PHOTOGRAPHY IRFAN NAQI | TEXT ROBYN PRINCE
The assignment was to design a house in Dubai in which all the rooms open onto a large, central swimming pool. Chakib Richani, the celebrated Lebanese architect and interior designer, orchestrated this theme into a symphony of transparency and lavish living areas, gardens and majestic corridors, against the backcloth of the inevitable Burj Al Arab.
The villa is situated in Dubai, but rather than exuding a profusion of ‘bling’, it is an oasis of generous forms and proportions set in a sophisticated colour palette of predominantly sand shades. It was created by Chakib Richani, the architect and interior designer from Beirut, who has built a world of serenity and space for a family with three children. This world revolves around the large patio with rectangular swimming pool and palm trees for shade. Richani: “The villa is the family’s main home. They had several requirements that they considered important, such as an outdoor pool and a large reception room. They wanted guest accommodation in the form of an extension, and quite a few rooms for specific purposes: a billiard room, a wine cellar and a games room. The idea was that they would serve to separate the private and staff quarters. All these requirements had to be interpreted and incorporated on a relatively small plot with hardly any outside views.
He went on: “For that reason, I opted for an introverted design plan, with the swimming pool as its hub. The outside walls are placed almost at the edge of the site and from there I have focused all the rooms on the pool. The pool itself is designed as a private oasis, a place that suggests the serenity of the desert. A place where you can wind down.”
The first thing that strikes you about the villa is the effect of grandeur. The architect has gone for great openness. Long corridors, often rising to roof height, add a stature of structural substance to the villa. Large rooms are appointed with appropriately large furniture and are orientated towards the patio, which produces a close-knit whole, while all the rooms seem to flow naturally into one another.
The house consists of two rectangular volumes linked at either end with two smaller volumes by means of glazed-in aerial walkways. On the first floor, suspended beams in a rhythmic arrangement support the walls of the living volumes and the exterior wall. They combine with the walkways to make the visual connection between the rooms. The only place where the exterior of the structure is to some extent visible is at the entrance with its large overhanging concrete canopy. Otherwise, on the outside, the house presents a closed aspect.
However, despite the closed character of the exterior, the patio and swimming pool are all the more open in design. Clearly this part was intended to be the central living area of the house. Large windows are fitted with cedar shutters, which keep the bright sunlight out, but create a cheerful play of shadow lines.
Chakib Richani also sought to create harmony with his use of materials and colours. The high walls are faced in simple white plaster, while sand shades prevail in the living areas. He used travertine and oak as the main materials in the interior and mostly opted for items from his own design collections for the furnishings fabrics, accessories and furniture, or else custom-designed them for this house.
When asked to comment on his working methods, he said: “I always have to get a feeling about the architecture. And reflect that feeling in the interior. Unfurnished spaces should be attractive as they are, and, more especially, remain attractive. I concentrate on the beauty of form and space, and try to sculpt them into a single entity. I’m not a decorator who seeks to impress with design”. “The salient aspect of the pool house is the natural transition from one space to the next. Logic like that is essential for me. And it was the starting point of my design. From there I work out the smallest details and incorporate the clients’ wants in the design. The result is something you not only see, but feel. The longer you live in my creations, the more you appreciate that invisible element. A well-designed space has lasting beauty”, as the architect put it. Further factors in materialising his plans are his furniture and accessories, many of which he designs himself. With these unique pieces he seeks to reinforce the proportions and dimensions of each interior pro-ject.
Chakib Richani was born in Lebanon and it was there that he founded his design studio in 1991, working with architects on projects that took him from Beirut to New York and from there to London, Paris and the Emirates.