Growing Penchant For Antiques

Niche Decor
An 18th century home telephone at Niche Decor. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG 

Pacing the corridors of Niche Décor’s showroom in Nairobi is like walking through different eras in history. With one sweep of the eye, you are mystically transported from the Georgian to the Edwardian era, gliding through the Victorian period before landing in the Jazz age.

This gallery, located along Kabarnet Lane, is a collection of classical artworks, antique furniture and an assortment of quirky if splendid household decorations.

From exquisite baroque paintings to rare crockery of the Royal Albert kind and Villeroy & Boch, and a wide array of awe-inspiring wallpapers, Niche Décor is a place where all medieval and recent masterpieces converge into one complete wonderment.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that this is the first and so far only such shop dedicated to vintage décor in the whole country. The proprietor, Rose Karimi, is a Kenyan-German antique collector and dealer.

On why she decided to set up this gallery, Rose says she imagined Kenyan homes adorned with a touch of diversity and chefs-d’oeuvre from elsewhere in the world.


‘‘The spacious rooms we have, the decorative materials we use and the colours we love as Kenyans constitute the perfect scenery that, not only to highlights items of antiquity, but also creates the perfect harmony in our homes as well,’’ she says.

Rose argues that Kenyans are an adventurous lot and that more people today have “an excellent taste for décor’’ and that they are more aware of ‘‘what item to pair with what for a chic look”.

‘‘Kenyans are always open to new experiences. If an item is appealing, people will pay money for it. We only need a little more inspiration,’’ she notes.

This is where Rose comes in: availing items of antiquity and providing information on their proper use for décor.

Dexterity and greater care must be exercised to achieve the desired effect, she advises.

‘‘Avoid mixing items from too many epochs. Preferably, choose one style that fascinates you and enhance it,’’ she says, warning that too many pieces from different eras create a jumble.

‘‘A Chippendale sofa, for instance, will hardly go together with an art deco table,’’ she says.

Decorating only minimally is another rule of the thumb.

‘‘Don’t overload your room. Most collectors tend to exhibit all they have collected in one room at the same time. Remember less is more.’’

Like with other décor techniques, colour scheming is fundamental to antiques.

‘‘Many antiques, especially furniture, come dark, earthy colours. Paring such with a screaming flower vase, a golden framed painting or bright cushions works wonders.’’

You can also pair antiques with modern pieces, Rose says, noting that alternative advice is often misguided. Blending a relic with another only creates monotony, she observes.

‘‘Don’t be afraid to place your 60’’ flat screen TV adjacent to a 1950s vitrine flower on top of an antique German oak sideboard. The blend of old and modern is magical,’’ she says.

Finding a truly unique item is hard enough. But to find a willing seller is a different ball game. Private sales, auctions and antiques retailers in Germany are the main sources of relics, Rose says.

‘‘Most of the pieces such as furniture come from a former era, meaning they’re no longer in production,’’ she explains. ‘‘Availability of such depends with how many pieces were produced, who own them and their willingness to dispose them and the worldwide demand.’’

Throughout history, buffs have bought antiques as an investment. Worldwide, collectors are known to hunt for rare pieces with the zeal of a bounty hunter. This trend is on the rise, and has only made the search for these gems harder.

Some crystals, porcelains, Chippendales and chesterfields, Rose says, are in the market only for a handful of minutes before they find a buyer.

‘‘A search could take months and even years, and cost a lot of money, especially if it involves relying on agents. You’re likely to never find any meaningful item even after spending money on the search,’’ she notes.

If you hope to invest in antique décor, you must be willing to part with a fortune, Rose says.

‘‘Looked at in a different way, antique is cheap because it lasts forever,’’ she reasons. ‘‘To find decent antique furniture could take years. Those who have them are always unwilling to let go. If you’re lucky to find really good quality set, you must spend a decent amount of money. These are simple laws of demand and supply,’’ she adds.

‘‘Furniture from common wood and in regular designs can only last for so long. There’s also only so much that you can buy with a small amount of money,’’ she notes.

Rose cautions buyers from focusing on the price rather than quality when out to buy antiques.

‘‘If you’re looking to invest in an item that will last for generations, then antiques is your ideal go. But if you’re just hoping to spend some money, this isn’t the right type of investmewnt for you,’’ she warns.

Dealers and collectors have one thing in common: they are inspired by the delicacy of these items. The subtler the item, the bigger the price it fetches.

The hardest part of this job? Dealing with ambitious expectations of antique enthusiasts features top of the list.

‘‘It once took me nearly one year to get a specific set of Gobelin chairs that a regular client had asked for. It took even longer to find a complete Royal Albert dinner set with the exact specifications that the client wanted,’’ she relates.

Delivering an item ordered by a client is Rose’s greatest delight. Trust in the dealer to deliver, she says, is the premise upon which this type of trade flourishes. Sometimes though some wishes remain unfulfilled.