Kul Bhakoo is known as the graphics and printing businessman who founded Kul Graphics over four decades ago.
However, little is known about his passion for interior decor and art that has seen him invest time and money in amassing paintings and sculptures that are displayed inside his Ole Sereni Hotel.
Mr Bhakoo, the co-owner of Ole Sereni, says he went big on paintings to evoke a ‘wilderness’ feel in 134-room hotel located near a national park.
At the lounge, there is an ostrich sculpture made from wire and iron-sheets and a glass leopard and cheetah that usher visitors in.
“I used the artworks to solidify my location as a nature lover as well as a fervent conservationist. I need to benefit by being a neighbour to the Nairobi National Park,” he says.
Elijah Ooko and high-profile sculptor Kioko Mwitiki created the ostriches, giraffes and zebras while Nani Croze of Kitengela Glass made the leopards and cheetah.
Mr Bhakoo who studied at the London School of Printing and Graphics Art abhors stuffed wild animal statues and to give visitors a front seat into the wild, they built a terrace where diners can watch giraffes, warthogs and buffaloes.
Art is becoming essential in creating hotels’ interior decor. Some of the luxury hotels in Nairobi are becoming fine art spaces, doubling up as galleries as owning rare artworks becomes a status symbol. Besides the lounges and corridors, the beds are works of art. To most of these hotels, the artworks start an interesting narrative about their properties and make them memorable.
At Radisson Blu hotel in Nairobi’s Upper Hill, artworks fill the walls.
The hotel’s architect-cum-interior designer imagined a hotel that has European flavour blended with local influence when it was being built. Christian Lundwall Arkitektkonto, a Swede, was the architect and he has designed hotels since 1981.
At the hotel, a two-legged wire antelope baffles many visitors with stone carvings strewn across the lounge area while the staircase walls are decorated with a chain-link of gourds with pelican head carvings attached to them.
“Our intention was to ground this hotel as a special global product with its own identity. This is done by giving the artworks prominence in all spaces from walls, doors and ceilings,” said Mary Wanjohi, the hotel’s marketing and communications manager.
Some of the artists who created sculptures for Radisson Blu include Kevin Oduor who did a Maasai artwork.
In the restaurant’s kitchen, scooped-out logs hold buns bringing out the feel of a traditional African kitchen inside a luxury hotel. Woven winnowing trays, wooden spoons and folks act as wall decor.
The Maasai shuka (sarong) has also found a space in high-end hotels. Ms Wanjohi says the Maasai shuka gives a ‘homey’ ambience.
“I fell in love with the Maasai shuka and deliberately brought it out abundantly on my walls next to and within lifts, bars, as well as inside rooms to affirm Kenya’s beautiful people,” Mr Bakhoo says.
The father-of-two interrupts our conversation atop the fourth floor balcony of the Eagle Restaurant and Bar to light his pipe. He smokes it briefly before he starts talking about the neighbouring park.
“The stretch of land neighbouring the park ought to have been reserved for hotels and tourism entertainment spots where people could pay to view wild animals before returning to the city, seven kilometres away. We could construct a watering hole within the park next to our hotel so as to attract more wild animals,” he says.
Mr Bakhoo says he did not import any interior furnishings like most high-end hotels and homeowners.
Room with tree
He runs the property with his son which he started with his three friends, Bobby Jandu of Allied Plumbers, Mso Dave Bola, a Zambian and Nazir Noobin, a businessman. The four raised funds for the repurchase of the Ole Sereni property, then owned by the US Government as its Kenyan embassy. They decided to transform the property into a hotel through a loan from a local bank.
In the hotel’s executive meeting room on fourth floor, he has erected an acacia tree.
“Elders deliberating on intense matters met under a tree and this room helps visitors enjoy a similar experience during meetings,” he says.