When Sophie and Lucan Toh moved into their home at the end of 2011, they were looking for a retreat from the hustle and bustle they were used to – both in London and in the burgeoning metropolis that Dubai has become. Desert Palm, set among dense greenery and overlooking polo grounds, was perfect.
The couple’s three-bedroom home is enveloped in greenery and has an indoor-outdoor feel, thanks to an interior courtyard, a terrace, a patio and a side yard – complete with water feature – that’s perfect for barbecuing. Every room – including the couple’s home office – has a view, which is not always the case in Dubai villas. And the most appealing part for Sophie is that you can’t see into other people’s houses. “It’s just us, the palm trees and the desert,” Sophie says. Floor and wall finishes, both indoors and in courtyards and balconies, are painted the same shade to offer a seamless transition between inside and out. During the warmer months of the year and even the cooler winter season, this gives the home a tropical feel. The dense trees also create a barrier from Dubai’s infamous sandstorms, as well as the fresh breezes that often blow across the polo fields.
“We were going for a very clean, Ralph Lauren look in this room,” Sophie says, as she strolls around the light and airy living room – her favourite space in the house. There is a nautical feel – almost like a beach house on Martha’s Vineyard – defined by blue and white, as well as polished stainless steel and chrome details on furniture.
Remarkably, with no formal design training, Sophie was able to custom design much of her own furniture, giving her living room a personal touch. Patterns are kept to a minimum (the only stripe is in the curtains that frame the stunning view), and the room is filled with personal gifts and artefacts that the couple has collected over time and on travels. Artwork adds a dose of colour, courtesy of Terry Bradley, one of Lucan’s friends from Ireland. Vintage movie posters are also framed, introducing a touch of nostalgia to the home. Music plays a huge role in the couple’s home, and parties invariably include a musical interlude from the host – Lucan will often entertain guests on his drum kit or guitar.
While the entertaining happens on the first floor, the couple’s more private sanctuary – the master bedroom – is downstairs, overlooking a sunken garden. One of the best features of this garden-level master bedroom was also its greatest challenge – it is just as big as the sizable living room it sits directly under. “We had to buy oversized furniture, I mean just look at these lamps!” Sophie says of two massive polished chrome lamps that sit on either side of the bed. Sophie’s opted to use a darker shade of paint to bring the walls in and draw attention to the verdant view seen through the floor-to-ceiling window that takes up an entire wall.
Here, as in the two other bedrooms, emphasis is placed on comfort. In the kitchen, a playful blackboard wall shows candid messages left for the Tohs by friends and family. My personal favourite is a cheeky message pointing out that ‘Toh’ is ‘Hot’ spelled backwards. “We bought chalk paint one weekend as we’d seen a similar wall in a friend’s apartment in Hong Kong,” Sophie recalls. “It was originally to write menus on, but now we ask friends to leave their mark after a lunch or dinner, so it’s built up into something that’s quite fun and personal.” This quirkiness sums up this Desert Palm sanctuary and the personalities of its owners.