Designer and interior architect Racha Kayali lives and works in her home in Saudi Arabia that reflects her personality and fits the needs of her family.
The story of interior designer and architect Racha Kayali’s home begins in 1996. Nidal Allababidi, a Saudi citizen originally from Palestine, had finished the construction of a house in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where he lived for four years. Destiny intervened: Kayali and Allababidi’s paths crossed in July, 2000, while Kayali was living and working in Paris at the architectural practice Wilmotte & Associés. They married a year later and Kayali moved to Saudi Arabia and into the house that she has since made her home and workplace. “It was only in 2011, when our fourth child was born, that we made a decision: either stay in our property and expand it, or move to another, bigger area,” Kayali recalls. Thanks to an expansion completed in 2016, the home now spreads over 2,000sqm.
Spending most of her time in her home with her family and leading her studio, RK Interior Architecture, Kayali expresses her heart and culture through design and decoration. “My house reflects my personality and ideas,” she shares. “The influence of my Syrian origins resonates in the choice of some furniture, carpets, or art pieces and is also shown through a thoughtful process on what the concept of a traditional Arabian house really is.”
The layout of a customary Syrian house is divided into two spaces: the public space on the ground floor, which includes the majaz (entrance), liwan (hall), qah’a or majles (reception), dining room, kitchen, and restroom; and the private space on the first floor, which usually comprises at least three or four bedrooms, all overlooking the courtyard.
“What characterizes such a house is the fact that several generations (at least three) live together. Despite their charming beauty, these houses became inconvenient because of their lack of comfort and privacy. So I would say that my home is a contemporary revision of the social aspect of the traditional Arabian house. Each member of my family has an independent section, which is still connected to the main house.”
In the four-level property with a 750 sqm garden, the couple, their four children, and Allababidi’s mother all have their own spaces to occupy, in addition to the areas dedicated to the maids and drivers. “My intention was to create an inner beauty by choosing the design and color of the fabrics, the type of furniture and accessories, and the art pieces that have a strong connection with my heritage,” Kayali adds.
In the blue living space, Kayali’s favorite color offers a feeling of serenity and calm, while green nods to nature. In the formal area adorned with Crema Marfil marble flooring and furnished mostly with Italian pieces (Galimberti Nino, Vittoria Frigerio, and Paolo Castelli), the use of gray, beige, and taupe highlights the accessories and artworks. For the paint, Kayali chose a Stucco Veneziano technique in a shade of gray. “It creates a mix between this old Italian technique and the overall contemporary look,” she offers. The ceilings in white matte finish contrast with the French oak veneer that covers all the wooden elements, such as doors, entrances, and frames. In the bedrooms, the wooden parquet provides a sense of intimacy. “I define my style as a fusion of Asian culture and French style, refined into contemporary interiors,” Kayali says. “I have many antique pieces, carpets, vases, and curtains and by juxtaposing them with contemporary furniture, I create an interesting dialogue between the past and the present.”
Inspired by her Syrian roots, her 10 years of study and work experience in Paris, and her travels to international interiors and furniture fairs, Kayali has created a “cozy universe” with her favorite pieces: two Persian carpets from Aleppo that belonged to her grandfather; a portrait of Umm Kulthum by Bahraini artist Jamal Abdul Rahim; a piece by Youssef Akil painted under the bombs in Aleppo that, for Kayali, conveys Nietzsche’s message, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger;” and paintings of dervishes by Syrian artists Badie Jahjah and Boutros Al Maari. “These artworks have a special meaning for me since they were created a few years ago during the sad events in Syria,” Kayali explains. “Through the turning dervish, they symbolize the beauty of Islam spreading love in response to the brutality of war.”
Kayali’s home also nurtures the designer’s creativity that translates into diverse concepts and projects, such as two villas in Riyadh currently in the final stages, three houses in Khobar and Dhahran, a Dubai renovation project that is in the works, and the recently completed ZADK, the first culinary institute in Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland. “The Middle East is always an important source of inspiration for me thanks to its rich history and cultural heritage: mosques, churches, old souks and khans, but also music, culinary art, and literature,” Kayali says. “That doesn’t mean we should not look to contemporary designs. However, preserving our identity makes us special and unique.”
Originally published in the November 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia Living