Lesley Zaal, of Etcetera Living, designs the interiors of eco-friendly restaurant, The Farm
Etcetera Living was set up by Marie-Inez Botha and Lesley Zaal in 2003. Botha won CID Young Designer of the Year in 2008 and the firm has twice appeared in the Andrew Martin Design Review.
Since then, the firm has grown from a team of two to more than 30 people. The pair began doing small projects, apartments and villas before being approached by Jumeirah Beach Hotel to renovate The Apartment and to turn the little used bar at the end of the jetty into the institution now known as 360.
They then worked on the renovation of Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Beachcombers restaurant. Botha left the company in January this year.
“Our big break came with the Al Barari villas where I was involved in the selection of materials for the interiors of the villas. Every detail was looked at from the taps to the roof tiles. Once the options for clients were decided and the show villas built we began the interior decoration. Each villa was designed in different styles so that every client would find something that appealed to their individual taste,” said Zaal.
Its latest project was to design the interiors for The Farm, an eco-conscious concept restaurant, which champions fresh, locally sourced produce set in the heart of the 14.2 million square foot Al Barari residential development, in the royal enclave of Nad Al Sheba, Dubai.
Zaal said the design had a specific brief — it had to be contemporary, with a relaxed feel and completely different to anything in Dubai. This theme runs throughout from the interiors to the menu and the outdoor decking area.
“The concept was to have a restaurant primarily for the residents but one that was also open to members of the public. I also had to consider the practicality of the venue as a major factor because lots of children will visit the restaurant with their families,” said Zaal.
“As the restaurant prides itself on serving pure, fresh produce the décor had to reflect the “back to nature” feel but have a contemporary feel at the same time. The client wanted the restaurant to blend seamlessly with the gardens and yet be contemporary.
A feeling of openness had to be achieved and as practicality was an important requirement (no designs which would look dated two years from now) and more importantly, furniture which offered comfort and ease of maintenance, it still had to offer something different for guests.”
The designer said she got her inspiration from the surroundings of Al Barari itself — the greenery, water and birdlife.
“These things played an important role in deciding on the whole look and feel of the restaurant,” she said.
“Natural wood table tops, cut from whole tree trunks, set the tone and from there the mix of designer (Philippe Starck classic Louis ghost chairs and bar stools) mixed with squishy sofas and even some rocking chairs give the space an eclectic feel. Mixing contemporary glass top tables and chairs from Spain, with the natural wood elements, helped to give the place a feeling of quirkiness without being a cliché.
“Outside, we had to consider the location by the water and a separate smoker’s area. The colour scheme from inside continues to the exterior in subtle shades of white and beige, with the trees and shrubs adding to the colour.
We found these amazing single seat hammocks from Spain and they have proved a big hit with everyone from young to old. An old favourite, bean bags, works perfectly for a relaxed afternoon and the tree trunk table with brushed aluminium bar stools is a great place to sit with a cup of coffee and listen to the birds or watch the dragonflies on the water.”
The greatest challenge for the team was trying to fit enough people inside the restaurant without the space feeling cramped and allowing room for any future expansion and extension.
“As with any restaurant project there is always a huge amount allocated to the kitchen, which can sometimes result in cutbacks in the furnishing budget, but luckily quality was not compromised so I managed to get all the elements I wanted to create into the design. The external spaces were determined by the small lake and the gardens surrounding it, which create a tranquil ambience and working within these parameters dictated the number of dining spaces and lounging areas,” she added.
Zaal said the space reflects the whole ethos of Al Barari: quality, simplicity and luxury in an oasis.
“For me the design was simple, look at the space around you and try to create something that blends seamlessly into the surroundings,” she said.
Etcetera Living is now working on a boutique hotel, a private villa in Jumeirah, a restaurant in The Marina and more villas in Al Barari. It has also taken on the agency for the furniture brand, Bolier, and has opened a showroom at the firm’s offices on Jumeirah Beach Road next to the Lime Tree Café.
“Clients generally come to us with a vague idea about what they want but actually when we begin the process it becomes obvious that they really don’t know what they want and it is our job to make sure that we turn their house into a home that reflects them as a family plus their individual personalities. This is not always easy, but it is fun and exciting to translate someone’s vague ideas into a reality,” said Zaal.
“Interior design is not just a job, but most definitely a passion and each project we take on has new challenges and obstacles to overcome, whether it is trying to make a small space look like a palace, budget restraints, or incorporating a client’s passion into their home without it turning into a theme park like Disneyland,” she added.