A four-poster bed made from dhow wood with brass artefacts sculptured in a graceful dance pose on either side, antique Afghani cupboards and armoires (with tags that reveal their decades worth of age) and colourful oriental carpets fill a space that screams luxury.
This is the Tribal Gallery located on the first floor of Lavington Curve Mall along James Gichuru Road in Nairobi.
“We like people to come in and wander around, to be comfortable and not feel pressurised to buy anything. We tell them if they need any help to just let us know. We give people space to feel the gallery first, then we tell them who we are and the products we have,” says Louise Paterson, the gallery’s director.
Louise explains that the aim at all times is to have that personalised individual service for clients; allowing customers to feel at ease and to set the pace of their visit.
So, it does not matter how long one takes wandering around the galley as they have discovered that most of their would-be customers visit four to five times before they make a decision to buy anything.
Although it is the painted antique Afghani chests, cupboards and armoires that often draw people in, the Tribal Gallery should not be mistaken for an antique dealer.
“Antiques are a big part of our product collection but the Tribal Gallery concept is broader. We offer an eclectic home interiors range that inspires luxury boutique living in your home,” says Louise.
Inspired partly by her love for staying in boutique hotels during her travels, she began to collect unique treasures and artefacts from Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Vietnam to turn her home into the ‘luxury boutique living’ she experienced in hotel stays around the world.
When people started coming to her home and asking where she found such unusual and unique pieces, Louise saw a business opportunity.
Thus, in 2010, she did her first antique furniture buying trip in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as visited Vietnam and Thailand to search for old tribal textiles.
“Nowadays, many people in Kenya are well-travelled and looking for unique things to collect or put in their home. We answered that call in the market.
“There is the logistics of bringing in a 40kg carpet from Afghanistan or Iran. We have the eye, experience and contacts; we know where to buy it. I love the buying and the treasure hunts and go twice a year to Pakistan,” she says.
The experience comes from working in the tribal areas in Pakistan for 10 years, and that is where the name Tribal Gallery also grew from.
“We realised that our special love for things would come from tribal people because they have maintained their traditions and old way of living. For example, when buying the carpets mainly from Iran and Afghanistan, some pieces from Morocco and Turkey, we go to where they are made. The rural people have a love for colour and design,” she says.
As the general idea is still to create a boutique home experience of five-star luxury quality, the handcrafted furniture complements the tribal furniture and textile range.
The textiles used on their sofas are high-end fabrics, Belgian linens and Italian and British velvets that Louise personally sources from trade fairs in Paris, France and Frankfurt, Germany.
“Customising is the ethos of our business. Our furniture is handmade and unique because each piece for us should be different. We want your unique treasure not to be recreated or copied by somebody else. We have our designs but we love to work with our clients around what they want, their own designs. We highly encourage this so that in the end, it is a bespoke piece. It is service we want to give our clients. We like to work together around how the piece should look,” says Louise.
One time, a customer was unsure how a four-poster bed would look in her bedroom. So, Tribal Gallery assembled a similar bed to assist her make the final decision. Customers can also request a special private collection viewing by appointment.
In addition to the handcrafted furniture, there is the Dhow Wood collection. Dhow boats that are no longer able to sail, are reclaimed by Tribal Gallery, dismantled, the wood treated and prepared and finally transformed into exquisite and unusual furniture.
“Muzdalifah”, a 30-foot dhow that for 40 years transported cloves from Zanzibar has become a four-poster bed, a 9-foot table with two benches, a coffee table and desk.
After opening the gallery, they have been holding an exhibition every two months at their home in Loresho. Apart from being a bigger space, people can visualise how some of the pieces would look like in a home. The exhibitions are often social occasions for clients as well.
They are also working with other Nairobi entrepreneurs to create new ideas and ventures. Shift-eye Gallery, for instance, will be partnering with them to showcase art, antiques and textiles at a forthcoming event.