According to a recently released report by real estate consultants, Jones Lang Lasalle, around 9,800 residential units were completed in the first quarter of 2019, which is the highest number of units handed over in a single quarter for the last few years. Despite the alleged oversupply, the demand for both mid-scale and luxury residential properties remains robust among both resident and foreign investors.
But over the past few years, as the UAE has moved from a predominantly tenanted accommodation model towards home ownership for foreign expatriates, the demand and scope for interior design and fit-out projects in the residential sector has grown manifold.
Ezaht Al Doory, managing partner at the newly-launched design and build firm, Estilo Architects, which aims to focus primarily on luxury residential developments, says: “The demand for luxury, bespoke interiors was not as high as it is today, and the competition within the industry was not as prevalent. Now, we are seeing more international designers entering Dubai, expanding the pool of concepts for clients, who are exploring more contemporary design ideas.”
The rise in design investment can be attributed to the maturing outlook in the UAE, aided further by the freehold property regulations launched by the Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments, which aim to encourage real estate investment in the emirate. “Some of the changes that we have noticed in the residential sector is an increased number of end-users buying older properties in areas such as the Springs, the Meadows, and Arabian Ranches, and renovating the unit immediately after purchase,” says Raneesh Mundon, project manager of ECC Group, which is the parent contracting company of a group of fit-out and facilities management firms including Abanos Fit-out and Joinery.
One of the biggest factors driving developments globally is demographics and in the case of the UAE, diversity is one of the key components. “Catering to the end-user market that is constantly evolving, influences various aspects of the development – design, materials, location and prices,” says Mundon. “Developers in this market such as our associate company, Aurora Real Estate Development, have started catering to the needs of the end-users, incorporating their requests in the design and construction thus providing a bespoke unit upon completion.”
Another noteworthy development with the new real estate dynamics is that most of the units purchased are being occupied by end-users rather than investors. “Homeowners are, therefore, more inclined towards customising their homes and investing to renovate and refurbish them as it is their permanent home,” says Mundon. “Developers are evolving as per the emerging market needs using premium materials and finishes to increase their offerings to cater to the UAE’s diversified population.”
With competition heating up among developers to offer not only the best architectural concepts such as gated communities with top of the range facilities, the interiors, where owners and residents will spend majority of their time are, are also being thrown into the mix. Property as an investment option has always been an attractive option in most metropolises. Al Doory says: “To ensure that Dubai continues to appeal to investors, developers are always seeking out bigger and brighter ideas so the industry can continue to surpass international expectations. Dubai is known for luxury design, pushing boundaries and taking risks.”
Recently, the launch of a development in Emaar Beachfront precinct drew much attention for its collaboration with the world-renowned Lebanese fashion designer, Elie Saab. Luxury brands in every sector of interiors, from furniture to flooring, bathroom fixtures and kitchens offer a multitude of products for understated luxury.
“When you start looking at luxury items for the kitchen or bathroom, for example, clients are looking towards European-designed and manufactured products,” says Al Doory. “Countries such as Italy, Germany and Switzerland are leading the way and, as buyers have access to these brands, they are willing to set their budget higher knowing they will be receiving a quality, luxury product.”
Recent residential projects designed by contemporary practices such as Lulie Fisher Design Studio and VSHD Design also point towards a changing perception of luxury in the region. The gilded fixtures and furnishings have made way for understated luxury by way of spatial design and high quality fittings.
A private residential villa by Rania M. Hamed of VSHD Design demonstrates this new zeitgeist where large open, pared-down spaces and good lighting underscores luxury living. As Ellen Sohoel of XBD Collective explains in an interview, with investors now having the luxury to buy their own land asset, residential architecture and interiors are undergoing a transformative change in the way owners invest in their freehold properties.
Mundon adds that even those property owners who had bought their units a few years ago are opting for refurbishments to maintain the value of their assets. “It’s common to see complete remodelling of the property, and features such as open-plan kitchens and living areas, extensions, outdoor areas, and swimming pools,” he says.
One of Dubai’s most progressive developers, Ellington, has created a niche in the market with its design-centric offerings. It recently handed over the second phase of its successful development, Belgravia, in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Jumeirah Village Circle. Offering an urban community-based lifestyle, the property designed by award-winning architect, Jonathan Ashmore, features top quality amenities and good return on investment, including rental yield.
The same company also recently launched new upscale sub-brands, Wilton Terraces and Wilton Park Residences in Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City with a focus on design and healthy lifestyle. Among other features that are becoming integral to new residential developments are the incorporation of artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology.
Al Doory says: “Five years ago, green buildings were at the forefront of design. Fast forward to 2019, and we are seeing an even greater push for artificial intelligence and new technology within our homes. It is the market’s willingness to embrace all things new that has given developers the drive to inject attractive salient features into their projects.”