Suzanne takes us half way around the world to KENYA... sharing
in the local customs and soaking up design inspiration at every turn!
OUT OF AFRICA
As I continue to work on my third book with Rizzoli, I’ve been reflecting on my previous books and revisiting the projects that went into them. One particularly special project that has inspired me lately is the chapter from TIMELESS STYLE titled “Organic,” which captures a project we completed for friends at the Sirikoi Game Lodge in Kenya. This project was an adventurous chapter in my life filled with new design challenges and beautiful memories…
The Lodge is surrounded by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and is known for its beauty, wildlife viewing, gourmet food, excellent service… and also it is where Prince William proposed to Kate, which I of course found incredibly exciting!
We made several trips to Kenya during the design process, each one more inspiring than the last. From the wildlife adventures, to the amazing culture, kind people, and beauty of the resort, it was a once in a lifetime experience. The clients are also great friends of ours, so lots and lots of fun was had!
While this was one of the most special projects we have been able to design, it was also one of the most challenging… but not in a way you might imagine! When working internationally, there are so many logistics that require a very intense and meticulous level of detail… unlike an install in the States, there is not a Bed, Bath, and Beyond right down the road in case you’ve forgotten a pillow cover!
Our team worked diligently to ensure all items were on the container, all of the electrical had been converted to the English standard… we were certain we had checked every box on our installation list! We planned our travel and the installation around when we were told our container had arrived in Africa… what we had not been told was that Somalian pirates had recently begun hijacking a number of the container ships crossing through that region! Low and behold we arrive in Africa, jet lagged but eager to begin, only to find that OUR container had been hijacked! By pirates! And then repossessed and held captive by the South African government! I remember thinking, is this a movie? This couldn’t possibly be really happening! It was truly shocking… but often times in situations like these, so far out of our own control, you just have to smile, laugh, and figure out how to move forward. Through a series of phone conversations, we learned that our clients could pay a fee to have the government release the container, which did not actually arrive to Kenya for another month.
We were now in Kenya with nothing to unload, nothing to install, so we decided to make the best of the situation and go with our clients to Nairobi for the craft and artisan fair in Karen. It is so amazing how often times when things do not go as planned, you are forced to take a different path and discover new inspiration. That is what happened in Karen. We rode in a Jeep with a guide carrying a rifle and traveled to the most interesting places to see local artisans and really became immersed in the culture.
Not only did we have the most wonderful time exploring and interacting with the local artists, but we found the most fabulous indigenous art and accessories for the home. The unexpected delay which led to this trip suddenly became so worthwhile, and today I couldn’t image the home without the pieces we found… each one added an incredible and very important layer of dimension to the design of the home.
When you’re in another country doing design work, it makes you feel vulnerable… because as a designer, you really do become so dependent on your resources and the industry people you work with on a regular basis… the positive of facing a challenge like this is that it really stretches you and challenges you to do new research, find new inspiration, and do your best work.
An example of this that really stands out to me is the ostrich egg light fixture we found to hang above the dining table… it is made out of REAL ostrich eggs… it became one of my favorite pieces of the project, although I do not think it would meet code in the US! But it brings that important sense of character and personality that makes the home feel special and authentic…
I think what designers love about the work we do is that every day is an interesting day. What I’ve found is that when we find ourselves in these challenging situations, it is important to try and find the positive and understand how it can be a learning experience…and in the end you have these amazing stories to share… I think that’s what designers love about their work… there is so much dimension in what we do and the challenges we continue to face every day!