|Extreme makeover: Home edition
By Heather Anderson » Talk about extreme makeovers. There have been a number of restorations of ancient Bahraini homes and buildings over the last few years, but perhaps few if any can match the dramatic facelift given to the Muharraq home of late Abdullah Al Zayed, a pioneer writer and editor.
Al Zayed, born in 1899, was a well-known personality in his time, an intellectual who travelled widely, and mingled with leaders, poets and writers. He was one of the founders of the Literature Club of Muharraq and publisher of the countrys first daily newspaper, simply titled Bahrain.
The house he lived in was built in traditional Islamic style including a beautiful wooden painted ceiling and a small courtyard.
In recent years however, the house had fallen into a state of extreme disrepair, to a point of being close to unlivable.
The house came to the attention of Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, who found it while researching the life of her grandfather Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa. Al Zayed was a student of Shaikh Ebrahim.
Shaikha Mai decided to buy and renovate the house, turning the work over to architect Ahmed Bucheeri and his company.
They decided to stay with the original design, but with additional modern features including a glass ceiling and air conditioning, very necessary nowadays. The renovation work was supported with donations.
The façade of the building has retained the original features including the arched doorway with decorative carved gypsum designs, the old style of windows with stained glass fanlight panes, wooden mashrabiya, which as always provides privacy, shade, and lets in soft filtered light. The stunning carved wooden door at the entrance is not originally from the house. It was bought by Shaikha Mai for the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre, but did not fit. In fact it is the door of an old and important Bahraini house and has proved to be, with some readjustments, perfect for the Al Zayed House.
The house has a small majlis as you enter on the right and you go though a tiny passageway to the courtyard, which now has a glass roof to let in light and keep out the dust, heat, rain, humidity and cooler winter weather. The small courtyard is typical of Arabic and Islamic architectural design, though the cool flagstone floor is new, and there is a little alcove seating area where you can sit in the Arabic style with comfortable cushions.
Sitting in the house one afternoon, Shaikha Mai noticed the light from the glass roof. It was like heaven, she said. There is natural shade, showing how the original master builder knew how to take advantage of the light and the shade during the hottest part of the day and had protected the house from the heat of the sun.
The reading room upstairs with its stunning ceiling houses copies of Arabic newspapers and photographs of Al Zayed. There is also an album and you can see photographs of the house before and after restoration. Interior designer Janan Habib has very successfully married the old with the new for the functionality of the place.
There is a small cosy office downstairs which was once the kitchen. The traditional ceiling is made of mangrove poles and matting of date palm fronds. The mangrove poles were original, but the matting is new and in keeping with the original house design.
Today the centre is used for meetings, events and by researchers. It is also open to the public.
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