Sunday is a very healing day for me. I have certain rituals and activities I undertake in that are undoubtedly the highlight of my week. What they all are isn’t important to this post, what matters is just my breakfast ritual.
Kericho Gold morning tea…check.
The perfect 90s rnb playlist….check.
My trusted laptop…..check.
Armed with these three things I head on over to a specific nook in my home, cuddle up in one corner and prepare to be transported to my own world for an hour an a half before I have to leave.
On one particular Sunday everything seemed to be as it always was. The usual gossip articles (a guilty pleasure), catching up on current affairs and getting design inspiration. But 30 minutes in I got extremely nostalgic and suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about my former university lecturer Dr.Lilac Osanjo. It wasn’t anything specific just flashbacks of her lectures that, unlike most others, opened our eyes to the wonders of African design. Images and stories of beautiful and unique spaces designed by and for Africans and most importantly inspired by Africa. As I let myself go down memory lane one specific lecture sticks out. It’s so weird how our brains work, I struggle to remember what I ate for dinner two days ago but on this particular day I could remember EVERYTHING about the day Dr.Osanjo told us all about Mr. Alan Donovan, his impact on Kenyan art and design and his famous house, THE AFRICAN HERITAGE HOUSE.
His story is amazing, and although it isn’t what this post is about either, you will excuse me for giving Mr.Donovan’s story the respect it deserves and allow me to share a summary of it. Trust me, it’s worth the little detour in topic.
After arriving in Africa to work as a relief officer during the Nigerian-Biafra war, Alan Donovan resigned his post in 1969, bought a Volkswagen bus in Paris, and travelled through the Sahara Desert to Nigeria. Oh, how I would love to have been in his head when he decided to embark on such a daring adventure that would lead him to drive across the Congo to Kenya, arriving in Nairobi in March 1970. His travels exposed him to the architectural, artistic and fashion treasures that Africans were creating and he dedicated his life to showcasing them. Through the African Heritage Pan African Galleries he founded with Joseph Murumbi, the former Vice President of Kenya, and his wife Sheila, he was able to do so successfully as the company became the largest exporter of pan-African crafts in the world, with some 500 full-time employees in Nairobi and 51 worldwide outlets.
What remains of his collection is on display in his home, THE AFRICAN HERITAGE HOUSE that overlooks the Nairobi National Park. Why that’s so is a long tale that can be summarised by Mr.Donovan himself:
“There’s hardly anywhere to buy this stuff now, they’ve all stopped. It’s all coming to an abrupt halt. Especially the young Kenyans. They don’t have any idea of their culture at all.”
– LA TIMES 08/01/2012 –
Come to think of it the thought of the degradation of traditional African art and design was what actually got me thinking of Dr.Osanjo and her lectures that mostly revolved around educating us on all Africa has to offer to the design world. And without a doubt no lecture proved this as much as that of Alan Donovan, the important role he played in shedding light to African art and his famous house that is proof of his adoration for all things African.
So sitting there that specific Sunday morning I decided to book an appointment to get a tour of what I was to find out is the most photographed house in Africa, and what I fell in love with most will surprise you.
Everything about THE AFRICAN HERITAGE HOUSE took my breath away. From the architecture, built using a unique blend of traditional African mud construction techniques and inspired by the pre-colonial architecture of Africa, including the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali, the Swahili houses of Coastal East Africa and a tower bearing the geometric designs of a Nigerian emir’s palace. To the outstanding view of the National park and the tranquil garden courtyard. And it definitely goes without saying the eclectic decor that has an impressive collection of 6,000 pieces of African art that showcase our rich history and traditions.
But as breathtaking as all that was it was the bathrooms in the 6 room house that had the most impact on me. More often than not when a home is designed with a specific theme the bathrooms always fail to fully embrace it and usually tend to play a functional rather than an esthetic role. This is definitely not the case at African Heritage house. All the bathrooms are cut from the same cloth as the rest of the home which are all designed and decorated to be a celebration of the art, cultures and architectural design of Africa.
During the tour, given by Mr.Donovan himself, the bathrooms always seemed to make my heart skip a beat. I’m not being figurative here…my literal heart would actually skip a literal beat. That’s how amazing the bathrooms are!
Every time we got into one I would be left behind as the tour proceeded to another room because I was busy daydreaming about the long relaxing bath/shower I could take. It took everything inside me to stop me from giving up on all my life’s responsibilities, locking myself in there, running the water, taking a long long long bath/shower, enjoying the spectacular view and allowing all the design elements to transport me to various parts of Africa.
From the Moroccan brass sinks, to the bathtub of Swahili plasterwork, the lamu style doors, the mix of African fabrics and prints, the touches of African art and sculptures and finally to the raw wall and floor stone finish. With all these elements in small spaces such as a bathroom, you would expect it to be too much. But that’s far from the case as they all have a very cohesive and harmonious relationship that creates much more than a bathroom. It creates a time machine that transports you to the Africa that inspired such great artists such as Pablo Picasso.
You think I’m over exaggerating well have a look for yourself and I dare you to prove me wrong.
I dare you!
You see, I told you they were more than just bathrooms. I hope these bathrooms, and in turn this post, teaches you two things, at the least.
- No space is too functional, small or irrelevant to not achieve your full design attention. If you’re going to go all out in your home don’t forget the bathroom because it can end up being much more than a bathroom. For a space you encounter every single day be sure to make it a space you would enjoy being in, and as is the case with the ones at the African heritage house, a space you would not want to leave.
- We need to appreciate our heritage more. This applies for ALL cultures not just African culture. I don’t care if you’re Mexican, Nigerian, Japanese or Canadian, your people’s history plays such a big part to who you are. Whether it’s the traditions, art, decor, fashion…you name it…all these should be appreciated enough to not be a thing of the past.
Till next time, don’t forget to leave a SUBSCRIBE BELOW so you don’t miss out on any new posts and most importantly don’t forget to Be inspired….Be you!