The Reluctant Emigrant: A weekly column by Cork exile Denise Hession in Abu Dhabi
BACK in the glory days, when the Celtic Tiger breathed life into Ireland and inflated not only economic growth but also our expectations and quality of life, we enjoyed custom made designer kitchens, Canadian hardwood floors and Italian leather sofas.
Everyone suddenly became experts on the differences between porcelain floor tiles and carrera marble, all of us forgetting about the lino days of the eighties.
So when emigration pulled back the heavy damask curtains that shielded the light outside from entering, and shone reality brightly down on top of my black granite countertop, I knew it was goodbye to Fabucci and hello to flat pack.
Renting a property in Abu Dhabi, like many places around the world, means renting without furniture. Furniture, light fittings and curtain poles are all supplied by the tenant. This was music to my ears on arrival in Abu Dhabi, as I started to plan and design the perfect Middle Eastern pad — the swimming pool furniture would prove a challenge to get right, but I loved a challenge.
Colours, swatches and storyboards in order, I started to look at the budget. It looked tight but do-able, until I realised that the tidy chunk left aside to feather my nest was dirhams and the 5:1 dirham:euro ratio meant my budget was five times more useless than I had initially thought.
My pittance clutched tightly in my fist, I trailed Abu Dhabi looking for style at an affordable price. The search ceased after three weeks, beaten down by extortionate prices. Instead, tired of not having a coffee table or bedside locker, I visited IKEA in Yas Island, finally accepting that a budget was really a budget and not a target to be trampled on.
I tentatively took to the halls and aisles and like a desperate gambler I worked the stubby little pencil on the order slip every which way to try to make the budget work.
Even in IKEA I was finding it hard to stretch a sum which would once have been the price of a nice oriental rug for the entrance hall.
The checkered chaise with contrasting smoking chair kept getting jilted by the children’s bedroom furniture — darn kids, they’ve everything nowadays.
All seemed lost, until I stumbled on a sizeable section almost tucked away beside the checkout counters and toilet brushes. There it was, the ‘AS IS’ section. Every piece I had seen and longed for earlier was there. I stroked the back of the checkered chaise and stopped just before the tear in the seat. I feasted my eyes on the sturdy sideboard and blocked out the missed leg at the front, the five catalogues propped it up perfectly. The scratch on the wardrobe door was barely visible in a certain light and anyway, a scarf draped succinctly over the door would give the bedroom a seductive ambience.
Seven dirhams under budget and delighted with my almost perfect pieces, I treated myself to Swedish meatballs and relished the idea of the furniture being delivered next day. I was transformed, I was now an IKEA girl, no more bespoke pieces with bespoke prices — I would take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.
An impromptu housewarming was the perfect opportunity to display was talents, I set the slightly damaged table with five elegant champagne flutes, and one, nearly matching long stemmed wine glass, and placed the hors d’ouerves on my new serving dish with the chipped side turned to the wall. I sat back on the defected chair and a quiet satisfaction came over me, a feeling I can’t recall experiencing while sitting at my walnut table in Ireland.
Quietly marvelling at my new humble quality which I never knew was there, an image came to mind of being a child, the smell of lavender floor wax and watching my mother trying in vain to put a shine on the lino.