ANALYSIS: Kitchens of Dubai

Andrew Bannister runs an architectural design company in Dubai, where there is no income tax, Rolls Royces are commonplace and people mostly eat out. So what do they want from their kitchens and why are British brands a rarity?

From 370 metres in the air, on top of what is currently Dubai’s third tallest building, the thought process for the design and installation of a kitchen was the furthest thing from my mind.

The view was spectacular. You can see most of Dubai, including the Palm Jumeirah, the World Islands and, off to the east, what would soon be the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa – shimmering and magnificent. But, from where I stood, it was also a heck of a long way down!

It was about five years ago that I was invited to design the entire 96th floor of the Princess Tower in Dubai and, obviously, it included a kitchen. For that purpose, and to satisfy my client’s needs, I designed an open-plan kitchen using Häcker furniture and Miele appliances. To help blend the kitchen into the open space, I designed a large dropped and mirrored ceiling to disguise the extractor as much as possible. However, that all came later.

Dubai is somewhere to see and explore the countless styles that have either been borrowed from the rest of the world or injected with new and weird, ghastly or simply beautiful flights of imagination, culminating in the world’s
most amazing city

My first trip up the monster tower was on the ‘outside’ in a noisy, swaying cradle with a see-through floor – now that was ‘entertaining’. But that was only as far as the 90th floor. From there, I entered via a gangplank arrangement and then walked up the inside of the building to the 96th floor. There was a buzz of activity around a central column, towering upwards into the Arabian sky, and a simple scaffold pole set horizontal around the perimeter of the 15,000sq ft area. An area that would eventually become my client’s penthouse.

I cautiously made my way to the edge, peered over, and down… I froze. At nearly 400m up, I found my hand firmly stuck to the pole, while feeling as if my whole body were being drawn through the flimsy barrier and down to my ultimate doom. That orange netting looked damned fragile to me. I was never before afraid of heights, but this was ‘heights’ in a new dimension. So I stood there, frozen to the spot, sweat dripping off me at right angles, thanks to the increasing wind blowing it off and into oblivion…

Push yourself

Chuckling to themselves, a group of workers rescued me. I didn’t understand exactly what they were saying, as my mastery of foreign languages had yet to develop, but they clearly thought it most amusing.

The strange thing is, that when I visit now, and peer over the gleaming glass and stainless steel rails that I had to design as part of my architecture, the height does not bother me at all. I guess familiarity after frequent visits somehow gets you used to the unfamiliar – a bit like design, really. Sometimes you need to push yourself to the edge to gain the confidence to do something that otherwise you might not do. And sometimes, just when you think you have mastered it, something comes along to knock your confidence and you need a helping hand.

Dubai landmarks
Dubai landmarks

Dubai is that sort of place – for design, I mean. It’s a place to see and explore the countless styles that have either been borrowed from the rest of the world or injected with new and weird, ghastly or simply beautiful flights of imagination, culminating in the world’s most amazing city. A city of dreams, false hopes, success and daring. Take the Burj Al Arab, for example. The seven-star hotel is a one-off that somehow works for Dubai, just like the Sydney Opera House works for Australia.

The kitchen industry has been copying itself over and over again for decades. Boxes adorned with differing doors and panels seem to have done the trick but, yawn – boring or what?

However, on a positive note, those ‘boring boxes’ have kept an industry alive for over half-a-century, so it’s obvious that boxes sell and that’s a good thing. Of course, some individual designers and companies stand out in the UK. A certain man who would win a moustache competition comes to mind, and a few of his contemporaries – the colourful one, the traditional one and one even named Clive. Who would have thought, with a name like that?

Of course, back in the day, when I resided in good old Blighty, even I had a reputation for a while as a ‘individual’, with the odd appearance on TV and radio, as well as in national magazines, which did my reputation no harm at all. But the lure of sun, sand and tax-free living led me to Arabia. And here I stay.

The kitchens of Dubai are international. How many of these do you recognise? Häcker, Miewes/Müller, Adriatic, Al Meera, Poggenphol, Ixina, Kitchen King, Ricci Milan, Stosa, Zalf, Santos, Ikea, Boffi, Siematic, and others. Most are imported, but some locally constructed, but all have that international flair to satisfy the appetite of an amazing range of international tastes. Dubai has not only overtaken Heathrow as the world’s busiest International airport, but the expatriate residents outnumber the locals by several to one.Indians, British, Egyptians, Lebanese, Arabic nations, Far East – all points north and south, east and west.

Dubai is simply eight hours away by air for two-thirds of the world’s population. We Brits are certainly here in force and we fly the flag only like Brits could – all the way from the five-star bars and clubs to the sweltering beaches. About 100,000 of us are swilling our way through our tax-free pay cheques, constantly complaining that it’s too hot, the rents are too high and the roads are full of idiots.

We ply our chosen professions in the knowledge that we can burn to a crisp every weekend on the white sandy beaches, during a brunch, with or without imported oysters. Strange to think that Dubai was once renown for its pearls and now it imports oysters from thousands of miles away. It’s a funny old world.

However, my task for this editorial is supposed to be about kitchens, and on checking general availability, I discover that British kitchens are as common as snow in Dubai. I wonder why?

Back in the old days – for Dubai, that’s 2006 – the probability of anyone purchasing a designer kitchen was about zero. In those days, it was all about building and selling property, as quickly as you could. Stuff the quality, who cares about the look, just get it up, sell it and flip it.

Then came a huge financial crash, followed by a recession – the great leveller for all companies, no matter the profession or skill base, desire or need. Dubai for a while became a new type of desert – a financial desert, barren and a wilderness for sales, especially kitchens.

Dubai is an indulgent city. You may purchase a supercar, but that doesn’t mean you’ll drive it every day. The same applies to kitchens – just because you have the best, it doesn’t mean you use it. It’s a part of modern-day life and the more you have, the more you want

At that time, and over the following few years, we dug our heels in, laid off most our staff, downsized our offices, showrooms, and accommodation and bunkered down to see what the future would bring to a nation dubbed by the British papers as “done for”, “bankrupt” and “too big too soon”. But of course, they were not exactly correct in their appraisal of one of the world’s most amazing cities. In fact, they were completely wrong. Because, not only is Dubai back, but it’s better, brighter, bigger and constantly on the move. In fact, it remains one of the wonders of the world and I suspect it will be that way for a very long time to come. In other words, good for business. Lots of peopleare buying homes – homes that need kitchens.

They can select from any of the brands I’ve already mentioned and probably will be influenced by those they used in their home countries. For quality, they seem to select from European brands. In terms of the most popular, I suspect it’s more to do with choosing the companies they think will offer the best complete service, including installation and after care – it’s not just brand alone.

Dubai is a modern, thriving, energetic place, where business is mainly done within a 20-mile radius, and servicing several million people. Supercars are the norm, Rolls Royces are common, Ferraris are a second car to take the kids to school in, and Aston Martins are for the wife. But one car rules here in great numbers – four-wheel-drives. Anything that can be driven over sand dunes.

Style statement

Our weekends in Dubai are different from yours back in the UK. For a start, they are Fridays. They sometimes include Saturdays, but never Sundays.

Therefore Thursday evenings are the time to be out and about, followed by Friday brunches, and dining out at every available opportunity.

So, do Dubai’s residents actually need kitchens? To answer that, you need only visit any high-net-worth area of any city in the developed world.

For that reason the answer is probably not for their own use, but more as a style statement.

Dubai is an indulgent city to live in. You may purchase a supercar, but that doesn’t mean you’ll drive it every day. The same applies to kitchens – just because you have the best, it doesn’t mean you use it. It’s a part of modern-day life and the more you have, the more you want.

Dubai landmarks
Dubai landmarks

I recently designed a four-car garage for a private villa. Glass walls, doors and roof, so the owner could display his supercars in the front drive without getting them dusty. Like some of your kitchens, I suspect – good for showing off at parties but seldom used for their real purpose.

In my design practice, which is more architectural than interiors, we always have a kitchen or two to design at any one time. Who do we go to for additional design and content? Few designers listen to us, so it’s back to the drawing board for me and I suppose my several decades of kitchen design in the UK come flowing back. It’s a bit like riding a bike. I look beyond the kitchen space and view my designs more as an integral part of the entire project, not just the room. If only more designers did the same.

Dubai… sounds great, but what’s the catch?

There are no hand-outs here, no living off the state. You have to work hard, the hours can be long and you need to be sponsored by your employer. You have few employee rights, but your wages are, by law, paid directly into your bank. And should you decide to change place of employment, you need your previous employer’s permission.

It’s a criminal offence to bounce a cheque, credit can be expensive and your utilities and internet are outrageously expensive. There is zero tolerance of drink-driving, but taxis are dirt cheap and abundant. Petrol costs a fraction of what is stolen from you in the UK and there is no income tax. Life in Dubai is as good as you decide to make it.

Fancy a job in Dubai? The water is warm, the people friendly and the need is certainly here. It may be only seven hours from London, but it’s a million miles away from what you are used to in the UK. By the way, I’m not hiring.

In Dubai, quality in people is perhaps the hardest thing to find – quality management, designers and all that goes with establishing and running a business, including kitchen companies. Talent is hard to find.

This is a place where people love the lifestyle they choose, and included in that is the need for homes – and each home has at least one kitchen.

It’s just a shame none of them are British.

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