As the imposing wrought-iron-and-gold front door slowly opens to this vast Arabic villa in Al Barsha, you'd be forgiven for assuming that a cornucopia of Arabesque design awaits. Instead, a gallery-like open-plan layout hosts vintage Nordic furniture, vibrant fabrics, retro designer lights and quirky objets d'art that contrast and complement in equal measure.
The villa is home to interior designer Mina Jantunen, her husband, seven-year-old son and two Yorkshire terriers. The family are living in Dubai for the second time, having relocated back here in 2010 after two and a half years in their native Finland.
"We used to live on a compound, but this time we wanted a home with a bit more individuality and a more local feel, so we knew that Barsha was the area that we wanted to live in," Mina explains. "As soon as we opened the door to this villa we fell in love. It is so different to our Finnish home, which is very simple and Scandinavian in design. We were looking for something large and spacious and this is it." Unlike many Arabic homes, where the downstairs has been divided into closed Majlis areas, this villa retains an open-plan layout. To some, arranging the furniture in such a vast space may seem a daunting task, but Mina laughs when she admits that she knew instantly where all the furniture would go and explains that on moving day every item was placed in its perfect spot.
"My trademark style is mixing and matching, both in my own home and in my projects. It is elegant, harmonious, well thought out but always with something funky added, whether by mixing different styles or just adding some unconventional, or even unthinkable, touches here and there," she says. "I love to break up ‘matchy' interiors with what I would call ‘a touch of Mina', which makes them more interesting, unexpected and funkily chic."
In the living room a zebra rug from Cape Town, South Africa is positioned underneath a 1944 coffee table by the renowned Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and a re-upholstered Rococo sofa set has been adorned with Lobos cushions from Missoni. "I adapted quite a lot of items for this home," Mina explains, "I re-upholstered vintage armchairs in a fabric that worked well in this house and bought cushions and art that tied the whole scheme together. Bigger pieces of furniture remain constant in every home you live in, but if you want to create a slightly different feel, simple changes like altering the fabric on sofas can make a huge impact."
At the cornerstone of the home's design is an incredible collection of original 1950s and 1960s Finnish and Danish furniture that Mina inherited from her grandparents. "Scandinavian design speaks to me. I also like streamlined minimalist design, but this can look quite clinical, so the introduction of wooden vintage items breaks this down and brings some warmth into the space. I wouldn't keep these furniture items just for sentimental reasons, but I'm very lucky, as these are exactly to my taste. Even if I hadn't inherited the vintage items from my grandparents, I would definitely have picked them up from an auction!"
Mina always advises people not to throw things away too readily. "Whether it is a piece of furniture or the oddest vase in the back of a cabinet, there is always the possibility of reusing it. Even the strangest item can look beautiful when placed correctly in a well-thought-out setting, and an old piece of furniture can turn into a jewel when re-upholstered, painted or just placed unexpectedly in the right place." She adds, "It is always good to remember that it might be hard to find new decorative pieces that have as much character and personality as the ones that already exist."
Synergy throughout the whole home is achieved through the use of vintage furniture, designer lighting and colourful decor in every room. Mina used the same patterned wallpaper in different colourways for the study area, the master bedroom and her son's room. "I'd been looking for the perfect project to try out this amazing wallpaper from a supplier in Barcelona, and this house was it. The geometric design doesn't intrude into the room too much, and yet conversely, it isn't drowned out by the scale of the wall it's on, so it's the perfect balance."
Moving all their belongings back and forth between Finland and Dubai over the last seven years has made Mina very aware that what works perfectly in their previous home - a 1970s architectural gem in Finland - needs tweaking to work in a sprawling Arabic villa in Dubai. Mina is just about to put her own advice into practice as the family prepares to move once more, this time into a brand new skyscraper in Dubai Marina. "That's the fun and creative part of this job that I love, always thinking of new exciting ways to adapt the pieces we already have to make them match their surroundings."