Design & Interiors

Chic cabins make every inch count

Aframe

Windy Ridge in Karen, Nairobi, an Airbnb owned by Thor Karstad. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • The pandemic has forced people to look at their homes and ask themselves, ‘Do we need this extra space? Can I use it to make extra income?’ And the answer is yes.
  • The option is especially attractive among people who have over two acres of land as was the case with Thor Karstad, who lives in Karen, Nairobi.

The pandemic has forced people to look at their homes and ask themselves, ‘Do we need this extra space? Can I use it to make extra income?’ And the answer is yes.

The option is especially attractive among people who have over two acres of land as was the case with Thor Karstad, who lives in Karen, Nairobi.

Thor has built a cozy one-bedroom cottage, which he and his wife Alisa lets out on Airbnb to solo travellers, couples, or friends.

“With the lock-down, people are looking for a way to earn income with their often large plots of land. For the price of an old four-wheel drive, you can get a house that will pay itself back within a year or less,” he says of his little house that he has named the A-Frame on Windy Ridge.

The cabin sits in a quiet corner on the four-acre land. There is an outdoor wooden deck that overlooks a private garden, and a colourful swing chair hangs from a Fig tree. Wind chimes tinkle with every gust. Several fairly lights lining the front triangular frame of the house, as well as the backyard, add a magical charm to the evenings. An outdoor chiminea fireplace can be lit on the balmy nights.

Inside, the lounge area is optimised for just that, the open-plan kitchen is well outfitted and a photograph of a cheetah hangs above a nook which acts as the work desk. A steep staircase leads to the bedrooms which sit on the upper deck. Lying on the bed, you can look up to the very tip of the house.

Surprisingly, this cabin only took seven weeks to build.

“It was a prototype, for me to learn at my own expense, and since then the design has evolved,” says Thor, who runs his own company, Thor Design and Build. He studied Landscape Architecture at a university in Australia. When he moved to Kenya to be with his wife, both were managing camps. Few projects needed doing and Thor’s role transformed into that of a project manager.

“I started doing construction stuff for Governor’s Camp {a luxury safari camp in Maasai Mara} where I was working. When the first lock-down kicked in, projects were put on hold due to tourism going downhill so I decided to quit and start my own company which I had been thinking about for a while,” he says.

Similar to their cottage in Karen, he sells a complete single one-bedroom A-frame structure at Sh2.9 million, and that includes electrical and finishing.

“I do all the design. I have a selection of standardised designs that I sell to people - of which many hours both on and off sites have been spent getting things just right to suit a multitude of individual tastes and needs. This cuts out many of the costs surrounding design time, architect fees and quantity surveying. It also alleviates common problems that home builders incur regarding timelines, costs, and quality of the finishes,” Thor says.

The homes take two to three months depending on the size, and there are four to five options to choose from.

He is now about to kick off his ninth building project, with a lot of interest coming from people who own land but have not been able to build due to high costs.

“Our costs are very competitive and well below what people usually pay per square metre, even compared to some of the bigger low-cost housing options available,” he says.

Most of his projects so far have been attractive to people looking to put up accommodation options to target travellers, yet something special and unique. One can choose from single and double A-frames, different bungalow options, and Thor recently finished construction of a tree-house in Nairobi’s Spring Valley that is now available to book via Airbnb.

Most people opt for A-frames because they are slimmer and can blend in a bit more.

“The house is eco-friendly and quick to build because there’s no land clearing, levelling, or heavy foundation work. It can therefore even be integrated on areas above the ground,” explains Thor.

“It’s also very stiff so you’re not going to get any kind of cracks because the skeletal structure is all metal. If you ever needed to do extra plumbing and electrical, it’s all very easily accessible from beneath as it is raised above the ground,” he adds.

A few of the houses have rainwater collection, natural bio-digesters, solar power and water heating systems.

Thor’s A-frame cabins were originally inspired by the simple tent design. People would go hunting or out into the wilderness and put up a makeshift shelter for the night using two beams. They are popular in places like the US and Canada where during winter, snow can slide right off the roof.

“They’re efficient with keeping the heat in and out. I prefer to build them in areas where it gets a bit cooler and suited to that log cabin kind of vibe,” he says.