HRH Princess Maha bint Mishari Abdulaziz Alsaud opens up her majestic Riyadh palace, revealing her flourishing creativity.
Near the formal entryway of HRH Princess Maha bint Mishari Abdulaziz Alsaud and HH Prince Khaled bin Saad Alsaud’s Riyadh residence is a multimedia portrait of a Saudi woman comprising cork, compact discs, and piercing eyes made of keys. The striking artwork holds court, greeting guests as they arrive at the impressive setting. “I feel like the art piece tells the story of this time when Saudi women are coming into their own like never before. Also, that of Princess Maha, who is at the heart of this home,” says Robyn Jensen, the Los Angeles-based designer of Jensen Interior Design who the royals entrusted to renovate the 25 bedroom, 2300sqm palace they share with their five daughters. Jensen had previously worked on the couple’s house in Mulholland Estates in Beverly Hills.
Originally published in the March 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
During the two-year renovation process, the space was transformed into a contemporary palace, which retains the intimacy of a family home alongside its undeniable grandeur. This is accomplished, partly, through the use of layered rich brocades, contemporary fabrics, and wall coverings in bold hues from Venetian textile company Rubelli. “The original inspiration for the interiors was a photo of a mosque’s domed ceiling with the most extraordinary color palette of ruby, violet, emerald, opal, vibrant and pale blues, soft greens, corals, and turquoise,” recalls Jensen. Each room has its own jewel-toned theme, such as ruby and pearl for the formal living room, and emerald and gold for the dining space. “It’s unique. You aren’t going to see these color combinations anywhere – all these hues and ideas,” says Princess Maha.
To call Princess Maha multifaceted is an understatement. She is a doctor of internal medicine at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre. She is an associate professor of medicine at Alfaisal University’s College of Medicine and serves as the university’s vice president of external relations. Aside from her many accomplishments in the field of medicine, she is an ardent supporter of education and the arts. One of the first events she held at the newly renovated abode was hosting the Asia Society, the organization dedicated to disseminating Asian culture, and Charles Rockefeller, its trustee, and grandson of the late founder, American business magnate John D Rockefeller. She also recently hosted a fundraiser celebrating Saudi Arabia’s top poets alongside a Sotheby’s auction of Islamic art and is currently collaborating with the Women’s Initiative Award, which supports female entrepreneurs. Her career has taken her across the globe and this remains a source of inspiration for the home.
“There is so much richness you see when you travel. I’m blessed and lucky to have had this challenging life where I grew up in one place, traveled, and studied in another. All these experiences and my work at the hospital make me crave beauty. The house needed to have things that were pleasing and enriched the soul. Every room you walk in is a celebration of the senses. Everything we bought had to be soft and comfortable. Every space in the house contains an element of surprise when you walk in,” she explains.
The house exhibits a curated eclecticism. Avant-garde objects from Europe mix with family legacy pieces of Syrian mother-of-pearl. Princess Maha’s collection of antique glass from the region adds a personal touch. Asian elements are woven throughout. “For a doctor, Princess Maha has a profoundly fun, creative side,” says Jensen. The royal considers art and science interlinked. “You can’t be a human being without art – living it, being part of it. It’s a whole world that expresses feelings, love, and beauty. So that is a major component for anyone, like me, who works with patients, or in a hospital. We must take a holistic approach and nourish the body, mind, and soul.”
The family living room serves as the spiritual heart of the home. The two-story space, with soaring 7m-high windows, opens onto a grand staircase and second-floor balcony. A giant carved mandala adorns the feature wall, lending the room a sense of serenity. Jensen created a custom shimmery Venetian paint color that was hand-finished on all surfaces to give the space subtle movement. The deep bronze-green color in the center ceiling creates warmth and complements the sumptuous purple-bronze Lelièvre silk drapery flanking the two-story window.
Jensen then brought in pieces that added a “living, breathing quality,” like the spectacular cherry blossom tree. “So many eras in design have a version of the Tree of Life. I wanted this Tree of Life to be near the family sitting area. There is tranquility there; it’s a place to rest beneath its branches, and reenergize,” she explains. In the evenings, the tree sparkles with tiny white lights and the girls gather around Princess Maha and Prince Khaled to talk about their day and next adventures. Like all parents, Princess Maha ruminates on the future of her children in a rapidly changing Saudi Arabia, “I just want them to learn how to serve – to understand how lucky and privileged they are to learn and give back. Saudi Arabia is an evolving place that they need to be part of. I’ve worked hard to allow each one to have her own tastes and ideas. As a mom, I want them to be happy, healthy, and also a part of their country and change things the way they want to.”
Photography: Mark Luscombe-Whyte
Interior: Robyn Jensen