WORDS Biddi Rorke IMAGES Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
Characterised by classic forms and strict proportions, this beautiful Swahili-styled villa on the Kilifi coast is a study in symmetry.
It’s an extraordinary stretch of land: six acres of Kilifi coastline on a clifftop overlooking Sirai Beach, thick with ancient baobabs and leading down to white sand so soft it squeaks beneath bare feet. At its centre, surrounded by landscaped tropical gardens, is a stately private home for a 12-strong blended family. The main building comprises a downstairs dining area and separate formal lounge, connected by a colossal, partially-covered outdoor seating area. This is topped by a palatial master suite, upstairs study and lounge.
A series of interleading courtyards fan out from this central point, leading to sleeping quarters in two separate wings and affording the owners voluminous yet cohesive living space. As architect Nick Plewman explains, the entire building is arranged around the central oversized, semi-outdoor sunken lounge that allows the family and guests to make the most of the temperate climate. “The main circulation moves out laterally from there and a long colonnade runs through the site to connect the living areas.”
Material choices, informed by the vernacular use of coral stone, Lamu plaster and makuti thatch, allow this private residence to settle comfortably into its remarkable landscape. A key consideration of the build was harnessing the best of the two prevailing winds that circulate in the area. “The stately tower and vertical slits in the upper levels induce vertical air flow, drawing up the cooling monsoon during the hot season,” explains Nick.
These simple yet effective elements also make a suitable nod to the architectural style of the traditional Arabic stone houses found on nearby Lamu island. Another well-considered adoption of Arabic architecture lies in the use of brise-soleil screens that form a strong narrative throughout the home. These fretwork screens – made from a selection of brass, plastered concrete and timber – aren’t just whimsical decoration. They’re hardworking elements that allow for privacy and air flow.
Exterior walls, plastered in natural lime, bound with egg white and polished with beeswax, offer a natural burnished lustre to the site. And this bleached-bone tone continues seamlessly inside where, sheltered from the heat of the African sun, it’s all about natural textures and raw linens, in a colour palette informed by the surrounding baobabs. “Artisanal pieces were sourced from Kenya, Morocco, India and South Africa, yet the home feels unmistakably Kenyan,” says Chris Browne of Fox Browne Creative, tasked with the project. “The interiors are rooted in Swahili design that captures the languorous ambience of the coast.”
Tucked into an estuary leading to a creek, Kilifi is a lesser-visited stretch of the Kenyan coastline that has largely escaped the major developments that have changed the face of Mombasa. And this genteel home, with its well-proportioned arches and fortress-like demeanour, has the feeling of a natural and authentic addition to the landscape.
For more information about the villa, visit siraihouse.com.