Young designers changing face of Kenyan homes


A residential house that has been designed by Hillary Makheti in Riverside. PHOTO | POOL

It is one thing to build your house and another to transform the interior into your dream home. For a long time now young interior designers have been changing the face of Kenyan homes.

Hillary Makheti took a leap of faith in 2021 and founded her company, Design & People.

“My work mainly comes through referrals. My signature look is neutrals. If you hear Design & People, it is greys, browns, beige or whites. This is because the type of clientele we attract is the quiet type who want to get home to house with no noise. You know even colour has noise. I'm all about simplicity. I try to make a project as simple as possible but in a very complex manner,” Ms Makheti says.


A residential house that has been designed by Hillary Makheti in Riverside. PHOTO | POOL

Her company slogan is to normalise luxury since “Luxury does not have to be a million shilling chandelier or a Sh2.7 million dining table. It is how you use the simplest of things but make it luxurious.”

Her design style comes entirely from client interactions.

“I get my inspiration from the way a client dresses, and how they speak. So I look to make designs that reflect a client’s personality.”

She also gets her inspiration from nature because, “it provides a very beautiful palette.”

Once a client reaches out, 30-year-old Hillary first conducts a site visit.

“Once I get a detailed brief, I go down to the details. The client cannot visualise what they want, so mostly what I get from them is ‘I want something nice’. So the question I ask myself next is, how do I take that something nice of the client and visualise it? We do detailed floor plans, giving them a layout of the space. Then we give them a render which will be a presentation of the place before executing the jobs.”

Her most expensive (Sh30 million) project to date is a residential house.

“Most of the time the cost is 10 percent of the total cost of the project. The cost of customisation is expensive. Our target market is the upper middle class or the upper-class people who are not scared to spend on luxury,” Hillary adds.


Hillary Makheti pictured during an interview on August 21, 2023, at Nation Centre Building, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

So far she has designed over 50 successful projects and over time has noticed that more people are now willing to normalise luxury.

“It is important to engage an interior designer even before starting construction because we have foresight and can envision the project before the house is completed. It also helps you save costs as some structures may not be necessary. It also allows you to incorporate your passions at the earliest stages.”

Another interior designer changing Kenya homes is Tracy Wairimu who specialises in designing homes and Airbnbs. She says, “I started after visiting other airbnbs and getting distraught. Some are dirty, others do not have facilities for guests. I noted that hosts tend to arrange things according to their own liking and not from their guests’ perspective.”

She started designing homes this year and describes house design as a form of art. “You either have it or don't have it. To be able to put colour schemes together is an art.”


Tracy Wairimu poses for a photo on September 20, 2023 at a house she designed in Ngong’ town. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The majority of her clients are from the diaspora. “People from abroad have trust issues with their relatives, so they get me to furnish their apartments or turn their homes into airbnbs then when they come back they can settle down.

Her design style is minimalism.

“When doing it from scratch I visit the place then I rely on my imagination to ensure that the space is functional, appealing, artistic and has an aesthetic feeling,” she says.

Her signature look is white bedsheets, white towels and plants.

“Plants make a place look very vibrant and lively. White bed sheets because they give the sense of purity and cleanliness,” says the 27-year-old who adds, “A functional kitchen is also a die-hard. A kitchen that has everything and allows you to fully enjoy the space is important.”

Consultations, she says, take a while before someone is willing to trust you with their money.

When designing, Tracy says, “When considering colours you have to make sure that they will not colour crash, so you pick something that will blend in together, like blue and white, black and white. It makes the place harmonious.


A wide view of a studio house designed by Tracy Wairimu pictured on September 20, 2023 in Ngong’ town. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

For Airbnbs you should not furnish with leather seats as some clients come with pets. Also, I consider the weather of a place. For instance, leather seats are a bad idea for a person living in Mombasa owing to the hot weather. When choosing furniture you consider the fabrics and the size of the apartment so that it does not fill the whole place,” she advises.

Why should you work with an interior designer?

Tracy says when you are not sure about what you want it is better to work with an interior designer.

“We come in to advise and to save you time and energy,” says Tracy, emphasising on the need for honesty in her line of work. “I keep receipts for all my clients because I am dealing with large amounts of money. There is the aspect of trust and accountability to your clients. Most of my clients are from abroad, so they hire me to furnish their houses before they move back in or when they want to get an Airbnb.”

For her pay, her charges start from Sh25,000.

“The cost depends on the space and what you want to do with it. We use a lot of energy and creativity. My most expensive project is a mansion that is still a work in progress and has already cost me Sh300,000.”

Tracy hopes to pursue an interior design course and is constantly improving her skills. 


A section of a studio house designed by Tracy Wairimu pictured on September 20, 2023 in Ngong’ town. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Everyone for themselves

Hillary wishes for more support for interior designers as she says, “There is a body of interior designers but they are not doing much for us. Many interior designers do not know that this body exists. I feel as interior designers we do not have so much unity. Everyone wants to fight for themselves and make money for themselves. In our business, it's quite a dirty one as we keep throwing each other under the bus.”

For Alexandra Matsalia, a freelance interior designer her distinct look is, “You’ll always see a neutral colour scheme in spaces I’ve worked on (earth tones with a dash of colour).”


Alexandra Matsalia, a freelance interior designer. PHOTO | POOL

“Growing up my dad would always make us change things around the house whenever he got bored of the current look. Through him, I got to love interior design, creating aesthetically pleasing spaces and seeing the look of satisfaction on a client's face,” 28-year-old Alexandra says of how she built her passion for interior design.


A house designed by Alexandra Matsalia. PHOTO | POOL 

Her inspiration comes from other designers in the field, from different spaces. “For instance, where there’s a new chill spot in town, best believe I’ll make sure to go see how the space is. I also watch a lot of interior design and real estate shows,” says Alexandra.

To improve the interior design space, she suggests, “Having regular creative workshops where one can get to interact with other like-minded individuals and exchange ideas. I think a little respect for our craft would go a long way.”

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