Nestled deep inside a lush and leafy 25-acre forest in Karen is Purdy Arms.
Once a private home built by ‘Old Man’ Bill Purdy many decades ago, the place has been transformed several times since the Purdy family decided to sell it in the 1980s.
This luxurious Tuscan-like villa with all its Italian hand-painted and mosaic tiles, repeating arches and Corinthian columns has gone from being a nunnery and monastery to a hospital and drug rehabilitation centre to the pub and luxurious ‘b& b’ (bed and breakfast) that it is today.
I’m more inclined to call Purdy Arms an intimate yet luxurious boutique hotel!
Today, it’s also one of Nairobi’s newest eateries in Karen, featuring everything from Satay chicken kebabs, gourmet pizza and King prawns Piri Piri to Mangrove smoked tuna, classic chicken Kiev and a prime fillet steak.
It’s also a pub with a spacious, high-ceiling room opening out into a large umbrella-ed patio that once was a 15 feet deep swimming pool that Jules Sandy-Lumsdaine and her husband Rob Davidson chose to fill in with solid sand, soil and cement nearly a year ago when they leased the place from its current owners - the Catholic church.
“The place was derelict when we took it over,” says Jules who used to manage the Rusty Nail and Outside Inn before discovering the Purdy home when it was still a rehab centre more than 10 years ago.
“When the rehab people decided to move out, I told Rob I had always thought Purdy’s would make a fabulous B & B, although there would be a lot of renovation work for us to do."
"So we leased it, did a heap of work on it and officially opened the place November 22 last year,” she says.
Having to hand-scrub the mosaic tiles which had been encrusted with dust and dirt of past decades, Jules is most proud of the Florentine fountain in the back courtyard.
It’s where their pet peacock Percy stays along with a few other domestic creatures that Jules fosters after being sent to her by the KSPCA.
“We believe in giving back to the community,” said the third generation Kenya citizen who freely opens Purdy Arms to the Kenya Wildlife Society and KSPCA as well as the East African Women’s League so they can hold monthly members meetings.
It’s that sort of generosity and free spirit that greets you when you come to Purdy’s. Both Jules and Rob spend much of their time there (although he has a day job as a financial controller elsewhere).
Jules keeps track of all the operations, including all five luxurious suites, as well as the verdant tree-filled grounds, dining rooms and bar, and even the menus which change regularly and include not only fine dining but also fresh pizza, ‘pub grub’ and ‘kids grub’ since the atmosphere is conducive to family outings as well as sports-lovers who have three huge flat screens.
Ironically, Jules got to know Purdy’s well over the past 10 years while she was in rehab, attending AA meetings regularly there.
What’s amazing is that she could see the intrinsic beauty of a place that had become so rundown over the years, but she still managed to bring it back to its former elegance and grace.
“We still have a lot more work to do,” confessed Jules who took just three months of intensive renovating work with Rob Dieter Schleehauf, and a crew of Kenyans with whom she had worked at other Karen venues.
“My degree was actually in business and finance [from University of Anglia in the UK, but I discovered that I’m good at hospitality management. I’m also good with people,” she added.
Showing me around the hotel, where she’s transformed one wing of the monastery into a hair salon and spa called Streaks Ahead, she points out all the delicate details which she reckons were imported from abroad.
These include the fountain, tiles and architectural design and even the ‘swimming pool-sized’ bath tub in the suite that she calls Twiga.
The other four suites all have names as well: There’s the Simba, the Mamba, Punda and Chui.
What’s pleasantly surprising is that the suites are relatively inexpensive: “Twiga is the most expensive,” she says referring to the three-room site that looks out through large glass windows onto the garden and a mosaic floored patio.
It’s $250 (Sh21,750) a night including breakfast. The cheapest suite is the Mamba which costs $125 (Sh10,875) a night with breakfast.”
The Friday night that I went to Purdy Arms, they featured first a wine-tasting event from 6-9pm and after that, the Mojo band played everything from R&B to rock and a bit of Afro fusion.
The band leader, Andrew Starkey said they play at Purdy’s once or twice a month, but Friday nights are usually live music nights.
“Last week, we had a karaoke evening and it was great fun,” recalled Jules who also encourages young Kenyan artists to come hang their art on her walls.
Jules also includes a number of wildlife and artistic photographers’ work on her walls. That includes Apex photographers, the Patel brothers, Georgina Goodwin and even a few of her own which she modestly underplays.
She also has painters like her cousin Amy Sandy-Lumsdaine and her aunt Lisa as well.
“All of the visual art is for sale,” she says, noting that she recently opened a sausage factory called German Delico, on the premises, run by two Kenyan Germans, Eric Thomas and Dieter Schleehauf, both of whom are expert sausage men.
“I started the sausage factory because I wanted to serve fresh all-meat sausages that had no additives or preservatives and didn’t put any odd bits of entrails into them,” said Jules who introduced me to Dieter whose partner Eric was back in the kitchen hard at work.
The dance floor was almost full that Friday night as partygoers clearly loved the percussive sound of the Mojo band.
But in the morning, it was birdsongs that filled Purdy’s place where breakfast is full of fresh fruits, eggs and cereals that are all Kenya-made.