COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED
Written by Julia Maile
For Kuwaiti-born interior designer Fatemah Al Ebrahim, buying is definitely one of the highlights of the job. “I love shopping for furniture for pleasure,” she says. “When I travel, I always target furniture shops.” And she will go to great lengths to get the perfect piece. “I found a 1950s Parisian screen by Baumann in an antique market and I carried it home!”
Home for Fatemah, 36, her husband Ali and their three young sons – Saud, nine, Fahad, three, and Zaid, three months – is a threebedroom flat in the heart of London’s Belgravia. Despite her penchant for furniture shopping, the home is anything but cluttered. “I like minimal elegance,” she says. “I favour neutrals as I get bored with colour.” Set over two levels of an imposing Grade II listed building, the ground floor features a spacious open-plan living and dining area, which leads to the kitchen. Downstairs is a study area, family room, bedrooms and an outdoor courtyard.
The house’s beautiful period features – soaring ceilings, intricate cornicing and original panelling – provide the ideal backdrop for Fatemah’s collection of mid-century and contemporary furniture. “My style is eclectic,” she explains. “I don’t like it to be all matchy matchy. I go for pieces that have history… When I have gatherings I like to speak to my friends about where I got this piece from or how I managed to source that object.”
Pieces that are bound to get guests talking include a bold striped coffee table (found at her favourite store in Italy, Blend Roma), two Plank side chairs by American designer Michael Boyd from PLANEfurniture, and her collection of ethereal sea fans. “I collect them from all over the world – Capri, St. Tropez, London – and have them throughout the house. They are so organic. I love their texture and the way they make a space feel more zen and natural.”
Lately, the family’s recently acquired vintage record player has been playing Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools on repeat. “My three-year-old loves it and keeps requesting it. We also enjoy jazz and play it whenever we host guests.” A keen cook, Fatemah loves to entertain. “During the week for the family I always make Kuwaiti fusion but when we gather we tend to go for Italian dishes. I like the concept of an open kitchen, where my guests can join me. We have lots of Italian friends and they don’t mind cooking with you.”
Fatemah also loves to keep busy and isn’t afraid of a bit of DIY. “I never sit on the sofa watching TV,” she says. “I’m always fixing things and redecorating. Yesterday, I said to my husband, ‘Teach me how to drill’. When I was young, I followed my dad with his toolbox while he was fixing things in the house. I love it.” While she now indulges her creative side professionally, Fatemah’s career initially took a different path. “I always wanted to be an architect but my parents were pushing me to be a lawyer, so I studied law at Kuwait University. After that I worked in the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then as a diplomat at the Kuwait embassy in Rome for five years.” The family moved to London seven years ago and Fatemah decided to pursue her passion, completing an interior design degree at London’s KLC School of Design. “I’m really proud I managed to make it because life here in London is hectic, especially having children, so it was quite a challenge.”
After graduating, friends asked her to design their homes and she was introduced to prospective clients.
“I got very lucky with my clients... I think they come to me because they like the style of my house and the taste of my Instagram. They know who I am and what I do and they trust me blindly.” It means she buys all the items for her clients herself. “I like each piece to come from a different source. I feel it is so personal that I can’t depend on anyone else to shop for me for a project. It’s busy, but I love it.”
Where does she find all these special pieces? “Before having our baby Zaid, my schedule was to hit London’s antique markets almost every morning. Jubilee Market Hall in Covent Garden on Mondays, Old Spitalfields Market on Thursdays, Bermondsey Market on Fridays and Golborne Road on Saturdays. I don’t always have to buy, but it inspires me a lot.” She admires the work of Kuwaiti product designer Loulwa Al Radwan, whose works include limited-edition collectible pieces from Italian marble, and is a big fan of House of Toogood in Shoreditch. “It is run by two sisters – one designs furniture and one designs clothes. I love their Roly-Poly Chair and how they use different materials.”
Despite her expertise at sourcing some of the most striking items, in Fatemah’s home are artworks and ceramics she has made herself. “I like everything related to art. I enjoy oil painting and once a week I go to a ceramics studio. I learned the basics of ceramics but that’s it… I don’t want to follow instructions, I do whatever I feel like doing. It’s all random.”
When it comes to her wardrobe, Fatemah’s choices reflect her design aesthetic. “I like understated items,” she says. “My favourite brand is Celine. I have a skirt from Phoebe’s first show when I fell in love with the brand’s clean lines and architectural cut. The skirt is too old now to wear but I’m not letting it go.” A boutique called Egg on nearby Kinnerton Street is another firm favourite. “It features all these young creative designers; it’s not very commercial.” Living in London, she has a weakness for coats. “I like practical design and something that goes with the weather, so I can’t resist a good quality coat. This season I have my eye on a Casey Casey coat from Dover Street Market.” For her boys, she likes to shop at La Stupenderia in Belgravia. “I like the quality of their fabrics and I love their classic Italian style. It’s a blast-from-the-past feeling.” Nine-year-old Saud is already following in his mother’s footsteps. “He loves architecture and designs houses and shows me the floorplans. Sometimes I come home and I find him changing the location of the chairs and tables. I like it but I have to move it back to how it was!” Is it difficult to maintain the house with three young boys? “It’s a lot of work but I think it’s worth it,” she says. “I don’t agree with those that change the look of the house because they have children. For me, children need to grow up surrounded by all of these things and eventually they will know what they are and aren’t allowed to touch.”
The family visit Rome as often as they can for vacations and spend four weeks a year in Kuwait staying with family. “Whenever I go to Kuwait I make sure that I go to the Friday market, Souk al-Juma’a, to hunt for antiques and vintage items. I found a favourite African bowl there and a beautiful Chinese screen with brass engraving and mother of pearl.” The thing she misses most about her home country is family gatherings and the warm weather. “I couldn’t spend Ramadan in Kuwait for the last four years because of my children going to school. And the nice thing about Ramadan is gathering with friends and visiting family for food. I really miss this. Hopefully one day we will get there again.” Ultimately, Fatemah’s dream is to open a boutique in Kuwait selling new and vintage furniture and decorative items that reflect her own personal style. A whole shop that needs filling with pieces she loves? Sounds to us like the perfect excuse for more furniture shopping.
“My clients come to me because they know who I am and what I do.
They trust me blindly”
Fatemah Al Ebrahim
Kuwaiti interior designer Fatemah Al Ebrahim in the sitting room of her Belgravia home, alongside two contemporary chairs from Michael Boyd’s Plank series
One of Fatemah’s favourite and oldest Berber rugs, bought from a rug dealer in Liberty London, with two Ethiopian stools
Below: Dressing table from The Conran Shop London, antique hat blocks, a Staud bag and The Row shoes. Below left: A contemporary sculpture from London’s Church Street Market, and candles from Rachel Vosper Belgravia
Above: Fatemah, in Celine, with her three-month-old son, Zaid, and an Inglesina Classica pram purchased nine years ago from Rome for her first son. Right: Fatemah’s entrance hall is always filled withfresh blooms
Above: Fatemah’s beloved Vhernier andDior jewellery. Left: Fatemah wears: Shirt, Dhs2,390, Joseph; trousers and boots, both Celine, all her own