Snehal Shah manages a two-bedroomed eco treehouse which sits on a 500-acre family-owned fruit orchard in Makuyu, Murang’a.
“My husband always had a fascination with treehouses. Growing up, his family had one in their garden so this is an extension of that dream,” she says.
The construction process for the treehouse was slow, taking them about one and a half years to complete.
All the wood making up both the house and furniture was either salvaged from the farm, collected from around Kenya or reclaimed from an old cabin.
“My husband salvaged an old log cabin from Nairobi and moved it to the farm, then built the treehouse organically. His grandmother is into woodwork and has a workshop in Nanyuki called Mt Kenya Sawmills. Her fundis (artisans) helped build it. The two bedrooms are made from the old wooden cabin, and the cedar posts which hold up wood in the living area were all salvaged from a farm. It’s really old wood, and you can’t get cedar like that anymore,” says Snehal.
“We used African olive wood to make the kitchen and one of the coffee tables. The legs of the coffee table are old railway sleepers. The stilts that prop up the house are eucalyptus posts from around Murang’a. If you drive between Thika and Makuyu, you will find them at Kakuzi farm. The house is mounted on a metal frame to make it very stable, and the frame is then covered by cypress wood.”
The initial plan was actually to build it as a cabin on the ground, but they put it on stilts to ward off termites.
For maintenance, they treat them at least once a year. They had also thought of doing an iron-sheets roof but settled on makuti instead. They got the grass from around Murang’a, dried it, then brought in about four weavers who specialise in roof weaving to make it.
Snehal did all the decor herself over six months.
“The idea was to go rustic but very comfortable, with a distinct African theme using textures, textiles and colours which blend well with the wood. I got cushions from Love Artisan, a furniture manufacturer on Nairobi’s Ngong Road who have done a lot of my stuff. Some of the paintings were from our collection, the sofa is pallet wood and the colourful bean bags are from South Africa,” she says. As for costs, they insist that it is priceless.
“My husband had collected a lot of the materials already, so what cost us the most would probably be the labour,” she says.
Finished at the end of 2018, they lived in the treehouse for two years during the Covid-19 lockdown before opening it up to paying guests.
The farmhouse is among the growing number of accommodations attracting a new kind of traveller; one looking for a rural retreat.
It is now almost occupied all weekends.
Half of the farm is planted up, and there are about 100 acres of indigenous forest which the family hopes to preserve.
“In the long term, we can sustain it with extra income from tourists so we don’t have to develop the rest,” says Snehal.
At the orchard, they commercially grow about 10 varieties of citrus, mango, and dragon fruits, but you will also find exotic fruits like custard apples and breadfruit grown on a small scale. Just like in the Garden of Eden, guests can eat whatever fruits are in season to their fill.
The farm also has a cottage dating back to the 1950s and was one of the first houses on the farm when it was still a coffee plantation under a previous owner. It has however since been completely renovated, furnished and now hosts bigger groups. Even the once detached kitchen has now been turned into an extra bedroom.
Milling about the cottage are six ostriches, and you can find them pottering about the verandah or garden and can even feed them if you so wish. A hammock in the garden completes the setting.
“The cottage and treehouse started as family homes. We embarked on the journey to promote different kinds of farming which a lot of people still don’t know about,” says Snehal.
“You can learn about beekeeping, fruit farming, organic farming, our black soldier fly project and everything we do at the farm. For this, families with children are their ideal target, and we hope to inspire the younger generation,” she says.