The UAE’s multi-purpose residence

| June 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
The stunning, high-ceiling front foyer greets visitors to the residence of Mohammed Saif Helal Al Shehhi and his wife, Aseela.

The stunning, high-ceiling front foyer greets visitors to the residence of Mohammed Saif Helal Al Shehhi and his wife, Aseela.

Ambassador Mohammed Saif Helal Al Shehhi is the third ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to live in the distinctive Rockcliffe home that overlooks charming Rockcliffe Park and the Ottawa River. The house was once the focus of gossip by the chattering classes as it was the first of the many über-sized homes that now dot the neighbourhood. Built on a corner lot on a slight rise, with a great view, it’s fair to say that when Richcraft builder Kris Singhal constructed the custom-designed dream house in 1989, it was the first of its kind to dwarf neighbouring historic cottages.
The stone home is architecturally interesting because of the hill on which it is built. The front entrance is located on Birkenfels Road and appears to be two storeys. But its back entrance is one level below and opens onto Lisgar Road, where the entrances to the Danish Embassy and American residences are located.

Ambassador Al Shehhi’s favourite room is the family room with blue velvet couches, pictured on page 85.

Ambassador Al Shehhi’s favourite room is the family room with blue velvet couches, pictured on page 85.

The ambassador and his wife Aseela, who call Abu Dhabi home, have lived here for two years and have four small children, the youngest of whom is only six months old. So the first impression of a casual guest is of a homey place. The three older children are very much present, running around to tell their father all the news from school.
They seem in no way impressed by their elegant surroundings, the most obvious of which is the stunning, high-ceilinged front hall. A round table from Egypt sits on a small oriental carpet and is topped with a colourful flower arrangement in a gold and glass Italian vase. Two large white and gold vases, topped with greenery, flank a sweeping staircase that rises to meet a stained-glass window decorated with two large, bright peacocks. While some of the decor reflects the ambassador’s previous postings in Paris, Geneva and Rome, the stained glass has been retained from the original house.
Three rooms line the north side of the foyer; the first is the ambassador’s favourite, he says. Blue velvet sofas grace the simply decorated family room, where a large TV invites the family to kick back and relax. From the window, you can see the large play set and slide in the side garden.
The room beside it was redecorated by Ambassador Al Shehhi and his wife, who turned it into a more feminine space, according to a staff member. A very formal drawing-room style is expressed with gold and cream-coloured chaises and chairs designed with a tapestry motif. The furniture comes from the UAE. Great swags of cream-coloured silk frame the windows and intricate wood lattice work designs are integrated into the room to create more opulence and interest. Dark-wood-trimmed French doors, matching the colour of the floor, separate the room from the foyer for privacy.
Next door is an upscale sunroom with windows along two sides that look out over a large deck towards the park and the Ottawa River. Slightly more modest in design, it has blinds and cream-coloured upholstery, with pink and cream silk throw pillows.

This formal drawing room features gold and cream-coloured sofas and chairs with a tapestry motif, all from the UAE.

This formal drawing room features gold and cream-coloured sofas and chairs with a tapestry motif, all from the UAE.

Across the hall is the family dining room, which seats 10 comfortably. Decorated in soft blues and brown, the centrepiece is the Italian inlaid wood dining table and a matching buffet. Sent from Abu Dhabi, several pieces were damaged in transit. A talented Lebanese craftsman managed to match the woodwork so that it is almost impossible to tell where the damage occurred. A large family kitchen is also located on the main floor.
“The food is simple for the kids,” says the ambassador, who adds that his chef, who came from India with the first ambassador from the UAE, can cook many kinds of cuisine. For official dinners, the menu can include anything from seafood to steak and vegetables and meat with rice.
One of the major changes to the house took place when the UAE bought the property in 2001. The second ambassador remodelled the lower level, getting rid of the indoor swimming pool and turning the space into a commercial kitchen. The rest of the basement was transformed into a large dining room and a traditional Arab majelis, a sort of meeting and reception room with chairs placed around the walls. Here is where the ambassador and his wife hold all their large and official events, from cocktails to dinners.

The family dining room seats 10 comfortably.

The family dining room seats 10 comfortably.

Even the large washroom holds surprises, with a basket filled with all types of perfumes and scents for guests to sample, a sign of Arab hospitality. The official rooms on the lower level: open out to a small garden and a gate leading to the Lisgar Road entrance where diplomatic cars can discharge their passengers.
The residence comes with a cook, two nannies and a secretary and functions harmoniously on two levels: family life on the main floor, official events on the lower level. In short, it’s perfect for a young diplomatic family that manages to juggle official duties and day-to-day life.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

Photos by Dyanne Wilson

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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