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Beyond form and function: The secret to designing mega-sized homes in Dubai

Founder and Director of Elicyon, Charu Gandhi on the secrets to crafting and designing mega-sized luxury homes for hard-to-please clients in the UAE

Beyond form and function: The secret to designing mega-sized homes in Dubai

Finding one’s passion takes time, but not for Charu Gandhi. At the early age of 11, Gandhi was determined—no, convinced—that architecture was her calling. It all started in India, during a time when her parents were building a family house. They had hired a young female architect who went on to inspire young Gandhi after absorbing her fascinating knowledge in the field of design. But it was the London Architectural Association where Gandhi truly understood her passion for the craft. Now, years later, she stands at the helm of Elicyon, one of the most highly acclaimed design studios in London, now gradually expanding its presence in the Middle East.

“You can call it boring, but I’m sort of one of those people who was committed to my craft from a very young age,” she says, a smile lingering on her face as she recalls the start of her career. “A lot of the places I visited or lived in as a child still resonate with me, and I think that is precisely the essence of architecture.”

Charu Gandhi

“Architecture is storytelling,” she says as a matter-of-fact, a response she gave after I disclosed my almost-commitment to attending architectural school myself. “That’s interesting because a lot of people I have spoken to tell me about their initial interest in the profession. Though it usually falls through. I’ve always wondered why, but I get it now,” she affirms, “Our childhood starts in architecture; the room we sleep in, the kitchen we eat at, the playroom we laugh in—it’s so easy to fall in love with something that you grew up enjoying.”

The epiphany was instantaneous as Gandhi realised the most important element of design and architecture. Living spaces are often looked at as just that—a space to reside in. But many people often forget that it is also a space that allows us to introduce ourselves to others through a narrative unique to us.

According to Gandhi, Elicyon was born out of this realisation, and today, it has created a name for itself as a studio that brings dreams to life. When asked about her thoughts on Dubai’s burgeoning branded residential revolution, she says, “Branded residentials are actually one of our specialisms and an area we’ve understood very well. I think there is an element of wanting an elevated way of living, especially for ultra-high-net-worth clients who want to buy into a lifestyle rather than just a piece of property.”

Elicyon

She mentions that these types of residences ooze a certain level of quality that clients trust and are familiar with, hence the growing demand for them. “It’s like a stamp,” she remarks, “You buy a Mandarin Oriental residence, you get the Mandarin Oriental service.”

Preserving cosy spaces in luxury settings

Designing mega-sized homes for the ultra-rich can be quite a challenge, as Gandhi confirms herself. Indeed, bridging the gap between glistening chandeliers and homey cloud sofas is a difficult task but Gandhi has successfully found the formula.

“I think the best properties are those which are authentic to the owner,” she articulates, explaining the briefing and design process the Elicyon team has to initiate before any work is done. “We help our clients go through a journey of self-discovery. Who are they really and how do they really want to live? What does this particular home or location or city mean to them?”

In addition to this, Gandhi also discloses her particular inclination to flexibility. As a studio, Elicyon does not lock in a certain style or approach. Rather, it responds to them. “As the design director, I am working hard to ensure that we are not creating instant homes, you know, homes that look like they’ve been created at one point in time,” she explains. “Looking at trends is important, but we don’t let it restrict or dictate the work that we do.”

Customisability is a huge aspect of Elicyon’s design practices. For instance, Gandhi talks about mixing in items or design references that span different eras rather than one. In doing so, spaces can truly become timeless.

The third practice, and what Gandhi personally lives by is the routine of leaving out what is not important to the overall design. “When creating highly-customisable spaces, my instinctive response is to leave gaps, leave voids, leave empty spaces, which then allows clients to grow into and occupy the home through time.” She also encourages her clients to bring three loved objects from their previous homes to make their new ones more familiar.

The fourth practice and possibly the most practical is the consideration of privacy in mega-sized homes. According to Gandhi, the Elicyon team is fully equipped to understand not just the client’s design visions but also their day-to-day safety and needs. “Mega homes typically have a large number of staff operating them. So it is extremely important for us to gauge the level of interaction and privacy clients want with their house help on a day-to-day basis,” she explains, adding that she also encourages her clients to fill out a day-in-the-life diary of themselves and their family members.

“We give them a 24-hour sheet where they can walk through what a typical day looks like for them. Accordingly, this then influences how we design the floor plan and sequencing of the rooms,” she states.

When asked to reveal the most interesting design brief she received from a client, Gandhi answered without hesitation, “Oh, that would be for a client of ours who bought a period house in Knightsbridge, London. He was very passionate about preserving exotic birds and requested for us to design a space where he could live with them freely.”

Fruitful partnerships

Elicyon has worked for several different residential projects; Raffles, Dorchester Residences, and Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park, but one partnership stood out amongst all.

“We crossed paths with Omniyat in 2015,” Gandhi started, recalling her initial meeting with the well-known Dubai-based developer. “We were struck by the vision of their founder, Mahdi Amjad, who wanted to do something unusual and special in Dubai. We eventually got involved with them in 2016.”

After signing a deal, Gandhi reminisced about Elicyon’s successful appointment as the head designer for one of the private purchasers of the apartments. She also briefly talks about the level of customisation that residents of One Palm expected, prompting them to step out of their comfort zone as designers.

Throughout the years, Gandhi has witnessed a series of changes within the architecture and design space, however, one thing holds its truth; designing luxury homes is an art form in itself. When asked what advice she would give to young and aspiring luxury home designers, she says, “Spend time and energy in getting the brief right. Often, people rush too quickly. Let yourself understand, as a designer, what your client really wants out of that home.”

Although a no-brainer, Gandhi  also emphasises the importance of investing in good-quality materials and good-quality design. “I’m passionate about bringing two things in a space; Things that are handmade, and things that involve innovation,” she reveals. In Gandhi’s eyes, designing luxury spaces also means standing your ground and believing in your vision, and that would mean not getting carried away by a momentary trend or a design fad floating in the market.

With a newfound glint in her eyes, she answers the question of what she believes a truly luxurious home needs.

“If you can design a home that is true to you, then that is the ultimate luxury.”