[Star Tips] A newbie's guide to interior shopping in Dubai - Part 1

Finding gorgeous yet affordable home decor pieces is no easy feat in dubai (Photography:  The bowery company )

Finding gorgeous yet affordable home decor pieces is no easy feat in dubai (Photography: The bowery company)

After five months in Dubai (of which roughly 80% have been spent in homeware stores, it has to be said) I have learned a few tricks about efficient interior shopping in the desert, albeit the hard way. Let's not sugarcoat it, it's been a bit of a shock to the system. If you have been living here for a while, you'll know that shopping for home decor in Dubai is, how to put this mildly, quite different. If you have just landed and have a whole new space to kit out, you might be totally overwhelmed already. I just want to say, I hear you, my friend. I have been there and got the 'where the hell is Habitat?!' t-shirt. This blog is all about tips on how to find cool design at affordable prices and I am currently working on a list of the best places to shop on a budget. It's a challenging post to say the least and I am still working on it. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some tips to get you started, hence the part 1. There might be 3 parts. There might be 25 more. Who knows. So pour yourself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy my little beginner's guide to interior shopping in Dubai. It might save your some energy, a bit of sweating and lots of arguments with your other half. [Come back next week, when I'll share my top list of interior stores in Dubai]

Online shopping is so 2002
Unless you're willing to spend up to half of the value of the stuff you order from abroad on shipping costs or if you're on the market mainly for accessories rather than big furniture like beds and sofas, you can pretty much FORGET EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT ONLINE SHOPPING here. This is simply because the purchasing of goods is done mainly in person, in a store. I know... How very 2002, I  hear you sigh... I have asked several people in the Dubai retail bubble to explain to me how a place that built the 'world's biggest' of pretty much everything you can think of could be so behind when it comes to e-commerce. The answer, I am told, is simply cultural. Here, shopping is a way of life and a trip to the mall is so part of everyday's routine that e-commerce has barely developed and only a handful of shops offer the option to order online. [More on those next week, fear not!] This doesn't mean that the delivery process will be painful though, quite the opposite. Once you've trekked to one of Dubai's finest interior stores and found the items of your dreams, it will be a piece of cake to get it all home. Staff bringing items in a trolley back to your car is a common scene, as is delivery (including installation) within an hour slot, to your door, within 24hours. 

Be the Belle of the Mall
Now we've established that you will have to move away from your computer screen to purchase pretty much anything, the first step if you have no idea where to start is to get your butt to the nearest mall. Every mall has a homewares section where interiors shops (mostly the big players and chains) are gathered in one specific area. To avoid a nervous breakdown getting there, a good tip is to call the store ahead and ask them what's the nearest car park section and level. This will save you a ridiculous amount of time, trust me. I have personally experienced walking for over 20 mins, taken three lifts while manoeuvering a toddler in a buggy to get from my car to the right shop (and back) before knowing this crucial tip. Yes, that's how big mall car parks are in Dubai. The problem with malls is that they host mainly two types of interior heavens (or hell depending how you look at it!): the big high-end players (expensive) and the even bigger low-range chains (often cheap). If you have a bit of cash to spend and are after stylish, quality, classic furniture, you'll be spoiled for choice: West Elm, Crate & Barrel (I should mention that I am a massive fan of theirs), Marina Homes, Bloomingdales Interiors, Pottery Barn (that one will ALWAYS remind me of that episode of Friends where Rachel pretends to shop vintage)... If you're from the UK or pretty much anywhere in Europe, chances are you won't have heard of these brands (apart from West Elm which has recently made it, big time, onto the British interiors scene) and it will be actually refreshing to discover some new names you've never shopped before. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find the big lower-budget chains like Home Centre, Homes R Us, and every other chain starting with Homes. My advice, don't be a snob. I have bought stuff for our house from both. The only challenge with the bigger, cheaper chains is that you have to go through a lot of stuff to find the gems. 

Make a priority list
I wouldn't recommend browsing without purpose in most Dubai interior stores. Things are on a slightly different scale and most showrooms are the size of a standard IKEA shop so it's easy to start feeling dizzy with the amount of choice. If, like me, you have to kit out an entire place from scratch and your budget is not unlimited, the key is to have a wish list, drafted not only by item but by room. Start with what you'll need as a priority. If you can get a moodboard of what style you're after for each room, even better as it will avoid you being drawn to the endless options on offer. I would recommend you write down a very specific list of items needed by room and give each room its own priority level. For us, the first 4 big items on our shopping list were Stella's bed, the living room sofa, the dining table and our master bed (so we could sleep, sit, and eat from day one). We have our first visitors arriving in a couple of weeks so my next big purchase will be the guest room bed. It's taking priority over a few things like our bedside tables, and artwork but our budget is still thin and we're spreading the costs over a few months. It's good to add a timescale for each room to set yourself some realistic deadlines. If you're not expecting any guests for the next few months, for example, just put the guest room to the back-burner and don't be afraid to leave it empty for a while - it's important to stick to your priority list or you might end up buying lots of random items that don't necessarily go together.  

Shop out of hours
If you're new to Dubai like me, it might take you a while to get used to the timings. Nothing happens before 10am in the retail world but the bonus is that you can shop pretty much anywhere until 10pm, even midnight in some places. This was a totally new concept for me after 12 years in London and it took me a while to adapt. But now a solo trip to IKEA in the evening is a common occurrence... If you can manage to avoid the weekend and head to the stores on a weekday, even better... 

Don't forget the department stores
I challenge any British expats not to get excited about the novelty factor of shopping in Marks & Spencer or Debenhams while in the Middle East. If it hasn't happened yet, give it a few weeks and you'll feel a pang of emotions literally erupt in your body as you get in. If you're French like me you might also be delighted to hear that Galleries Lafayette has a massive store in Dubai Mall and their homewares section is outstanding. 

Spot the clever clogs
There are a few mid- to high-range stores that are worth checking out too. The One, IDDesign, Kaiser and Mood in particular. And a few independent ones like Tribe which I recently featured on the blog. Not entirely 'low-budget' but they all stand out with their bold style - if you're after a bit more statement or unique design rather than classic. 

Shop around
As per above, this obviously means physically driving around town to visit stores directly and check their collection/stock. And as there is no high street here, if you're not familiar with all the neighbourhoods, you'll have to drive to all corners of the city to find the stores and this can end up in tears (45minutes driving around looking for a store on google maps in 40 degree heat with a hubby and toddler in tow, check). But it's got to be done. And once you know your way around, you'll just find some gems that you never knew existed. That includes visiting not only the usual suspects but also the 'off the beaten track' malls like Mirdif City Centre and Ibn Battuta that on paper sound a bit dull but often have a few nice surprises in store and are often less manic. 

The online players
If you really can't face (or don't have the time) to make the trip to the shops, don't despair. A few online interiors shops started to appear on the Middle Eastern interweb and it's a good idea to keep an eye on these as they're usually lovely independent e-shops stocking cool, quirky and unique designs you can't find in the big stores. There will be a full list of my favourites in next week's post including my fave The Bowery Company

Deal or no deal
Final tip. There seems to be always some sort of deal on or a sale on in the interiors shops in Dubai. If you fancy grabbing yourself a bargain or at least get a generous discount on an item you've been coveting, it's a good idea to keep track of the retail calendar. Sales periods usually get announced a few weeks before they start. There is Ramadan which is the ideal time to take advantage of all sorts of offers, then comes Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), followed by Eid and let's not forget Dubai Shopping Festival after Christmas. 

I hope this is a helpful little list of tips if you have just arrived. Did i miss anything? If you are a Dubai veteran these might sound very obvious but you might like my upcoming list of favourite interiors stores. Tune in next week for the next instalment.