy costume making, vintage design treasure hunter, and much more. Once you enter her world, you’ll be fascinated by all the stories she and her husband will tell you about their family, their homes, their objects. What a wonderful morning we spent, talking about how she travels from France with ceramic vases in her pocket, how her husband’s grandma travelled from Bassano del Grappa (a small town in northern Italy) to China in the early 20’s, or how the turquoise family couch that was abandoned in some attic gathering dust found its perfect fit in this home. She is very spontaneous and loves to talk and listen to other people stories, with her husband they always go to flea markets in Normandy or garage sales here in Dubai and love to chat with people selling their stuff, learn about their expat lives and discover who has incredible stories to tell. Every piece in this homes has of course a story, and she clearly remembers where and to who they bought it. We laughed about her obsession with colours and her knowledge of various vintage names of some nuances like cuisse de nymphe (a shade of pink) or ventre de puce (grey, for regular folk!), and talked about her very original living room vertical blinds, custom made by a local guy that understood exactly what she had in mind, in those three bright and deep primary colours, “lemon, Klein blue and russet red” as she describes them. I’m sure you’ll have fun reading the whole story and… get inspired!
Who is inviting the Sandy Side at home today?
Hi, my name is Marie-Jeanne, half French half Italian, landed in Dubai 4 years ago. I am always in between a writing job – freelance translator and journalist, mainly for the French expat newsletter Le Petit Journal – and a more “artistic” occupation, whereas it was running sculpture and ceramic classes in my Geneva studio, or just having fun creating dashing party costumes for my friends and my kids: no weekend without a fancy dress session! I love playing with the house decor, and designing fashion jewellery – who can resist Satwa’s haberdasheries, they look like candy stores to me…
How did you choose your house and how long have you lived in it?
My husband found our very first house, a lovely mid-century looking, tiny old compound in Safa that ticked all the right boxes for us; we wanted to be central and surely not in a high tower or in a huge compound far from the city vibe. Choosing a home in those old residential areas means having to compromise on the bathrooms or the house appliances in general, but we didn’t care, we always value more the charm of a place than a state of the art brand new shower cabin! Then Dubai happened: major construction work sites surrounded our little paradise and we started looking for something else. We found this one, again a small and old compound, a little over a year ago, and we literally fell in love with the large common garden: a luscious shaded green haven made of frangipani and large old palm trees, little paved paths for kids to race their bikes, and a private patch to have dinner outdoors. I love being at biking distance from bakeries, coffee shops and sea shores, and of course we loved the house too, with its airy volumes, old honey marble terrazzo-like floors, very large windows overlooking the greenery.
Where does your passion about interior decor come from?
Decoration – or style – runs in my veins! My dad is a history buff and a secret artist, always sketching, and my mother was a designer and right-hand of Karl Lagerfeld for over 20 years, we bathed in sophistication, Anna Piaggi (the famous italian fashion writer and style icon) was my godmother. I wore crêpe de Chine custom made shirts at 4 years old! My mum would tailor crazy fashion outfits for my dolls, shoes included, my dad would made land-art with me for hours in our country home, and my grandmother would whip-up costume party dresses out of this world: hence my passion for that!
Our home in Milan during my childhood was pure 1925/30’s and Art Déco, with the wall paint made to measure to match the vintage velvet cushions, mixed with pastel kilim carpets: a collection of ivory craquelé porcelain vases, and a white Pompom polar bear ceramic I particularly loved, Le Corbusier sofas and pinkish porphyre wall lamps, silk tulle curtains and a massive brass and geometrical glass pendant chandelier in the dining room that made a lovely tingling sound with every breath of air. My parents always had a passionate attention to detail and they collected amazing pieces with the years, mainly early and mid-century, but not exclusively: they were – like I am – never guided by the financial value or prospect, but by the aesthetics and charm of the object.
Who was in charge of the decoration of the house?
I was lucky enough to marry a man with an acute eye for everything beautiful, and with a mind opened (or blinded by love?) to let me often bring home some dust covered – weird looking trinkets or even a full sofa set, like the one I bought for literally three dimes from a punk guy with a 80cm high green coloured crest. He also trusted me when I jumped in excitement swearing they were vintage Scandinavian design treasures, and would look just perfect once I’d clean them. I was right, they did!
Did you have a decorating idea in your mind before starting decorating it? Or did it happen in a spontaneous way?
All the houses I have lived in are very different, each strongly influenced by the climate and the town they were located in, but they are all “from the same family”, and have also a lot in common: my husband and I love colours, and we both collect with unrelenting passion odd pieces from thrift stores and flea markets. Every summer I bring back from Europe heavy mid-century ceramics in my handbag, or rolled up vintage photos, etchings, lithographs or cross-stiched canvas. Then we add of course meaningful family pieces and souvenirs, and we also let Ikea, Dubizzle and garage sales treasures find their way into the mix too!
In Dubai we let the bright blue sky and the strong light influence us, and really went for strong accents: the living room vertical blinds juxtaposing three bright and deep primary colors, the bright yellow stencil patterned rug from Casa Lopez that just soaks up the light here so well, or the faded but still vibrant turquoise fabric of the family couch. We also had to face one of the famously weird “Dubai problems”: we had to buy another huge couch as the (very large one) we already had looked so tiny and lost in that vast living room. We opted again for a strong color, with a mustard leather piece, bought from Dubizzle on the spot, the very same week we moved. So yes, it’s quite spontaneous, but that said I always need to live in a house for a while before going for big decisions in term of decoration, although I always have an immediate intuition, it takes me time to feel the spaces, and it’s always a work in progress : adding, moving, changing, painting… a house is never really fully finished, otherwise where’s the fun?
How would you define the style of your home?
That’s a hard one! I’d say something mid-century/vintage Miami with a dash of boho spirit? That sounds horrendously pretentious! I think mostly coloured, vintage, personal and miscellaneous would be more accurate!
How did you end up living in Dubai?
As a vast majority of expats, I followed my husband’s career call! But we had been wanting to move from Europe for a while, and what I like most about our new home, is that I came here full of misconceptions and quite reluctant, and once here I not only met a host of absolutely fantastic people, but I was above all proven wrong more often than not in all my preconceived judgments, and that is definitely a very pleasant feeling!
Is it easy to combine nice decor and and family life?
We love our furniture and every vase and vintage irreplaceable object is precious to us, but above all we love to have a home that is filled with life, and not a still-life museum. Some scratches and spills might happen with the kids playing around, but it’s worth it, and it’s actually the only way to transmit that passion to your kids too: all my boys love scouring flea markets with us, and when we buy a new piece, they have strong opinions on colours and shapes and styles, and they do the same whenever we visit a museum or any art exhibition…and that make us very happy.
Tell me about your obsession for colors.
I can’t talk about colors and not mention this: my mum and I share an incredibly detailed color spectrum that includes some shades that probably only 0.2% of the population will recognize, with historic and vintage names such as ventre de biche (deer tummy), poil de chameau (camel fur), or cuisse de nymphe (nymph’s thigh)…When my then husband-to-be entered our family this was an endless source of bedazzlement and miscomprehension at first, but later mostly amusement and jokes, to the point that we ended up naming the tables of our wedding with all the weirdest sounding color names we could think of. To the day this still puts a smile on our faces!
What is your favourite object or piece of furniture in your home and why?
With no hesitation THE carpet ! It’s an incredible vintage piece, made upon a 1925 design from Sonia Delaunay and called ”Pierrot Lunaire”, don’t you already love the name?! It was my parent’s and one of their many wedding gifts to us, it’s a piece that really should be hung on the wall and protected from every day hassle and tiny sandy feet, but it brings so much joy, my kids love it, they always lie down on it to play and read, and just looking at it in the morning light with those amazing colors and shapes playing in the sun makes my day!
Any decoration tip?
Do not follow trends, do’s and don’ts, or price tags: outdated or cheap doesn’t mean it has no value, and fashionable or expensive certainly doesn’t mean it’s a good buy! Once you have a couple of objects and pieces that will be the core of your home, that are emotionally important to you, then just build around those. Do not fear colors, odd pieces, weird shapes, statement carpets…and if you are not happy with the result, it’s so easy to sell them again and buy something different for a very cheap bargain. Decoration should be fun and playful, nothing is set in stone forever, so: enjoy! Yes, most probably you are renting, but go ahead and paint a couple of walls, add some made to measure shelves, have your old couch re-upholstered with a nice batik or a striking wax print, or go crazy : put artificial grass in the playroom, let your kids paint freely on one of the corridor walls. And above all, in these Dubai homes please change all the lamps, chandeliers and lamp shades! Add some throw pillows, some indoor plants in a beautiful ceramic or large rubber pot. It’s amazing how these small details will change any dire rental into a colorful and personal home.
What is your favourite place in the city?
Waking around Satwa shops, gazing at the bejeweled saree linings, the incredible embroideries, the saffron street sellers, the fabric and carpet shops, the gold sellers with full body parures exposed in their shop-windows, the ironmonger’s and tiny hardware stores : it’s an endless source of inspiration, and definitely the best chai and curry in town! We love going early morning to the small Jumeirah fish market in winter, and buy some beautiful vivid green crabs, the best vongole ever, and these delicious huge rainbow skin Hammour fish. Also the Bait al Bahar: an old run-down arabic restaurant down my road, with a small terrace straight on the beach, shaded by palm trees and the bamboo palisade of the Dubai Sailing Club. It’s super quiet, breezy… I love going there in the cool season, have a swim in the tiny beach (always empty) and a saffron and coconut milk drink all to myself, or just breakfast tête à tête with my husband, this little corner is like a stretch of sand somewhere in Namibia or Kenya : it makes us feel far away from the hussle and the bling, and we love it.
What do you enjoy the most as a family in Dubai?
As a family, beach life around the corner is a must: just my husband and I coming back from school drop-off, or all together in the late afternoon, watching our eldest surf and our youngest splashing around while the sun sets. We love scouring garage sales on Friday mornings, chatting with people selling their stuff, and learn about their expat lives. We always bring the kids with us, they get to pick a toy and we get to vote for the most horrendous or weirdest object we saw on the day, and sometimes we bring back home a real treasure, like our authentic mid century vintage Danish wooden dining table set, left behind by a boho family going to sail around the world who sold literally all their possessions before the departure!
DECO NOTES from Marie Jeanne’s addresses in Dubai
For all that glitters (DIY jewellery and costume parties outfits), for the custom made majlis, upholstery, frames, curtains and more, for the fabrics and the daily inspiration
Dubizzle, and the garage sales: www.dubizzle.com
The closest to the fun and the surprises traditional flea-markets can provide. No expectations and an open mind are mandatory
Dragon Mart: www.dragonmart.ae
For the quirky unusual piece, and for fantastic lights and wall papers, the key word is « use your imagination »
Al Warsan Plant Nurseries: Dubai plant souk, Warsan 3
For an incredible array of healthy plants of all sizes and shape at a real bargain price, and beautiful ceramic pots too, even very very large ones
Inside the same space in Al Serkal, they are a feast for the eyes
The AKKA project: https://www.akkaproject.com
Run by a dear friend who presents contemporary African emerging artists