They say a grandma’s house is never short of hugs and cookies. For the Emirati brothers, Khalid and Gaith Abdulla, their own grandmother’s house – House Number 2, in Dubai’s quiet Al Mamzar district, was one of those saccharine-laden addresses they returned to without ceases – whether on their travels, on the weekends or during the holidays. So in 2018, when their grandmother moved to a new locality, the brothers set out to transform their Yado’s Bayt (grandmother’s house) into a haven of art and culture, renaming it Bayt Al Mamzar.
The single-story structure a few hundred meters from picturesque Mamzar Beach opened in November 2021, as a gallery, artist’s studio and coworking space with a library. “This house has been that constant in our lives,” says Khalid, 36, an independent curator who previously worked with the Louvre, Abu Dhabi. “We lived here for a few years in our childhood. Then after college I came back and turned one of the rooms into an art studio. During Eid, our extended family used to gather here. That’s why instead of choosing the option of renting the house, we decided to give back to the community by making it an accessible creative space offering the same nurturing environment we received when visiting our grandmother.
The house was originally built by Khalid and Gaith’s father, Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, in 1983. A professor of political science, he wanted to move his family from their former home in the Naif district of Old Dubai. The original Bayt had four bedrooms, a majlis, a living room, a garage, a garden, a laundry room and even a goat shed.
While the brothers lived in the house until 1996, their grandmother and aunts resided there until the end of 2018. “At first we toyed with the idea of turning our family home into a private museum “, explains Khalid, holder of a baccalaureate in fine. arts and a master’s degree in art history and museum studies, as he had always been very keen on curating a personal collection to fill the lack of such spaces in the United Arab Emirates. “But as we engaged with the artist community, we felt it was more important to provide them with affordable studio and exhibition space,” says Gaith, 32, a specialist in Gulf Studies and co-founder of Engage 101, a collection and research platform, based in the UAE.
Excited by the prospect of launching this creative center, the brothers were completely involved in the transformation of the house. It also helped that their close circle of friends were artists and architects, who also supported the creation of the Bayt. “We had budget constraints, but we had plenty of suggestions. Many of the small changes that really had a big impact — came from our friends. So it was a team effort,” Gaith shares.
The old villa was a typical Emirati house model. During its redesign, the brothers kept most of the old elements, ingeniously integrating modern functions. The carved wooden front door, for example, has been restored with smart locks to provide artists with round-the-clock access. The house continued to have two entrances as before – visitors can enter either through the majlis, which has been transformed into a gallery, or by the living room, which is now the common area. “One of the major transformations happened in the majlis. To make it an open gallery, we covered two windows, removed one wall, replaced the sliding door with the glass door and raised the ceiling at the end of the room to make it more spacious,” Gaith shares.
During her visit on Friday, the gallery had just wrapped up hosting Mamzar Bazaar, an initiative that supports local businesses in the UAE and was set to present a new exhibition Ybna Al3eid by SWALIF Collective. In less than a year since its launch, the gallery has already hosted five exhibitions.
In Emirati homes, the majlis is a social gathering space and is used to receive guests. It is separated from the rest of the house. During the remodeling of this house, the essence of the philosophy of the majlis was embodied in the former salon, adjacent to the gallery, which now functions as a lively breeding ground for artistic conversations and exchanges. The highlight of this versatile meeting and event space is a gray cemented stage stacked with comfortable cushions – perfect for hosting conferences, workshops and performances. Against one wall of this room stands a bookshelf – the slowly expanding library – mostly stacked with books from the family collection on art history, Middle Eastern art, neatly stacked with exhibition catalogs and reference documents. A few chairs and ottomans placed around add to the relaxed vibe of this space. It also happens to be home to one of Khalid’s favorite places: the stage. “I really like to sit on stage and have a bird’s eye view of the majlis and the common hall and be a silent spectator of all the buzz around the square,” he says.
The warm afternoon sun streams through the house’s large windows as we make our way to the four bedrooms, now converted into artists’ studios. The largest of these, where the brothers lived as children, called ARKG Studio (the names derived from the initials of its former occupants: Abdul, Rima, Khalid and Gaith) has four units rented to artists.
On the other side of this room is Studio Yado, Grandma’s former bedroom. It’s been largely left as is, styled and kept with its vintage 80s decor, complete with blue tiled bathroom and mosaic floor. At an affordable price, these studios can be rented from 990 Dh to 1,600 Dh per month. “And we’re really flexible. Some artists have covered their costs by sometimes donating their works or rendering their services,” reveals Gaith.
The seed for the construction, this local art ecosystem, was perhaps sown in the brother’s childhood, right here in this house. Encouraged by their mother Rima, their exposure to art unfolded through childhood experiences as they filled their bedroom walls with paint-splattered canvases. “We even had a potter’s wheel at home, and I remember enjoying arts and crafts the most when I was a kid,” Khalid recalls. In the summer, when he was a preteen, he would spend hours at the local computer repair shop building computers. “One of our visions for Bayt is to have workshops that allow people to experiment with all kinds of materials,” he says. The garage, attached to the house, is where they hope to translate this vision into reality by building a manufacturing unit and workshop for artists and sculptors.
Clearly, the brothers are deeply passionate about providing a platform for artists in the Emirates through their passion project. Almost all of the renovation and refurbishment of the house was financed by their own savings. Often they went to great lengths to stretch their dirham. For a set of affordable trail lights, for example, Gaith spent months researching and exploring markets. “I used to visit art galleries and ask about their lighting. Finally, I found them at almost half the price at Dragon Mart, Dubai,” says Gaith.
On the anvil is a list of additions they plan to make to the house to introduce some of their future creative ideas. The elegant kitchen, renovated a few years ago, will host experimental dining experiences, gourmet and artistic pop-ups, with chefs concocting special menus. The rooftop that gives us stunning views of the oasis of palm-lined houses, reminiscent of a time synonymous with the khaleeji neighborhoods of old Dubai, is where they plan to hold film screenings, dinner parties and receptions. on the roof.
Transforming this domestic space into an evolving hub supporting the UAE’s creative community took more than six months. Imbued with the warmth of a home full of memories and parties, its current avatar is ready to fuel experimentation and artistic collaborations. Often when an older home is remodeled, its older residents tend to view its new look with a tinge of sadness, at having lost a sacred space shrouded in their most treasured moments. But in the case of Bayt Al Mamzar, the response was quite the opposite. “On our opening night, my dad said, ‘the house looks more alive than ever,'” Gaith says.
Bayt Al Mamzar is open to the public to visit during exhibitions and events. Other days by appointment: Contact 050-3533686/email: [email protected]