Samer Obeidat was born and raised in Dubai and his Tunsian-born wife, Hanane Aouri, was raised in France and Italy.
But although the young couple lived in Dubai for many years, they decided to move to Victoria in 2014 and raise their two sons, ages 11 and 18 months, here. They recently finished renovating a mid-century home that now features an open floor plan, traditional European touches, contemporary furniture and beautiful views of Cadboro Bay.
“This was the first house we saw when we started researching the market, and after looking at 45 others, we came back to it because we like the area … Uplands is a high-value neighbourhood,” said Obeidat, who is doing his masters in global management at Royal Roads University. He said they renovated the house from scratch, changing all the interiors and exteriors and moving many walls.
“We redesigned everything — and my wife is the designer. The whole house is because of her,” he said. The total cost of the renovation was $1.1 million, and furniture and lighting were an additional $170,000.
Aouri’s taste is evident in every room, including a penchant for stark contrasts between black, white and grey, and a love of traditional touches intermingled with simple modernity.
Most of the furniture was made by Roche Bobois, a French company that uses designers and couturiers from fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix to create everything from chic leather sofas and armchairs to the dining table and kitchen stools.
Also inspired by Italian design and the timeless look of Giorgio Armani, she mixes contemporary pieces with classical elements such as wainscoting along the main-floor hallway and small clouds of sparkling Swarovski chandeliers — at least one in every room — that hang from ceilings or float on mirrors.
“I love the houses and castles in France,” said Aouri, who studied medical aesthetics and ran her own business in Dubai.
She chose engineered oak for the floors and had it stained a dark, almost black shade with a wire brush finish. The doors on the main floor are oversized, as the ceilings are extra high.
Aouri has a massive closet lined with solid wood shelves and dedicated solely to shoes. All four bedrooms have large ensuites with floor tiles flowing up the walls for a seamless, uncluttered look.
Every walk-in closet has built-in shelves and drawers, but in the master bedroom, she created an eight-metre-long, deep wall of closets with opaque glass doors. Lit from inside, they glow softly at night.
“This is how it’s done in Dubai,” she said with a chuckle, adding it’s easier to see clothes in a linear closet, and more space-efficient too.
The couple travel in France and Italy often and stay at the Armani Hotel Milano, where she found inspiration for her ensuite, which is tailored in grey and off-white tones and wrapped entirely in tile, with a dazzling rectangular chandelier over the tub.
Asked why they chose to come here rather than live a more lavish lifestyle in Dubai, Obeidat explained: “It is the best education in the world here, and safety for our children. We came here because we were worried about the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
“Lifestyle in Dubai is much better than here and we were used to living at a very high standard, but it is changing there.”
The business hub of the Middle East is growing rapidly, said Obeidat — with the creation of lakes, construction of five more cities inside Dubai, redesign of the highway system with eight-lane highways and preparations for Expo 2020, with a projected influx of 65 million visitors.
“Things are depressed here and business is very slow in Victoria, but we were lucky to come when we did, and to invest in real estate on the Island and mainland.”
In addition, he said, while the weather in Dubai is “fantastic” for six months of the year, for the other six months “it is a little hot.” That’s putting it mildly — average summer temperatures in Dubai are 40 C or more, humidity can top 90 per cent and wind and sand storms can last for days.
Although only 35, Obeidat — who has redesigned and flipped properties in Vancouver — has an impressive business background.
He used to have two gold stores in Dubai, and is founder and managing partner of the National Bullion House, a Dubai-based company that operates worldwide, trading in physical gold and other precious metals.
“One of my partners was a prince from the royal family and we founded the first online trading platform for gold deliverable contracts in the MENA,” he said. The latter stands for Middle East and North Africa — a region extending from Morocco to Iran and including 381 million people.
When he finishes his masters in global management, he plans to do a doctorate in finance at Royal Roads University.
He is very impressed with his professors at RRU, “who have a practical side and are not just academics.”
He noted that one of his professors also teaches at Wharton, an American business school considered one of the best in the world.
He is also impressed with his builder, Max Huxley, “who delivered high-quality work,” although Obeidat remarked that he was surprised to see many projects here that are not delivered on time or on budget.
Huxley said Obeidat and his wife are “charismatic, very polite people,” and their project was interesting because the home had originally been constructed as a bungalow and was raised a storey in 2000.
“It had a very odd, disjointed layout, with the kitchen on the upper floor and some structural irregularities that needed correcting,” said Huxley, a custom homebuilder and renovator who started his business 18 years ago.
The reno involved moving the kitchen down to the main floor, moving a staircase into the middle of the house and opening the house up. “There was also no connection to the rear yard, so we put in a huge, 16-foot sliding-glass-door system off the living area.”
Huxley and the owners came up with the new look themselves. “We kind of winged it. They would show me pictures and we’d work from there …. The plan kept evolving.”
For instance, they showed Huxley a picture of a staircase and asked if he could replicate it. “We built it so the stringers on the side look like beams, but they are actually plywood wrapped in the same wood we used on the floor.”
Aouri chose all the furnishings and fixtures, including scores of chandeliers.
“I’ve never done so many in one house before. I think the lighting store really liked her,” he said with a smile, adding that her eye for repetition and consistency is an important element in any good design.