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Design & Interiors

Tree House With a Difference

River House in Karen
River House in Karen, Nairobi which is built using mangrove trees and makuti. PHOTO | COURTESY 

When we arrive at this makuti-thatched tree house in Karen, Nairobi, standing on stilts, the laid-back owner Jonathan Dwek is pottering around the kitchen whipping up gnocchi with blue cheese and a fresh garden salad. We sit at the balcony of the main house and round the food with coffee with a shot of grappa, and a piece of dark chocolate, as he tells me about his early days in Kenya which were spent teaching martial arts in Kibera. We also pore over some of his handwritten travel scrapbooks, largely put together during his time in Japan.

As I rinse off my glass in the kitchen sink, two bright blue exotic peacocks dance on the balcony rail as though showing off their plumage.

The house is fantastical, like a set from a Disney movie, and so I step through the looking glass and begin to wonder and wander.

The design is very eclectic, with tiny nooks and crannies that conceal stairways, ladders, bottom bunkers and more. A firefighter’s pole leads from the highest floor, and here, children would have a field day sliding down to the ground.

There are numerous objet’s d’arts collected by Jonathan from around the world during his numerous travels.

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These range from the crescent and star painting commonly found in Lamu, various decorated masks symbolising the Day of the Dead in Mexico, an Ethiopian cross, tribal African masks, a Chinese dragon which covers the ceiling in one lounging area, a Victorian clock, an array of books which sit on high shelves that wrap around the living room close to the ceiling, European angel statues, Japanese sword, antique Iranian-style carpets which serve as doorways into the master bedroom, Game of Thrones figurines and more.

River House in Karen, Nairobi.

River House in Karen, Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Housed in its own nook, the quirky main bathroom has two side-by-side bathtubs reminiscent of a scene from ‘Shanghai Noon’ complete with a soapstone sink modelled after a bird flapping its wings, and when you open the tap, the water gushes from its beak.

There are two bird cages against one wall, and here, the exotic peacocks come home to roost. I am drawn to the outdoor balcony by some cackling birds, and when I look below and spot about a dozen guinea fowl calling out to each other, I momentarily forget that this is indeed still Nairobi.

Influences really are from all over the place and the decor is very much bohemian maximalism at play, and you would think it would be overwhelming, but it all blends together

The setting is completed by an array of animals such as Ziggy the pig who looks more like a buffalo to me, chicken, cats, several breeds of dogs and more.

The attention to detail does not however stop indoors, as the main gate, for instance, resembles a pair of wings, and when you position yourself in front of it, it looks like you’re some fairy about to take flight.

Aside from the tree house, the property also has an even quirkier one-bedroom Hansel and Gretel-style cottage; it is comfortable and aptly furnished with plenty of art, largely from India.

This part of Karen also has various scenic hiking trails including one which leads to a waterfall, as well as picnic spots. It is self catering so bring food or order in from the numerous restaurants in the neighbourhood.

If you’re craving some Indian food, Open House, which actually came recommended by Jonathan, is the way to go; their food did not disappoint.

In pop culture, the house was recently used as the set for Nviiri the Storyteller’s latest hit, ‘Pombe Sigara.’

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