It’s the last month of the year already. Is it just me or does Christmas seem to be creeping up more surreptitiously than normal? I went to England last month and failed to buy pressies for any of my immediate family. Mistake. The lack of gifts didn’t seem to matter last week but now I’m increasingly uncomfortable about the situation.
Added to the usual festive panic, there’s another December madness that descends every year and that is the sudden urge to make interior design changes to the house. There are 11 other perfectly good months in the year when I could take time to consider curtains that need refreshing, a room that needs painting or a sofa that needs purchasing, but it always happens in December. Why? Because the family are coming! December, January, Feb and even March are visitor months where relatives feel the need to escape the UK winter. And who can blame them? But for me, one glance around the house after the November rains subside tells me that this house looks decidedly dowdy and even the most valiant attempt at Christmas decorating won’t hide it.
A major problem with undertaking any kind of household furniture updating is that December is the busiest month of the year and added to that, many businesses close mid month, so getting anything done is a mad dash. I haven’t exactly had sofas and beds delivered on Christmas eve, but not far off. I find beds a tricky issue as we only ever need to lay on 4 extra beds for Christmas, so where should they live during the rest of the year? And sadly, finding a sofa bed in Nairobi is nigh on impossible.
So how much does it cost?
Which brings me to the cost. The reason why I am normally happy to turn a blind eye to dowdiness is because the expense of buying fabric or furnishings in Nairobi makes your eyes water. We moved to Africa without a single stick of furniture many years ago, so as a result, our household furniture comprises of a ragtag collection of side of the road offerings, with the odd splash out store bought purchase thrown in. When estimating the worth of our ‘household contents’ for our insurance policy, I realise with pain that absolutely nothing we own is worth a bean, but to replace it all would cost a fortune.
Last week I bought curtain fabric. It was finally time to bite the bullet. The plain white guest room curtains that I inherited from the last person to live in this house 14 years ago, look too horribly forlorn for words and my husband recently put his hand through our secondhand (mitumba) bedroom curtains that I bought from Toi market 6 years ago. So I went out and bought fabric last week and goodness knows what the new curtains will look like once made up because the fabric choice was limited and the lighting in the store not good. The bedroom curtain fabric was bought in a sale and needed washing as it was actually filthy from hanging around the store (however, I was desperate enough to overlook this and deranged enough to then shove it in the washing machine – fortunately the fabric survived).
A major drawback is that you can’t buy ready-made curtains anywhere, so the whole thing is a process whereby you have to buy cloth, then budget for lining fabric then take it all to a tailor for making up. The fact that we have talented roadside tailors and carpenters in Nairobi is a godsend but still they are not cheap. I spent around 500/- per meter ($5 or £3.50) on curtain fabric, which is about the cheapest patterned/quality you can find plus the cost of lining (150/- to 250/- per meter), heading tape and labour (850 shillings per drop).
I’ve also been shopping around for a bed. A slightly bigger than single one for my teenage daughter who at 14 is now definitely adult size. Beds cost a fortune from the usual furniture stores here and that’s before you have even factored in the cost of the mattress. I realised that I had tossed out (or rather the gardener had willingly accepted) a perfectly good mattress last year that my eldest daughter had complained was painfully hard. Now that it’s time to buy another one, I want to weep. The starting price for a white, small double bed was 85,000 shillings ($850/£675) and that’s at the more reasonable end of the spectrum. I managed find a bed near to 60,000 shillings in a conventional furniture store but it was still too expensive. I’m now getting a ‘John Lewis’ bed (as in, I found a photo of a bed stocked by John Lewis above) made by a side of the road carpenter for 40,000 (£315) when online the cost is £175 and there will definitely be aspects of the end product that will be more ‘side of the road’ than ‘John Lewis’.
We have wooden floors throughout the house with the odd carpet square, off-cut or mitumba rug that now definitely cannot be replaced as we are about to get a new puppy (#notjustforchristmas). I bought most of them nearly a decade ago and prefer to go for light colours because of the dark floors. This means that we live with a lot of stains and try resolutely to ignore them. My best find was a massive, wool kilim rug in pastel pale shades for sale on the side of the road for 7,000/ (£55) about 10 years ago. You can buy imported Afghan and Persian rugs and carpets for anything upward of around 50,000/- ($500) for a good size. Alternatively Tile & Carpet Centre sell plain coloured carpet squares, rugs and/or carpet on a roll.
Last December, with a sudden rush of blood to the head, I decided that we needed a new kitchen table. I chose a fanciful oval shape with central pedestal to seat 6, from a (recommended) chap/carpenter located under the hot sun, half way down Ngong Road (see video below). I agonised over the dimensions. Left ordering it to the last minute. Nagged to make sure it arrived before our Christmas guests. First it wobbled (to be honest, with the best will in the world, furniture made on compacted, side of the road mud is often wobbly), so we had to get the carpenters back in to get it standing straight, then my daughter leant on one end and one of the table supports snapped. Back to the drawing board. I think that that the table cost around 25,000/- ($250).
You can get sofas made by side-of-the-road upholsterers for around 35,000/- (2 seater)-45,000 (3 seater) Kenya shillings including fabric ($350-450 or £270-£350). Don’t expect any industry standard ‘fire retardant’ specifications for these. A couple of Christmases ago we spent around 180,000 shillings on an L shaped sofa from Palacina Interiors which works well, but the L shape is always more cumbersome that you might imagine and the price tag was huge. (L shaped sofas now cost from 265,000 shillings/$2,650 or £2,040 at Palacina).
Furnishing your home in Nairobi – Top Tips
- Expect to pay at least double the price for furniture to the price you might pay back home in Europe or the US. Many mainstream furniture store headquarters are located along Mombasa road near the airport, then have small showrooms in Westlands or in major malls.
- Do risk going for ‘side of the road’ options but do your best to haggle the price and manage expectations. Best to follow personal recommendations. Send orders back if they are not good enough.
- Look out for ‘expat leaving’ bargains if possible and make use of buy/sell websites if you dare! (Nairobi expat marketplace Facebook page, Xpat link, Kenya Buzz OLX trading website).
- Be adventurous. The side-of-the-road tailors and carpenters can work miracles if you have patience and creativity. For instance, stools, lampshades, upholstered chairs and sofas can all be tailor-made to your specifications and will be original.
- Remember that when you order in fabric or furniture via the below stores it comes from overseas, so you will be at the mercy of delivery dates which could vary from 2-8 weeks and could extend far further due to unexpected delays.
Furniture Stores in Nairobi – (links provided)
- Furniture Palace – Mombasa Road &The Hub Karen. $$
- Tile and Carpet Centre – Mombasa Road & Lavington. $$
- Odds and Ends – Mombasa Road (modern and Indian/antique). $$
- Palacina Interiors – Hurlingham. $$$
- White Elephant Trading (restored British antique furniture/vintage) – Karen. $$$
- Trade Routes Furniture Collection – Loresho Ridge. $$$
- Henry West Furniture Ltd – Mombasa road. $$$$
- Italian Design Furniture – Muthaiga. $$$
- BoConcept – ABC Place, Westlands (is BoConcept still open?). $$$
- Speigel Interiors – Mobil Plaza, Muthaiga (also stocks imported fabrics). $$$$
- Sunny Daze Furniture – Westlands/Peponi Road $$$
- Nakumatt Supermarket/Superstore $$
Upholstery and Curtain Fabric
- Tile and Carpet Centre – Mombasa Road and Lavington. $$
- The Fabric Gallery – Yaya Centre. $$$
- Nishit & Co – School Lane, Westlands. $$
- Vitendi Blinds – Westlands (located next door to Nishit). $$$
- Speigel Interiors – Muthaiga. $$$$
- Curtain World – Village Market. $$
- Nakumatt – various branches including Junction. They will also tailor curtains. $$
Please let me know if I have forgotten or omitted anything or anyone in the comments. Good recommendations in the comments section welcome!
Image credits: Unsplash.com