Star in the east
Beauty blooms in the desert for this expat Australian family, who’ve created a bright, welcoming oasis in Dubai.
Blue-sky days, weekends spent on white-sand beaches, a kindergartener just starting Nippers… It sounds like an idyllic Australian lifestyle, but for artist and textile designer Georgia Macmillan, home for now is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, lapped by the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.
Georgia confesses to being “shocked” when husband Ben floated the idea of leaving their inner-Sydney loft conversion for a career opportunity in this financial hotspot, but after a brief reconnaissance trip and conversations with ex pats, she war med to the possibilities.
The couple made the move in 2013 with daughter Olivia, now five (baby William came along 18 months ago). They inspected more than 20 rental properties before finding this villa in the Al Safa district, with an elegant white facade ringed by a landscaped garden. The ground floor featured familiar open-plan living and dining spaces. Upstairs were three bedrooms, including a main with ensuite, and outside, shaded spaces for entertaining in cooler months.
“I imagined we’d be living in an apartment, so I sold a lot of furniture before we left,” Georgia says with regret. Undaunted, she had another container shipped from Australia, including pieces from her childhood that her parents had kept in storage. These give the home a wonderful sense of continuity.
Living in a rental, there’s only so much that the couple can reasonably change or invest in. “The maroon doors throughout, however, had to go,” says Georgia with a laugh. “A splash of paint, textiles, stacks of books and framed artworks – including those by your children – are easy and affordable.” Art by Georgia’s grandmother and mother also adorns the walls.
Georgia’s own artistry has bloomed in Dubai. A former broadcast journalist, she took up watercolour painting here, a hobby that evolved into her own textiles and homewares range. The large landing upstairs is now her studio, where she creates exquisite works that are printed onto linen and canvas. Her summery themes, inspired by the family’s travels, energise the whole house.
Of course, there are challenges with any expat lifestyle. In this case, they include a hankering for sausage rolls from Sydney’s Bourke St Bakery, occasional dust storms, fierce summer temperatures and fine desert sand that gets in everywhere. “I always have sand in my shoes!” Georgia laughs. Even so, the family enjoys Dubai’s strong sense of community, its multicultural richness and shorthaul travel opportunities to Europe.
“I imagined that being an expat was a transient state,” she says, “but this is life and whether it’s for two years or 10, you need to make your home a home.”