Living in Dubai makes you think of high-rises, not knowing your neighbours and massive shopping trips to Ikea. But there's one Dubai resident who doesn't believe in any of that...and she's incredibly convincing!
Meet Dubai born and bred, Muby Astruc.
This one-time career journalist and lifelong free spirit is not only a mother of three beautiful boys (including her rescued dog, Snickers) but also an entrepreneur looking to transform the way we look at furniture and our living spaces through her company When Shabby Meets Chic.
The story started a couple of years ago shortly after the birth of her second child. Her cosy Mirdif villa may have been perfect for a single woman and her beloved pet, but it simply didn't work once she got married and started a family. She says that the house was essentially, "the kids' playroom...we were running out of space!" This saw her and her husband, Romain, look for another villa in their community to call home.
While Muby has always loved and lived in Mirdif, her husband used to live in the Marina...so what made him want to swap being in the centre of everything for the far quieter community on the outskirts of Dubai? French native Romain grew up in a tiny, windy valley just south of Paris, called Vauhallan. For him, Mirdif "felt like coming home. Mushrif (park) also cools down the entire area". Muby adds that Mirdif has "place for the kids to run free, for the dog to run free. There are also two parks within Mirdif, one in walking distance [...] the nicest schools, our social circle is all here...it's our village."
When it comes to the downsides of living in Mirdif, Romain is particularly upset that they can't actually buy their current, gorgeous villa. As a lawyer, he does concede that there are ways to purchase non-freehold property via DIFC and the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), "but it's too expensive for just one villa". The noise from the flight path is another issue, ("If you can tolerate it, you're probably an aeronautical engineer!" laughs Muby) but the couple asserts that every Mirdif resident knows which villas are actually affected. In any case, thanks to double glazing the noise inside the house is practically non-existent, while the noise outside really only affects them at nights after about 10pm.
Despite the few negatives, one of the things Muby loves about the self-sufficient community is that "all the villas are different, they are not copy-pastes. It just looks more natural!"
Making a house, a home
When they moved villas, Muby was determined to personalise their new home to her family, to reflect their lives and passions. That's why the only thing that they took when they shifted was their bed frame (that's right, not even a TV). This ignited a creative spark within her. "We had a large space to fill and I wanted things that were soft and vintage with a bit of a French touch for Romain." So she scoured shops all over the emirate but came up short. A few pieces did catch her eye, but they were either eye-wateringly expensive or not available in the delicate pastels that she craved. "So I said, 'I'm going to do this myself'", she explains simply.
The Birth of When Shabby Meets Chic
A creative soul, Muby started looking into environmentally conscious materials to refurbish found furniture with. As a socially responsible animal lover, the provenance of the materials is especially important to her. She started off buying cruelty-free, non-toxic paints over Amazon, however, this soon proved to be hard on her bank account. Why wasn't there anything like this in the UAE? That's when her online, 'one-stop furniture art shop 'When Shabby Meets Chic was born.
Countless hours of research, trials, errors and paint splotches later, Muby finally found a brand she could trust and honestly "believe in", Frenchic. This cruelty-free, all natural, environmentally friendly chalk and mineral paint has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or solvents added to it. It's also perfect for novice DIYers to use since you don't need to stir it or add water to the paint and as we can personally attest, it's easy to apply, even if you haven't picked up a paintbrush since kindergarten.
However, if you're a little nervous about going it alone, Muby offers workshops for corporates and even one-on-one sessions that she reveals are as therapeutic as they are functional and simple to follow. "This is stuff anyone can use," she says, "and it takes just four hours to completely transform a piece of furniture. It's so easy, you just need to get started!"
Muby was particularly keen on buying antique (over 100 years old) and vintage (40 to 100 years old) pieces but that proved hard to do in Dubai. But surely, with all the different people who live in the city, someone must be discarding old furniture? That's when she discovered that several residents tend to just bin old pieces that eventually end up in landfills, "to them it's old furniture, to me it was a gold mine" she says.
She started off picking up discarded pieces from all around Mirdif and giving them her own personal touch, for use at home or to sell on. In fact, "you'll see us pulling things out of bins on weekends" Romain jokes. She also gets pieces from friends, via Facebook and even from hotels that are being renovated - like a particularly beautiful Chinese Cabinet from a well-known, five-star hotel in Dubai.
designing her home
According to Muby, "The secret to a beautiful home is pockets of chaos. Every adult space should have two kid spaces, after all, it's their home too and they should feel at home!"
What this means is that her chic, calm and pastel living and bedroom spaces are contrasted by a bright and riotous soft playroom (in what would have been designated as a maid's room); a 'hard' play area on the first-floor landing, filled with her sons' two great loves, cars and dinosaurs; a more peaceful bedroom, filled with books and soft toys and; outdoor playhouse with plenty of space to ride cycles as well.
Working on and decorating the house, Muby admits, is a constant work in progress. But not one that she has taken on completely alone. Romain has taken on refreshing and breathing new life into their dining table and an old lamp in their bedroom. He's also has created an ultra trendy provincial-style farmhouse ladder (made from old palettes they found at a warehouse that was closing down). The artistic gene clearly runs in the family, as her boys, Alex Skye and Tristan help mum with a few DIY projects around the house and have even taken the painting a bit further. "Alex even puts red paint on some of his dinosaurs to show that they've been in a fight!" Muby told us.
remember the environment
Apart from the furniture inside the house, the couple is equally passionate about what goes into their garden. "75% of our garden is rescued," says Romain proudly, showing off banana and mango trees. While the concept of 'rescued' trees seems a bit strange, it's something most people don't think about. Muby tells us that often when tenants leave villas, they have to return their garden to the way they received it - normally meaning that certain trees and plants are ripped out. cut down and left for the bin men. It's the same mentality as adopting a pet, she explains, "why pay for one when you can rescue? Please don't chop down trees...we'll pay to take them!"
Are Muby and Romain worried that they'll one day run out of space and have to get rid of something? "We will never get 'rid' of stuff!" exclaims Romain, "we can sell it, pass it on, repurpose it...". This isn't just talk, as Muby shows us a chalkboard that started its life out as a table and even a dated bench that, once transformed, would not look out of place in any interior design magazine!
An example of a bench, upcycled by Muby
After an inspiring afternoon spent with Muby and her family, we couldn't wait to head home and see what piece of tired furniture we would breathe new life into! If you're feeling the same, look up When Shabby Meets Chic for some inspiration, all the kit and of course, send us photos on firstname.lastname@example.org