This Designer’s Nairobi Apartment Is How You Design for ‘Joyful Living’

published Aug 1, 2022
Homes Around the World

This Designer’s Nairobi Apartment Is How You Design for ‘Joyful Living’

published Aug 1, 2022
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Bedrooms
Square feet
1615
Sq ft
1615
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Name: Ash Appleton   
Location: Westlands — Nairobi, Kenya
Size: 1615 square feet
Type of Home: Two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment across three floors
Years lived in: 6 years, owned

Ash Appleton approaches design with joy. Trained as a lawyer in international environmental law, Ash also works as a documentary photographer for UN organizations, charities, and NGOs, and shares her joyful living design approach with clients around the world through her Virtual Room Revamp services and her YouTube channel. Originally from Kenya, she splits her time between London and this two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Nairobi’s vibrant Westlands’ neighborhood, which she has been renovating to reflect her “modern, bold, bright, blended, and whimsical” sense of style since purchasing in 2016.

Credit: Brian Siambi

“I basically manifested an apartment with a roof terrace and friendly, interesting neighbors, in a vibrant part of the city. Everything fell into place. I found my place through an estate agent (realtor), who also happened to be the developer. It was over budget and ideally, I wanted three bedrooms. I grabbed it because of the potential I saw in the open rooftop space, which I later converted into my home office studio,” Ash explains. “I’d looked at two similar apartments in the same development but they didn’t have a nice view. I did a bit of detective work, found out who the developer was (who happened to be the realtor who’d shown me the first apartment). I approached them asking if they could find me an apartment overlooking the fields. They sold me one of theirs, which they were renting out.”

Credit: Brian Siambi

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style:  My design style is: Africa-modern, bold, bright, blended, and whimsical. I’m all about celebrating the energy of modern Africa in a fresh and intriguing way. My mantra is “joyful living,” which means creating comfortable spaces that are inviting, quirky, and light-filled. I usually design uplifting, happy, and relaxing spaces with touches of humor. I have a good eye for color, which I love to offset against a brilliant white backdrop. I enjoy blending design styles: traditional and modern; old, new, and custom-made; high-end and high-street. These elements all make up my signature style.  

Credit: Brian Siambi

Inspiration: I take a lot of inspiration from my African heritage, but I steer clear of the clichéd depictions of “African interior design,” such as tribal motifs, monochrome, rustic and safari-inspired interiors etc. I get so much inspiration from the places I have traveled to (both landscapes and urban spaces), modern art, hotels, restaurants, graphic design, street art, and culture.

Credit: Brian Siambi

Favorite Element: I love the view, particularly from my rooftop terrace. I look over trees and school playing fields. It’s relaxing and  grounding.

Credit: Brian Siambi

Biggest Challenge: The layout of the open plan living room was definitely the biggest challenge. There was this awful overhead cabinet that blocked the light into the kitchen for the dining area. If you were in the kitchen you basically couldn’t talk properly to the person on the other side. It was installed to conceal the clothes line in the laundry area, off the back of the kitchen. I maxed the space by pushing the kitchen back and incorporating the laundry area into the new kitchen. I now have a decent-sized kitchen with a breakfast bar. After pushing the kitchen back, I was able to flip the dining table so that it now sits horizontal rather than vertical. The whole room is so much more spacious and open now.

Credit: Brian Siambi

The interiors throughout the apartment were done very cheaply, by the developer, and hadn’t aged well. I inherited an endless sea of magnolia, badly stained wood, and cheap sanitary ware. The apartment had absolutely zero personality.

Credit: Brian Siambi

Proudest DIY: I l love the orange paint effect in the guest bathroom. It looks like wallpaper. I designed it but had my painter mask it off and paint it on. I love the way it looks against the mosaic titles. It’s a modern take on an African motif.

Credit: Brian Siambi

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I converted the rooftop verandah into a studio, which I use as a photography studio as well. I also installed a mirror and barre so I can follow online barre classes.

Credit: Brian Siambi

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love all the original art in my apartment; it says so much about me, where I live, who I am, and what I love. I also have quite a few prints as well. I basically frame anything I find interesting and intriguing, postcards, brochures, exhibition flyers etc.

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have:

  • Make rooms work as hard as they can. I had a decent-sized downstairs WC, so I moved the washing machine in there and even left space in case I ever want to install a dryer. This space now doubles up as a WC/laundry room. My studio space is used for hosting occasional guests, desk work, photography, exercising, entertaining, relaxing, and watching movies on a projector. Use furniture that can be folded away, moved around etc. Install a sofa bed/couch rather than a bed in an extra room so that it can double up as a WFH office.
  • Always have an eye on potential, whether you are renting or buying. Think about how you can transform what you have to fit your needs. Focus on maximizing the space  you have. It could be as simple as adding a cheap partition board to break up the space — or installing an office zone in a corridor.
Credit: Brian Siambi
  • Have furniture custom made to fit the space. Built-ins maximize small spaces. Be ingenious so that you can easily dismantle and repurpose when you move. Make sure the furniture is the right size for the room and don’t cram too many bits and pieces in. Lots of furniture will make a space feel busy and small.
  • Make it light and bright so it feels more spacious and airier. Paint built-ins the same color as the walls so that they disappear and make the space feel bigger.  
Credit: Brian Siambi
  • Storage, storage, storage (concealed and open). Make sure you have a place for everything. Don’t hoard. Declutter ruthlessly.
  • Curate ornaments and decorative pieces into collections so that your scheme looks considered. Avoid over accessorizing.  
  • A color scheme and coordinated accessories will make a space feel bigger.  
Credit: Brian Siambi

Does your home reflect your home country/city in any way? Absolutely, my downstairs cloakroom is inspired by Lamu, which is on the northern coast of Kenya, and one of my all-time favorite places. My guest bathroom has Maasai vibes and the guest bedroom was inspired by Lake Baringo, Kenya (my second favorite place). I collect modern African art and love handmade ornaments made from recycled materials, etc. I also have references to British culture/art in my home to reflect my connection to both these countries. 

Credit: Brian Siambi

What are your favorite places to shop for home décor that can only be found in your country? I love the weekly Friday Maasai Market, at the Village Market, Nairobi. Spinners Web is also great for home decor items and textiles. The Kuona Trust is a haven for original art and decorative pieces and also a cool place to hang out and meet the artists who have their workshops there.

Credit: Brian Siambi

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Invest in original art for your home, avoid generic, mass-produced prints. This is the easiest way to personalize your home and make it cool and interesting. Art elevates any space and helps to bring a scheme together. You’ll always move with your art so it’s a quick fix for elevating drab, soulless spaces. And don’t rush… live with the space first, figure out what you like, what doesn’t work and why.

Resources:

Credit: Brian Siambi

ENTRYWAY

  • Bespoke brown wall console table — Designed by me, locally made 
  • Brass hardware on table — Classic Mouldings, Westlands, Nairobi
  • Wall Art (Photography)— Ash Appleton 
  • Metal suitcases  — The Conran Shop
Credit: Brian Siambi

LIVING ROOM

  • Gray sofa — Habitat UK
  • Sofa cushions on grey sofa — Graham and Green  
  • Cushions on yellow sofa — John Lewis 
  • Grey cabinet with coloured doors — IKEA  
  • White bookcase — IKEA  
  • Glass coffee table — Heals 
  • Yellow Sofa — Vintage, reupholstered in fabric from T&C Kenya 
  • Zebra print armchair & foot stool — Vintage, reupholstered in fabric from T&C Kenya 
  • Ceiling pendant (resprayed white) — Glow Lighting Kenya 
  • Turquoise locker — IKEA  
  • Wall Art (Photography) — Ash Appleton 
  • Wall mirror — Vintage 
  • Small wooden side table — Vintage 
  • TV cabinet — IKEA  
Credit: Brian Siambi

KITCHEN

  • MDF and particle board for bespoke cabinetry—  P J Bison
  • Wall and Floor tiles — CTM Kenya
  • Sanitaryware — T&C Kenya 
  • Farmhouse (Belfast sink) ASL Trading — Ramco Group 
  • Brass taps — Amazon
  • Kitchen appliances — Hotpoint 
  • Fridge — Samsung 
  • Integrated dishrack — Newmatic Appliance Kenya
  • Mirrored sunglasses above sink — Abode  
Credit: Brian Siambi

DINING ZONE

  • Ceiling pendant (resprayed white) — Glow Lighting Kenya 
  • Wall Art (Photography) —Ash Appleton 
  • Kartell Louis Ghost armchair — The Conran Shop
  • Kartell Louis Ghost table lamp — Selfridges
  • Pink corner cabinet — Vintage  
  • Turquoise mirror — Vintage
  • Black mirror — Designed by me, locally made 
  • Orange mirrored drinks tray — Designed by me, locally made 
  • Sideboard (Cedenza) table lamps — Vintage
  • Dining table and side board Ercol The Conran Shop
  • Dining chairs, VitraThe Conran Shop
  • Wool rug — Designed by me, handmade in Kenya
  • Breakfast bar stools — Tira Studio
Credit: Brian Siambi

LANDING

  • Blue half-moon chest of drawers — Designed by me, locally made 
  • Drawer handles — Anthropologie 
  • Grey circle rug — Mr Price, embellished by me with cotton fabric
  • Artwork — Circle Art
Credit: Brian Siambi

GUEST ROOM

Credit: Brian Siambi

STUDIO

  • Wooden desk— Vintage 
  • MDF Work top with wood inlay — Designed by me, locally made
  • Red Togo sofa by Ligne Roset— Heals 
  • Black Kartell Masters Chairs — John Lewis 
  • Orange Vitra chair— The Conran Shop
  • Table lamps — IKEA  
  • White bookcase  IKEA  
  • Floor lamp— The Conran Shop
  • Magnetic boards — Custom made in Nairobi 
  • Bespoke mirror and Barre — custom made 
  • White filing cabinets  IKEA  
  • Black filing cabinet — John Lewis 
  • Wrought iron table and chairs Made in Nairobi — (over 20 years old)
  • Orange chair cushions fabric — kite fabric from Amazon
  • Outdoor cushions — T&C Kenya 
  • Tableware plates — Carrefour Kenya 
  • Glassware — Kitengela, Kenya 
  • Umbrella — Originally yellow and recovered

Thanks Ash!

This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity. Share Your Style: House Tour & House Call Submission Form

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly wrote Masaai. It’s actually Maasai. We’ve updated it to be more accurate.