Bab Al Shams A Rare Find Desert Resort
Bab Al Shams
Nakheel & Kerzner International has launched its first property Bab Al Shams, A Luxury Desert Resort & Spa, under its new brand, ‘Rare Finds’. Rare Finds is a collection of resorts that brings to the forefront the essence of a place. Joining people together through authentic and soulful experiences, their proximity to rich cultures offers distinctly humbling journeys of incredible discovery.
LW Design was commissioned to reinvent Bab Al Shams, an iconic landmark destination, into a contemporary and glamorous desert resort in the breathtaking desert landscapes of Dubai. The brief was to create a refined yet extravagant leisure and entertainment venue while retaining its history and authenticity to attract local and international travellers.
The awe-inspiring location, heritage architecture and bespoke design, unparalleled attention to detail and unique culinary offerings ensure that Bab Al Shams is the most sought-after desert retreat in the Emirates. The eclectic and contemporary Arabic theme creatively maintains much of its original heritage, allowing a re-launch with style and cultured desert experiences.
Initially opened in 2004, Bab Al Shams is 45 minutes from the heart of Dubai and close to a range of attractions, including desert safaris, hot air ballooning, camel trekking, horse riding, falconry, cycling and Al Qudra artificial lakes for the authentic desert experience. LW Design has preserved the legacy of Bab Al Shams as the longest-running desert escape in the United Arab Emirates.
With a design narrative centred around ‘The Lost Princess’, Bab Al Shams is her ultimate sanctuary of luxury and unforgettable journeys. Interior design elements subtly weave through her iconic heritage tied deeply to her customs while celebrating the glamour of modern-day Arabia. The resort’s carefully considered architectural integration with existing forms and materials provides an enhanced guest experience.
The overall fabric of the design is a seamless blend of contemporary Arabic elements and sustainable heritage. During the concept phase, the design team paid particular attention to preserving and re-purposing key furniture pieces, iconic artwork and accessories into the new design, adding to the resort’s overall sustainable value and heritage.
As visitors enter ‘the gateway to the sun’ through oversized doors, the grand driveway, landscaped by Square M, has lush palms, water features, and well-preserved decade-old foliage that instantly transports guests into a forgotten world. The muted palette of materials marries the barasti-style canopies, adobe walls, and columns with the existing vernacular-inspired architecture. The new porte cochere provides a threshold with dappled shade providing an enchanting guest arrival experience.
The original carved, metal-studded doors provide an immediate nostalgic welcome to the resort. Locally-inspired slatted screens guide visitors to the reception desk, encouraging them to pause at the beautiful swing seat upon entering. The banquette, centred on the solid walnut reception desk, is the focal point of the check-in area. Art consultants, Capsule Arts, has meticulously curated artefacts and art that tie into the narrative guided by interior design.
A curious journey uncovers corners of mystery and intrigue, eventually leading to the main lobby bar. A grand traveller’s chest, reminiscent of the princess’s many travels, inspired the design of the bar. The eye-catching piece of furniture is the perfect balance of heritage and glamour. Vividly lit, a collection of the finest bottles, intricate herb drawers and hand-cut crystal glasses add a playful layer to the design. The ornate counter, detailed with metal studs, walnut wood and mocha cream marble, is designed as an apothecary table. Mixologists interact with guests while they create unique infusions inspired by much-loved Arabic tea and coffee traditions.
LW Design retained the skylight in the lobby bar as one of the features of the original design. Daylight softly filters through the intricately patterned architectural elements casting shadows and creating a magical atmosphere blending nostalgia with romance. Once the sun sets over the desert, supple decorative lighting creates an intimate ambience. The lighting designer Studio Lumen carefully considered soft hues throughout the resort to ensure a subtle and restrained approach to the lighting design.
Bi-folding doors have been introduced to the raised and integrated courtyard creating a seamless transition between the indoors and outdoors. A traditionally inspired awning covers the extension to the lobby by adding a soft layer to the architecture and extending the interior feel into the alfresco areas.
A stark contrast to the exterior, the interior boasts a kaleidoscope of colour, texture and pattern with hand-knotted rugs and jewel-toned upholstery that define the glamour of modern Arabia. From geometric carved wood to traces of bush-hammered metal to touches of soft fringe details, each piece of furniture is either locally handcrafted or restored to its former glory with intricate details combining a subtle balance between authenticity and modern comfort. Each space has a unique selection of vibrant fabrics and accent finishes that balance the fresh and neutral palette of the architecture. Beautiful accent Appiani mosaic tiles supplied by Taf House are in the Zala restaurant and on the terraces as a contrast to the seamless concrete flooring.
Each of the 115 lavish guest rooms and suites has been transformed while retaining and respecting many original design elements. Challenged by the original small windows and doors, the rooms have limited daylight, so Studio Lumen paid extra attention to the lighting within the guestrooms to ensure a brighter and more spacious guestroom experience. The interior design elements complement this with a lighter colour palette and mirrors to reflect light where possible. A large shower, beautifully clad in marble mosaic, translates into a modern interpretation of Arabic patterns adding an authentic backdrop to the washroom. A stunning hand-carved vanity inset with mother-of-pearl inlay elevates the design to true luxury. A unique valet stand displaying the amenities adds a sense of extravagance to the limited space, with hand-picked items displayed on different tiers. The sanitary fixtures from Kohler perfectly balance contemporary and classic design, blending seamlessly with the interiors.
The Design team retained the original concept of seamless indoor and outdoor flooring by re-finishing the indoor flooring with durable micro-concrete. The solid teak doors were stripped and stained to an authentic natural timber tone, balancing the soft Bastakiya colour palette synonymous with Bab Al Shams.
Each bedroom has high ceilings detailed with timber beams and a feature ceiling fan. Double-layered headboards at a lower level afford each guest a cosy and intimate feeling within the bedroom area. LW Design preserved the majlis window seating from the original design giving it a modern twist with bright upholstery in modern Arabic-inspired patterns. A small dining cove in front of the television gives the room a boutique feel. A free-standing mini bar inspired by the princess’ traveller’s chest, clad in authentic leather, has a surprise colour inside.
Keeping with the Bab Al Shams sustainability concept, LW Design has re-used and upcycled existing pieces, including the iconic coat hangers that have been re-lacquered to complement the new colour scheme. Carefully hand-picked items in each room add quirky modernity while respecting its heritage. Each room opens onto a balcony or garden with inimitable views of the Arabian desert. Furthermore, to celebrate the narrative, every guestroom has a backlit etched mirror artwork with subtle references to the lost princess through glimpses of her jewellery and unique heritage.
The five signature suites are a true ode to Arabian glamour. A rich colour palette of burgundy and teal immediately lifts the design. The living area is a luxurious depiction of a bygone decadent time with beautiful handcrafted furniture pieces detailed with rope and tassels. Sliding metal-studded doors reveal the bedroom, a floor-to-ceiling cabinet-style mini bar with an internal pop of colour, a walk-in wardrobe, a double vanity and a free-standing bathtub.
The signature restaurant, Zala, has a modern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired theme with a theatrical kitchen and open-flame oven that welcome guests as they wander the resort. Arches with rattan details and beautifully handcrafted ceramic pendants make an instant change from traditional metallic perforated Arabic lanterns. While the interior architecture palette is in keeping with the rest of the resort, the transition to a colour palette of teal and terracotta instead of the bolder, punchier tones used in the lobby and guestrooms instantly adds a softer touch to the space.
Anwa, the iconic rooftop restaurant, is fully refurbished with an Asian concept. Fashioned around modern-day Asian cuisine, the small indoor space has woks and cold counters on display while the exterior is still in keeping with the original architecture of Bab Al Shams. A new central bar has been erected at the centre of the terrace to create a focal point around the seating under the barasti roofs with modern Asian furniture, fixtures and equipment. The outdoors maintains its original charm of subtle coves and seating, affording the best desert sunset views. Al Hadeerah, the iconic Arabic heritage restaurant, also underwent a complete refurbishment; the dining experience is full of Arabic glamour and theatre. With the refurbishment of Ya Hala, the lobby bar maintains its old charm and original character that still appeal to the resort’s regular guests.
Art consultants, Capsule Arts, worked in parallel with LW Design to create a unified curated art collection to elevate the original hotel’s existing items whilst bringing new pieces to complement the contemporary design. The team re-purposed the existing collection and stylishly presented them to juxtapose seamlessly with the new additions sourced from local artists and artisans who offered the resort a refined, feminine and unique perspective.
An exceptional original artwork is hanging behind the reception desk in the hotel lobby. The stunning textile art by Iranian artist Mahsa Baraghani was inspired by Bedouin jewellery and headdresses worn by Emirati women. The artist carefully selected a beautiful representation of traditional Emirati culture to enhance the story of the lost princess. Its careful placement ensures that it is one of the first pieces guests see upon arrival to Bab Al Shams, setting the tone for the rest of the resort’s art collection. In the same area, another textile artwork by Loretta Bilinskaite-Monie is a minimalist contemporary interpretation of an embroidered Bisht, a traditional cloak worn in the United Arab Emirates.
Visitors will find works by Emirati photographer Mohammed Ahli presenting striking views of the Arabian desert throughout the resort, together with contemporary plasterwork on linen canvases inspired by the hotel’s architecture by Melissa Charlier. Each piece of art, from handcrafted items and framed objects to textile artworks and contemporary photography, was carefully selected to contribute to the hotel’s overall aesthetic while enhancing the story of the lost princess and her palace of treasures.
The unique standalone spa building, due to open in April 2023, with two hammams, five treatment rooms, a gym and a yoga deck, will make this a beautiful destination spa for travellers worldwide.
Bab al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, Al Qudra Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, https://www.babalshams.com/