As Dubai’s real estate market continues to boom, so too do residents’ love for contemporary design, says Dubai-based businessman, art and design lover Elie Khouri.

Dubai is more vibrant than ever. These days, its residents, of which approximately 90 percent are expats, and tourists alike struggle to find parking, get an Uber or taxi, as the city’s streets are packed with people heading out each night to a new high-end restaurant, hotel or opening of a new luxury boutique. The city has made an unprecedented comeback post Covid and a recession in 2020, luring in throngs of visitors and eager city dwellers to its alluring, fast-paced ever-changing beach-lined metropolis.

Due to the changing socio-economic character of the greater Middle East in addition to an increased demand for high-end design, many regional and international brands are now coming to Dubai to set up shop, both through pop up stores and standalone operations. The real estate market is experiencing a record high boom that has affected all segments of the luxury market, including the design industry.

As more residents move to Dubai for the long term, desire for high-end and contemporary design has increased, according to Elie Khouri, a longtime UAE resident and CEO of Vivium Holding, a single-family office focusing on alternative investing as a source for purposeful value creation. The company, like Khouri, long a collector of art and design pieces, has a great interest in art and high-end design.

“Dubai today is a different place than the Dubai of yesterday,” said Khouri, noting how for 30 years the local market has been an unpredictable and volatile market because it was based on speculation. “It was based on people buying real estate, flipping it and selling it. It was an investment market. Since Covid, it has become an end user market. Now, I believe there has been a huge shift in the city of Dubai from a place where people come to make a quick buck versus a place now where people come to stay, enjoy life and the city and have a primary or secondary home.”

Demand for property in the United Arab Emirates’ commercial capital hit a record high during the first two months of 2023, according to a report issued by real estate services firm CBRE. In February alone, Dubai’s residential market saw 8,515 transactions — a 3.9% increase from the previous year. January and February together clocked a total of 17,741 residential transactions. Demand has been boosted by geopolitical and economic instability in Europe and due to the Emirates’ successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw an influx of residents from Europe, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Canada, China, and Lebanon, Egypt and Russia, among others.

According to Realiste AI’s latest report, prices are projected to increase by at least 10-15 % across the city this year, and even up to 46 % in some areas. The overall outlook for Dubai’s real estate market looks positive, marking an upward trend this year.

What has contributed to this growth and how does it impact Dubai’s growing market for high-end and contemporary design?

Khouri explains that the increase in permanent residents versus transient ones has had a great impact on the design market because people are now buying for their homes with the idea of longevity, knowing that they will stay for many years.

“Dubai is now on par with real estate in cities like Miami, London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore—places where wealthy people tend to have several homes,” adds Khouri. He believes the increased number of permanent residents as well as tourists and new visitors has made the market for high-end design more mature and alluring.

“Historically, there’s been a focus on multi-brand stores in Dubai but there seems to have been a shift recently with a new focus on standalone mono brands coming to Dubai,” Khouri added. “Through a mono-brand you pay tribute to a brand’s DNA, its history, culture, aesthetic and craftsmanship.”

Through Vivium Holding, Khouri has recently taken over regional operations of high-end Italian furniture brand Cassina which will debut at Downtown Design from 8-11 November 2023, following the launch of its first-ever standalone Dubai showroom earlier in March. Khouri feels the market is now ready for an increase in high-end international designer furniture.

“Residents in Dubai now want to furnish their homes with high-end furniture and art,” adds Khouri. “It depends on how sophisticated the tastes are of the homeowner, but eventually you have to buy a particular brand to fit your ultra-luxurious home.”

In the past, explains Khouri, when people used to rent homes in Dubai, they would have the mentality that “I'm here in the short term, I'm here renting and I'm not going to invest a lot in furniture because I don't know where I'm going to be next.” Now, he says, there is a shift in this mentality and people are “buying homes and you have to invest in furniture and everything that goes with it.”

Vivium Holding will be introducing other luxury furniture brands to the Dubai market soon. The second brand his company is introducing is Spanish brand Kettal. “I love their passion and attention to detail and craftsmanship—aspects I think Dubai’s residents old and new will love.

By Rebecca Anne Proctor