When she was 26, Nyambura Ndiba started her tiny movable house project. Her friends doubted her. Seven months and close to Sh2 million later, her naysayers ate a humble pie.
Her quaint three-bedroom container home in Kiambu speaks of her personality; bubbly, adventurous and free-spirited.
It a haven located past tea plantations, peaceful meandering roads, about 30 kilometres from Nairobi.
Her interest began from binge-watching ultra-modern tiny homes on YouTube. She then drew her design.
“I did not know anything about house design or construction. I couldn’t hire a foreman or architect. You can imagine explaining this house to local fundis. They struggled to understand the loft concept,” says the 28-year-old.
Nyambura has always been interested in seeing the world. In 2018, she had intended to tour Europe. But her ‘tiny house’ was calling. She rerouted her travel money and part of her savings to buying building materials.
“My mother gave me the land, and she chipped in when I ran low on finances,” she says.
She kept the construction process under wraps. She says she knew people would not understand what she was doing and to some extent even dim her morale. So, she did not share photos until it was completed.
“I also fought a lot with the construction workers. But it all worked out and now we are good friends. They tell people that my house is one of their best projects and that fills me with so much pride,” she says.
Her tiny container house is a labour of love. Every section has a unique element, which Nyambura repurposed or creatively made.
She has a sink fashioned out of a stainless-steel serving, dish supported by a glass case filled with real sand from her trip in Lake Turkana, and seashells gifted to her by visitors. She made it herself.
All her do-it-yourself art pieces decorate the house. There is a vintage telephone, a mantelpiece above her fully functional fireplace, made from a piece of Formica that used to be part of a banking hall. The same material was repurposed for her kitchen counter.
She has quirky test tube bulbs above the living area, beautifully infused into a real log. There are tastefully crafted light fixtures in the kitchen too. All the furnishings and decor items have an almost heart-warming story behind them. “I like being unique. That is why everything in the house was from thrift stores or refurbished,” Nyambura says.
“I looked for pieces everywhere,” she says, pointing at a repurposed leather chair that used to be in her late father’s office.
“Art in Kenya can be expensive, so I had to get creative while thinking economically.”
Most of her frames came from ex-London thrift shops. The artworks inside the frames is made from cutout edgy used T-shirts or bags or simple printed paper designs. Some of the art took a lot of work but she is quite happy with the effect. The result is charming, almost whimsical. It is like being on the set of a fun hipster inspired movie.
Because she wanted a loft, Nyambura needed to figure out a way to rainproof the house. They used a combination of cement and tiles, infused with mesh wire but only at the balcony.
Nyambura has listed the house on Airbnb. It is quite popular among people looking for a fun weekend away but not too far from the city and with international tourists.
She has quite an expansive garden space that can host a considerable crowd and is always at home to attend to her clients. However, she sometimes rents the entire house out.
“The favourite thing about hosting people is the cultural influence. You discover how other people live and love and it is a beautiful experience. I also learn a lot from them about this house. They give me feedback on what I could have done better, and I always take notes for future renovations. My guests also tend to leave me with keepsakes and artefacts which have become part of the interior décor, making it even more distinctive,” she says.
Nyambura admits that a few things in the house were not done perfectly.
“There are some things I know I will need to demolish and redo in time. But this is part of home ownership. It’s always a learning curve.”