Nairobi homeowners are converting residences into hotels


Nairobi homeowners are converting residences into hotels

Karen Gables at 76 Mbagathi Ridge during the July 15, 2022 interview. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Off Marula Lane in Karen, a corner of Nairobi characterized by calm and an abundance of green space, is the Cold Springs Boutique Hotel. Its doors open to a colorful, outdoor urban oasis that flanks the home’s entry.

If being here awakens in you a feeling of belonging, of conviviality, it is probably because it was once a home; Stephen Ndong’s parents’ retirement home which was later turned into a hotel. If it sounds heavenly, it just reflects the owners love for nature and the outdoors.

“My father is an architect and he was actually the one who designed the house 15 years ago,” Mr. Ndong’ tells me. We are seated by a large window overlooking a manicured lawn, dotted with hand-picked trees that are as old as the house itself – save for one, an acacia tree – and a thick band of outdoor foliage and flowering plants surrounding the walls of the house.

Potted palms line the large pool on one side and the day beds on the other. At one end of the pool is a thatched-roof bistro. Behind it is one of the spaces Ndong’ likes on this property which sits on 0.6 acres of land.

“My corner of reflection”, he calls it. Venturing into hospitality in this way wasn’t exactly a plan for this family. But it wasn’t strange or surprising either. They had traveled extensively and from their experiences knew they had something to offer.

“As we left to build our own lives away from home, the silence grew louder, the rooms colder and the house a little big for both of them. [parents]“, explains the 32-year-old player. The Ndong’ family dipped their feet in the waters of hospitality by first running their home as a guesthouse. With the positive response, Cold Springs was born in 2013.


Karen Gables at 76 Mbagathi Ridge during the July 15, 2022 interview. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

A short distance from here is Karen Gables. Owned by Christian Benard, it is a cheerful and spacious Dutch-style house that sits on a sloping garden whose end is a small slice of the Mbagathi River.

Sharing Economy

Describing himself as a nature builder, Benard built the house in 2008 as a family home. “During my studies in Holland, I lived in a 900-year-old house. We had to fix something here and there from time to time to make it habitable. This is where my passion for construction was born. I continued to build bars and restaurants later in life,” says Benard of his design and construction origin.

Being hospitable, the Dutchman always had people staying, some for months at a time. Seeing the potential of the sharing economy, he started giving away parts of his house to guests who eventually became friends, and now lives in “a nice little corner” of his house with his young family.

“I wanted to create a home away from home. A space where the only time you are inside is when you are sleeping,” he says. And he succeeded. The 1.5 acre lot is designed for guests to spend some quality time in the fresh air, under the towering trees in the garden.

With multiple fireplaces and cozy seating areas, it has a welcoming vibe. Near the rectangular-shaped swimming pool, he has set up a small bar which makes the exterior even more inviting, whatever the weather.

There are several reasons why owners convert their residences for the hospitality industry. Some seek to use the empty rooms once their children are gone. Others, due to the minimal investment required, it is a convenient way to get started in the business.

Plus, it’s a wonderful way to travel the world hosting people and also an opportunity to earn passive income.

It took two years and 15 million shillings to transform Ndong’s family home into a hotel that meets international standards. Working with local artisans, they created headboards for all the beds, planted gardens, chose and pinned the artwork displayed in the bedrooms, waxed the tiled floors and installed a water feature with a small garden which is seen from all corners of the floor. floor.

From this, nine en-suite bedrooms have emerged, each with a different expression of what it means to be at home. “The honeymoon suite was my favorite. It included a jacuzzi, sauna, massage shower and tanning room. We are planning to install a custom outdoor shower.”

The hotel also has a modern coffee lounge, decorated with elegant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The pillars inside and outside the house and the veranda rails were molded with fiberglass for the columns and the forest paths.

There is a conference center for 40 people, a small gym, a bar and a restaurant and a kitchen which serves mainly continental food and internet connection. To finance this business, the family used their savings.

“Managing the hotel has also allowed us to create employment opportunities. Currently, we employ 18 people,” adds the hotel and tourism graduate. The family has a similar setup to Homa Bay, the Cold Springs Homa Bay.

Comfortable, quirky, inviting and full of character are the words to describe the eight en-suite bedrooms designed at Karen Gables. All around the luxurious lodge, Benard has created a rustic look using a mahogany ceiling and personally chosen bespoke pieces.

The interior is filled with antiques, furniture, and artwork from West Africa and Asia, while the exterior contains pieces from East Africa.

He points to two seats on the veranda that hold a special place in his heart. “It’s an exact replica of the chairs my dad sits on back home in Holland,” says the former professional farmer.

Further down the Mbagathi River is the spa treatment area and a small vegetable garden that serves its guests fresh vegetables. Beets and celery give him energy every morning. The investment is millions of shillings, but being able to do most things has saved her money.

Sense of belonging

Karen Gables has gained popularity purely through word of mouth, with guests coming from all over the world.

“One of the advantages we have is the ability to create a sense of belonging. Today’s travelers want to stay in places that give them the opportunity to engage with the locals. We are also able to provide personalized service experiences to customers,” shares Ms. Carys Ashley, manager at Karen Gables. The luxury lodge employs 17 people.

“We don’t organize any events. Just stay and it’s a deliberate choice,” she says. Room charges start at $231 for bed and breakfast. Over the years, due to its intimate setting, location and high level of privacy it affords its guests, Cold Springs has hosted weddings, who’s who receptions, bridal parties and birth, photo shoots and conferences.

“We engage our guests in a personal way from the moment they arrive through top-notch service, sights and sounds, food and drink, and the use of design to create Instagram-worthy spaces,” explains the entrepreneur. There are risks associated with changing domicile to other uses. Just like the rest of the world, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on these two companies.

“We recouped our return on investment in 2014, largely due to our aggressive marketing approach. The pandemic has changed the way we do business and we had to make some painful changes. Fortunately, the fog is dissipating,” says Ndong’.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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