Gone are the days when the City Council of Nairobi (CCN) prescribed the height and type of front gates and fences to homes with the main aim being to mark boundaries and to ensure uniformity around residential areas.
As insecurity became the major concerns around homes in the City, the bylaws were abandoned and gates were seen as purely functional ways to keep out intruders. The issue of aesthetics did not arise.
Because the CCN only authorised the picket fence type – with planks of wood joined together and around the boundary – the picket fence gate was also typical around the city and it came with prescribed height.
Today, gates are not matters for prescription by the City fathers but have become a way to give a home character, to show the personality and style of its owners or owners besides keeping intruders away.
“The City Council used to prescribe picket fence and gates while hedges were supposed to be of a certain height. It wanted uniformity around neighbourhoods. When insecurity became a big issue, gates were built with that in mind. But we have moved and the gates represents the personality, the image you want to portray of the inside,” said David Chola, an architect based in Nairobi.
For those who take it as part of their home, the gate is now a highly individualised affair carefully chosen or ordered by the home owner, Chola said. But security still matters, even as home owners consider aesthetics and preferences.
Not surprisingly, the most popular type of gate in Nairobi is by far made of wrought iron, a commercial form of iron that is tough and malleable. It is chosen for strength and the fact that the buyers can choose designs and experiment with colours, to match the overall outlook of the home.
There are also quite a number of homes where the gate is made of both metal and wood parts, the second most popular type which also happens to be more expensive because it calls for more elaborate work and design. Wood has also generally become expensive.
A visit around the estates is revealing. What you see at the vendors or artisans yards is what you get at most entrances to homes. If you get it straight from the artisan, a well-done gate made from wrought iron could cost you anything from Sh70,000 depending on the height, the width as well as gauge of metal used and adornments.
The gauge, which essentially indicates the strength of the metal, is key to how long the gate will last without showing serious signs of wear. The price of the gate also depends on where you buy it. If you buy directly from the roadside vendor, you will pay at least 30 per cent less than if you purchase from the formal operator in some shop at Karen or in other upmarket neighbourhoods. You will probably discover the vendor in the upmarket shop actually bought or ordered designs from the roadside metalworker.
“We find most of the customers preferring the metal gates as long as the gauge of the metal used is the correct one to ensure the expected strength,” said Eric Mungai who makes different types of gates at Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi.
At Mungai’s yard, the purely metal gates cost between Sh70,000 and Sh85,000.
The gate can vary from plain without much design to ornate ones. It can be painted with the preferred colours to make them visually interesting. “You have to be keen on the gauge of the metal sheets and pillars used in making the gate because there are those who will make something substandard with light metal. Normally, the hollow metal bars must also be properly painted with red oxide to prevent rust and corrosion over time. That way, the gate can last over 20 years,” said Mungai.
At his yard, a gate made from a mixture of metallic and wooden parts is priced at Sh100,000 to Sh120,000. The wood gives the gate style and elegance and the metal around the wood makes the gate stronger.
The purely wooden gate goes naturally with a picket fence but may not last long without regular maintenance. The wood needs to be treated to prevent rot and damage by termites and has to be painted every few years to retain its structural strength and sheen.
Around Nairobi, it turns out that the very old estates such as Lavington and Riverside do not care much about the look of their gates, but you find the better designed ones in the newer estates such as Karen and Runda and even in the middle-class areas on the outskirts of Nairobi.
As Chola explained, people previously did not take the form and look of a gate as a serious part of their home’s overall external appearance. A drive around the estates in the city actually reveals that quite a number of gates – a rough estimate of one out of every 10 – are in various stages of disrepair.
But because the entry to any home speaks volumes about the occupants and their style, many home owners make an effort in putting some lustre to their gates.