No one will have to tell you that you have arrived at Rock House. You will just know it. Not because of the signage created using bit-sized white landscaping rocks but because of the boldly-crafted gate.
It catches you by surprise, that gate, invoking your curiosity in how it was designed, and what could be behind it.
I stepped out of the car to open it. Though metallic, fibreglass material has been used to create an illusion of two huge boulder rocks such that when you push opening it feels like rolling a tombstone to reveal a cave.
“Who was behind the gate’s final appearance,” I ask Patrick Wanjohi, the owner of Rock House in Nairobi.
“It was mine. We wanted the entrance to be a permanent memorial for those that will pass through it.”
And it has, catching the attention of travellers.
For me, it felt like I was stepping into an episode of ‘The Flintstones’, an American animated sitcom that first aired in the 1960s. This unforgettable gate opens up to a short driveway that leads to a house that seems to have been chiseled out of rock, hence the name.
If it reminds you of the Mau Mau caves in Mount Kenya, it is because the design of the house is a replica of that historical place, where the freedom fighters hid.
Rock House was designed by Patrick and his wife of 34 years Susan Wanjohi, ten years ago. The idea was conceptualised when echoes in the house, which was their family home, suddenly became louder and noticeable as their four children grew up and one by one left the nest.
They decided to convert part of their matrimonial house into a guest house. After all, “There’s only so much space that two people can occupy,” he says.
The compound is sectioned that they live in one section, affording them privacy.
Choosing to go into hospitality was not an out-of-the-box idea for the two have been in the sector for over 30 years. Mr Wanjohi spent his youthful energy horse riding, trout fishing, hiking, and exploring hidden treasures in his hometown.
He was a tour guide before founding his tour and safaris company, Mountain Rock Safaris in 1992 that offers adventure walking tours and wildlife safaris. As a budding artist, he showcased his experiences on nature via artworks at exhibitions that were held country wide at the time, always coming out on top.
“I did a lot of these things in the Mau Mau caves. People are attracted to natural beauty which is possibly why I won many awards,” the businessman explains.
“Because life drew me away from that environment, and rocks paint a beautiful picture of nature, as a reminder, I built a house similar to the caves.”
Putting up the house, located in Karen, Nairobi took one year. Together with Nathan Kithinji, a rock artisan, they travelled back to his childhood playground where they spent hours making moulds from the rocks by the caves, capturing even the texture. The moulds were transported back to Nairobi.
A mixture of cement and sand was poured into them and smoothed out. Once removed from the mould, the concrete blocks were added to the external parts of the house.
They also planted trees, and flowers, and dug out sections of their home to provide a full nature experience for both local and international guests.
From this laborious work that required utmost attention to detail, more than a gallon of patience, and a purse full of coins borrowed from his bank, the family home morphed into three architectural masterpieces: 12 double rooms starting at Sh3,000 per person per night, a conference hall, and a swimming pool with a waterfall.
The house cost about Sh10 million.
“To finance the project, we re-mortgaged our previous house and got a loan from the bank. We have since repaid the money we owed thanks to the positive reception of the investment by the public,” Mr Wanjohi.
The waiting area is one of the two favourite places.
The extremely essential (but also plain looking) stone pillars that support buildings were moulded over using fibreglass, into wood-like columns giving the warmth of wood without the hassle of maintenance.
The reception stand is like a giant tree stump curated using cement and carved forest-like add-ons.
The seats and tables made from mahogany create a rugged look. The walk leading up to the rooms above is like walking through a dimly-lit cave courtesy of the mounds of earth protruding from the walls, complete with rock fissures.
“Stone and wood are the only two materials the Flinstones would have had access to,” he says. I think to myself that Fred Flinstone would not have had it any other way.
The second favourite space is outside by the pool area where the décor, just like on other parts of the house is far from the usual, and the rock ensembles the eye-catching focal points.
Push design envelope
“Instead of doing away with the construction waste, we piled it sky-high and created a life-size Mt. Kenya model,” the adventurous Mr Wanjohi shares.
Having seen the tip of the mountain countless times, he adds it is a replica of the real breathtaking mountain.
“We show our Mount Kenya hiking guests what to expect as they prepare to tackle the real mountain,” he explains.
Rock House has been a gem for many travellers, especially during the pandemic.
“We’ve hosted more locals after the pandemic struck as they sought to take a break from their chaotic life,” says Susan.
They opened the pool to the public, at Sh500, and host parties for people to celebrate life and make lasting memories. Unfortunately, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic lingers. There are a few guests, including one from the UK, staying at Rock House as a stopover before climbing Mt. Kenya.
“This has affected jobs. We have only three employees. Before, this place was brimming with activity,” Susan adds.
As I leave Rock House for the Nairobi’s Central Business District, I watch as the trees and grass become scarcer and scarcer and give way to the skyline, dotted with high-rise buildings or bungalows and maisonette with uniform architectural designs. Very few home owners have pushed the design envelope.