Inside Dubai’s Narnia villa that cost Dh440,000 to transform

Jumeirah home has an Enchanted Forest-themed dining room and a Tibetan meditation room

Powered by automated translation

From the outside, Kareem Aswad’s Dubai villa looks like any other property in the Jumeriah 3 compound.

Yet behind closed doors, a mystical wonderland awaits, complete with a Tibetan meditation room, a “pillow puddle” and a magical forest-themed dining room.

Aswad, 35, who bought the three-bedroom property in 2013, spent eight months and Dh440,000 transforming the “copy-paste” Dubai decor into a whimsical Narnia-themed house in 2017, with the help of interior designer Karen El-Khazen.

El-Khazen, who is the chief executive of Karen K Sanctuaries, drew inspiration from Aswad’s travels across Asia and channelled his buoyant personality to design an equally bold home.

“When I first moved in it was a typical carbon copy of every other Dubai house,” says Aswad, who works in marketing and operations. “Minimalism is not my style at all, so we set about creating something completely outside the box that represents my free spirit.

“It’s a bit like Narnia. I enjoy the idea of secret spaces and it gives me a sense of escapism from the bustle of Dubai.”

The pillow puddle

Of these hidden spaces, the pillow puddle is the most inconspicuous, nestled behind a secret door leading off the open-plan living area.

Inside, almost 100 pillows are strewn around the carpeted floor of what was formerly a guest bedroom, creating a novel relaxation area.

“The pillow puddle is a contemporary take on a traditional majlis,” says Aswad, who is of Algerian-Lebanese descent. “I rationalised that I’m an Arab and we traditionally sit on the floor to eat. We’re very much glued to the ground. It was something very fun and not too expensive.

“When I’m hosting, this is the room that guests always want to stay in the longest.”

I was nine when I first visited Tibet and it felt like another world
Kareem Aswad

The room was El-Khazen’s idea, who was inspired to create a capsule away from the rest of the house.

“The secret door looks like a wall, but when you open it, it's decorated with custom-made wallpaper that wraps around the entire room to make it feel like a vortex into the void,” says El-Khazen, whose Black Label specialises in outlandish designs.

“There’s about a hundred pillows in there and when you close the door, it feels like the ultimate timeout.”

The Tibetan meditation room

A keen traveller, Aswad has spent years exploring Asia, and his Tibetan-themed meditation room perfectly reflects his spiritual side.

Featuring a central Buddha statue, temple-like ceiling drapes and handmade tapestries from Peru, the candlelit space is a serene sanctuary where Aswad meditates and listens to music.

“I love Asia and Tibet is a really special place for me,” he says.

“I was nine when I first visited, and my aunt was working there at the time. It made a big impression on me, especially coming from Dubai. It felt like another world. I’ve been back twice more as an adult, discovering the country and culture.

"I’ll often find myself in the meditation room after work, particularly if I’ve had a busy day.”

For El-Khazen, who has her own meditation room, a sacred space in the home is imperative for mental well-being.

“Kareem is a child of the universe and I took his love for travel into consideration in this room,” she says.

The private boudoir

Aswad’s master bedroom, meanwhile, is swathed in luxurious drapes with plush soft furnishings and ambient lighting creating an indulgent nook that pays homage to his youth.

“In 2008, there was a lounge in Dubai I loved going to called Club Boudoir and I spent almost every weekend there,” he says.

I’m planning on spending some time in Mozambique, and I wouldn’t rule out an African-themed room in the future
Kareem Aswad

“The idea was that I would create my own personal boudoir. It’s my way of holding on to a really fun time.”

Despite the inspiration behind it, however, Aswad’s boudoir has a strict door policy. “The bedroom is a private space, and not many people have seen it,” he says. “My home often attracts a lot of interest and it’s good to keep one room that’s just for me.”

The Enchanted Forest dining room

Aswad’s favourite room is the Enchanted Forest-themed dining room, which features a custom-made wooden banquet table dominated by an overhanging weeping willow.

“I love nature. Growing up in Dubai, I didn’t always have a lot of access to it, so I wanted a more chilled-out rest space separate from the rest of the house,” says Aswad. “I enjoy sitting here in the morning to drink my coffee.”

The dining space is also a favourite of El-Khazen, who drew on Aswad’s love of cooking and entertaining in her designs.

“It’s like a mystical magical forest land and I custom-made the table myself to sit 10 people,” she says. “The tree really brings the room to life.”

Currently, Aswad is devoting his travels to Africa and he expects his love for the continent to eventually infiltrate his home. “I just came back from Tanzania and I’m obsessed with animals and nature,” he says.

“Next year, I’m planning on spending some time in Mozambique, and I wouldn’t rule out an African-themed room in the future.”

Aswad also intends to collect some one-off pieces to add to his decor, which has been sourced and shipped from all over the world.

“For me, my home is always a work in progress that is constantly evolving and will never be finished,” he says. “It’s a reflection of who I am, and nobody stays the same forever.”

Updated: December 26, 2023, 7:00 AM