Sharing the love: how to create the illusion of a larger garden

Reda Sebbar has not only created a charming garden on the expansive terrace of his home in Al Ghadeer Village, Abu Dhabi, but he has also done his neighbours a favour by planting and greening some of the surrounding public realm. In doing so, he has created a greener backdrop for his community and the […]

Reda Sebbar has not only created a charming garden on the expansive terrace of his home in Al Ghadeer Village, Abu Dhabi, but he has also done his neighbours a favour by planting and greening some of the surrounding public realm. In doing so, he has created a greener backdrop for his community and the illusion of a larger garden for himself.

Borrowed landscape is a concept first recorded in East Asian garden design, and was used by both Japanese and Chinese designers; it’s mentioned in 17th-century texts on the subject. It was later adopted by the great landscapers of Europe, and can be found in the work of the 18th-century English landscape architect Capability Brown.

Where the created garden or planting is designed to blend with the wider natural landscape beyond its borders, the true extent of a property or estate – where its borders begin and end – becomes less clear. Consequently, the garden is enhanced and appears larger when blended with the wider vista beyond.

The principles that work well in Japanese garden designs and the great estates of Europe are just as successful when scaled down and given a domestic interpretation, as seen at Sebbar’s home, where the illusion of borrowed landscape makes his terrace and the connected living space appear much larger. It’s a perspective that can be enjoyed from inside and out – the eye is drawn to the greenery beyond the formal boundaries of the property.

Sebbar bought into Aldar’s Al Ghadeer development in July 2014, in one of the first phases of its release. The area offers him the best of two cities, being 25 minutes from Dubai Marina and 45 minutes from the centre of Abu Dhabi. Because it’s on the Abu Dhabi side of the border, it qualifies for the housing allowance awarded for jobs based in the emirate.

Excited by the prospect of his new home, and wanting to get things done as quickly as possible, Sebbar began buying furniture and plants before his mortgage application had even been completed. As one of the earliest residents to move in to the development, about 18 months ago, Sebbar found it was almost six months more before he had any neighbours in the buildings surrounding his own. As he waited for company, he added some plants to the areas around his terrace, and also took responsibility for watering the adjoining landscape to help it become established, having observed that it wasn’t receiving much ­attention.

Sebbar has created two zoned seating areas within his garden. The first enjoys dappled shade, and is set on a wooden deck that he installed specifically for dining. The second area features an ornamental bird cage with two pairs of contrasting lounge chairs and a low table (from The One on Sheikh Zayed Road), creating an informal corner from which to enjoy an after-dinner ­cigar and reflect on the progress of the garden’s many plants.

The external terrace effectively doubles the entertainment area of the ground-floor apartment, providing an outdoor room for socialising, as well as an enhanced view. A large olive tree in a terracotta pot is a recent addition, purchased locally for Dh800. Other established pots include specimens of aloe vera, ficus, bougainvillaea, lemon tree, cactus, monkey tree, cycas and wild fig.

When Sebbar’s mother came to visit, she noticed that potatoes and beetroots purchased at the supermarket had begun to sprout, so suggested planting them out. Now, these are flourishing, alongside a collection of herbs that includes mint, rosemary, oregano and basil.

The apartment’s interior is also an homage to Sebbar’s passions and interests – its vintage pieces act as a three-dimensional scrap book of items sourced from trips behind the former iron curtain, as well as South East Asia and the Americas.

On observing the trombone, saxophone and trumpet in the apartment, and hearing the soothing jazz from an LP on his turntable, you might make the assumption that this is the home of a musician – Sebbar actually works in hospitality. A love of jazz is evident, yet what Sebbar has done is take vintage items and give them art status by putting them on display in interesting ways. The interior of the apartment is seasoned and masculine, with heavy wood furniture and leather, yet the overall mood is brightened with hanging artwork and soft furnishings.

Sebbar married last year, and he and his wife are now expecting their first child. His new wife commissioned a painting of the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and kept it hidden until it was delivered on the morning of her husband’s birthday. “It kind of won me over; she has tuned into my tastes pretty quickly,” he smiles.

There’s also an oversized, stylised image of the Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara on the wall, which was brought back from Bali by a friend. A carved teak mirror hangs between these two artworks, bouncing light around the room, and opening up the space. Sebbar had been visiting the ­mirror in Bloomingdale’s for weeks, pondering over its price tag; when he finally made the decision to buy, he was delighted to discover that his patience had been rewarded – a 50 per cent discount had been applied that week.

“My parents always had old antique furniture from the French Colonial era; my mother is French, my father is Algerian, and we always lived in a home that was not modern in style. When people today talk about recycling, they might talk about it, but don’t necessarily live it. I believe that my furniture should last for my life on Earth and my son’s, and this is a virtue of my father’s generation. If it’s something that they had, then it is something that I wouldn’t sell. It’s all about the memory.

“We tend to work a lot, and socialise outside, but when you come home, home is home. I just don’t believe in these temporary options. It doesn’t matter where you buy your furniture, but you need to have continuity in your life.”

Displayed in the living room is a vintage typewriter purchased on a trip to Kraków, as well as refurbished old telephones (which are operational) found in Bucharest and a camera sourced on a trip to Warsaw. The trumpet on display was found in Algeria, and was a 40th birthday gift from Sebbar’s wife, while the saxophone was found in a Shanghai antique shop, and the trombone was a gift from a family friend. Sebbar admits that while jazz plays on the turntable, he hasn’t yet mastered any one of these instruments – surely of no matter, when they look so good where they are.

By combining a highly personalised interior with an extended outdoor space, Sebbar has transformed what could have been a cookie-cutter apartment into a place that can unequivocally be called home.

The intelligent use of the outdoor space extends his realm as far as the eye can see, and offers dedicated areas that can be enjoyed throughout the year, while the interiors are a quirky account of his travels so far.

Source: art & life

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