By margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 24, 2017)
Twenty years ago, Dana Seidenberg was looking for a place to live when a friend brought her to an overgrown garden on Loresho Ridge. Nestled deep inside the garden (which hadn’t been tamed for many months) he introduced her to an old dilapidated stone house that had been deserted and apparently left to rot.
To her the house looked like a ‘shipwreck’ but to her friend, Kimani Gacheru, the place was more like a ‘tabla rasa’ that could be rehabbed and designed according to her needs, dreams and specifications.
Plus, as he was a part-time furniture maker as well as a quantity surveyor, Kimani promised to help her make the place a home uniquely her own.
Dana couldn’t resist. So over the next 20 years she not only rehabbed the house with Kimani’s help. She filled it with all her favorite things, starting with her books, all of which are carefully shelved and found in practically every room of her two-story house.
Lined up encyclopedically in polished wooden bookcases, most of which were made by Kimani, her books are just one of the many items that make her home uniquely her own.
But Kimani’s contribution to the house, besides the beautiful rehabbing of both the floors and the vaulted ceilings in solid wood, is an array of home furnishings made from wooden tree stumps and roots. They include a slew of sturdy dark wooden tables and chairs which add an earthy elegance to both the interiors as well as the ground floor veranda.
It’s in that veranda, which leads into the front hall and the large ‘dystopic’ painting by the late Omosh Kindeh, that one gets the first hint of Dana’s affinity for organic art. For Kimani isn’t the only artist whose works Dana treasures.
She’s got a special affinity for wood sculptures by Elijah Ogira and Irene Wanjiru, which one will find not only on Dana’s front patio but literally all over the house.
She’s also got one room full of indigenous musical instruments which she inherited from her late husband, Solomon…..
But Solomon’s not the only one from whom Dana’s inherited a slew of lovely things. Both her grandmothers left her beautiful antiques which she discretely displays, such as the sterling silver teapot and cutlery which come out for special guests.
Otherwise, Dana takes pride in having designed most of her sofas and bedroom sets in sleek and simple styles, assembled to her taste by carpenters in Dagoretti. For upholstery she’s used beautiful hand-woven textiles, most of which come from West Africa, such as mud cloth from Mali. The fabrics are stitched locally and shaped into cushions which enhance the décor of every upstairs bedroom and cover the wicker sofas as well.
Dana admits she’s loved shopping for home furnishings which are hand-made, be they baskets, textiles, ceramic tea sets, sisal carpets or hand-carved sculptures by Ogira and Wanjiru.
‘Having grown up in the West [the US] where most home furnishings are machine-made, I love the opportunity I’ve had to acquire items made by hand,” she says.
The one room where machines are conspicuous as well as utilitarian is Dana’s kitchen. That’s where she’s got the most modern gas stove and double-doored fridge as well as an electric blender that she uses every day to make fresh juices which are part of her daily health and fitness regime.
So while her home may not win awards for being ‘modern’ or Afro-chic, it’s a place that reflects the multiple worlds that Dana has occupied over the years. It’s also the space that her friend Kimani foresaw would be a home uniquely her own.