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From the board room to the drawing board

By Jethu Abraham

KUWAIT: When Carolina Aguilar first moved into Kuwait, the arid and dry landscape presented a stark contrast from her homeland. A native of Barcelona, she had already spent some time in the region – in Muscat and the UAE – all for work purposes. Yet, it would be love that would finally bring her to settle in Kuwait as she fell in love and married a Kuwaiti gentleman and made the country her home.

“It was a very organic move, a very natural transition,” she remembers. Yet, while in Kuwait, she also noted that the outdoors were not well-groomed, which is when the interiors became important. “The climate was very dry; temperatures were harsh and I would find trash lying in the street. It is at that point that I slowly started working on the interiors of my home to compensate for what I would often see outside.”

And it was this desire that ultimately led her to the quaint and rustic space that residents in Kuwait know as Friday Market – an open space selling used furniture and other smaller accessories. “When people normally speak about Friday Market, they think of it as this place that sells second-hand items. But I saw something different there – I saw pieces that were abandoned, mostly single pieces, which with the power of transformation, could be changed into something beautiful.”

New beginnings

Soon, the chance visit turned into a weekend routine as every Friday, Carolina would hunt for unique pieces that she could work with – peeling off layers, repainting and polishing things to change them into something that could complement the decor at her home. “My designs are always very eclectic and always conceived with the consideration that these pieces have to be given a new life,” she says.

“People are normally fearful of buying a piece and not being able to find its full potential, but we are talking about pieces that you have complete artistic license over, so you can do anything you want with them. If we buy new pieces from a shop, you would hesitate to transform it or paint or play around with it. So, these pieces gave me a lot of creative freedom to explore and experiment.”

Having a career in business administration meant that all of Carolina’s upcycling skills were raw and self-taught. “My day career, where I work for an organization here in Kuwait is quite different and involves business plans and strategies, yet for me, I am a person who likes to work with my hands, touch things, feel its texture and I am a very physical person that way. So, this was a great creative release for me.”

Carolina often works with cheaper and market alternatives in her scraping and whitewashing efforts such as “a lot of wooden pieces that I find in the market are made of the deep red dark wood from India which, in other places, can be made lighter with wood bleach. Here, in Kuwait, I use Clorox instead to make the wood a lighter shade.”

None of these pieces are on sale however, despite the requests she receives for them, as Carolina says, she has spent far too many hours on them and finds it hard to let them go.

Soon, Carolina’s transformed pieces won the admiration of her family and friends. Yet, she says that, “as much as I loved the whole upcycling process and doing interiors, I realized that I did not have a formal background or the tools to get this whole thing going. I did not know how to cut, for example, or know the technical guidelines so I registered into an online Masters course in Interior Designing, where they provided me with the toolkit I needed.”

Curated ideas

Carolina was keen to expand her interests further and developed her page on Instagram @theroomathouseone to include her upcycling work done on the Friday Market pieces. Her penchant for the natural and the raw in her choice of colors and fabrics was a breath of fresh air for those accustomed to the region’s more ornate and gilded furniture accessories. “My designs are non-pretentious, cosy and happy ones. My clients pick me because I am that way,” she points out, giving away her European influence – a melange of aesthetic and functional sense popular among those who prefer the modern contemporary home.

In Kuwait, she believes the personality of the owner and the home they stay in is a disconnected need that is not attended to properly and people often style their homes away from who they really are. Her Friday Market expertise and the impressive feedback she received online led Carolina to open her own studio at her home and today she takes up requests to design rooms or refurbish spaces.

She was initially, surprised, even scared, when people trusted her with their floor plans and their homes. But Carolina soon took up the challenges as she believes “democratically speaking, everyone deserves a happy home and one that speaks of their personality – of who they really are and of course, a home they can joyfully come back to after a long day.”

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