Welcome to Mary’s Minimalist House
Home atop One West skyscraper has lots of art pieces, bold colours, writes Margaretta wa Gacheru
Kenyan artist Mary Collis has kept a relatively low profile since she and Carol Lees closed Rahimtulla Modern Art Museum (Ramoma) which they had co-founded back in 2000.
But that’s not to say her creativity died. On the contrary, over the past year, she’s put all her artistic energies into designing and rebuilding the flat she recently moved to in Nairobi’s Westlands estate with her husband Alan.
It’s as if she created a miniature Ramoma in her new home high atop her One West skyscraper flat. For even before you reach her front door, you can see Theresa Musoke’s circular sculpture inviting you to come in. You’ll also see the solid wood sculpted hippo standing guard, like a sentinel keeping watch over the artist and her spouse Alan (who also manages the Rahimtulla Trust).
But from the moment you step inside her new home, you can’t help being struck by the modernity of its elegant, minimalist style.
What’s so bedazzling is the entire décor: everything from the pearly-white high ceilings filled with recessed LED lighting to the solid wood panel floors to the living room, dining room and breakfast bar tastefully arranged in one large rectangular room.
Then just beyond the living room (which has a Jutte Gavida multi-texture ottoman as its attractive centre piece) there are floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors which lead your eyes out to a beautiful view of Mount Kenya (on a clear day) and Karura Forest (now hidden somewhat behind the ever-increasing skyscrapers) and a balcony where there’s cozy seating for two.
“Alan and I have a cocktail out there every evening at dusk,” says Mary rather wistfully since she can’t help being in awe of how much has changed since contractors initially arrived at the flat and gutted it room by room.
“We had to start over from scratch,” she adds, admitting that it’s taken many months and assistance from a friend who helped her keep the contractors focused on following Mary’s instructions.
“But the design was all mine,” says the former interior designer-turnedabstract expressionist painter whose artistic aptitude is apparent in every detail of her four-bedroom flat [the fifth one got transformed into functional storage space].
Mary’s mark is most colourfully manifest on the walls and in her elongated wooden bookcase. The walls are filled with her paintings, first seen upon entering her living room where she shares visual space with her sister Gillian whose paintings hang above some of the exquisite glass pieces that Mary made in a workshop at Kitengela Hot Glass.
Her affinity for glass is also apparent in the circular shape of her dining room table, which is surrounded by multicoloured heavy plastic chairs that she says replicate the ultra-modern Carmel furniture.
“Carmel’s chairs run a thousand dollars apiece, but I got mine for Sh3,000 on Mombasa Road,” she says, clearly pleased she could find such a bargain.
“Aren’t they comfortable!” she adds affirmatively as we sit taking tea before she escorts me from room to room, starting with a kitchen which also has another wall-to-wall mark of Mary’s. This time it’s ‘wall paper’ printed with another one of her cheerfully luminous paintings.
Complete with a big brand new fridge, gas cooker and plenty of marble-top working surfaces, the kitchen has a pantry and annex in the next room where there’s a convenient washer-dryer combo as well as the storage space.
Meanwhile, Mary makes room for her fellow artists’ works as well as her own. They’re in the corridors and computer room which doubles as an art library filled with books about Monet and Modigliani, Rothko and Rembrandt, Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
Indeed, even her bathrooms are filled with art by Kenyans, including James Mbuthia, Richard Kimathi, Wanyu Brush and Morris Foit as well as her own award-winning photographer daughter Mia and her sister Gillian.
But perhaps the crowning glory of Mary’s interior design is in the bedrooms where each one has a different colour ‘coding,’ each featuring one of Mary’s meter-square abstract paintings, the design of which is copied on cloth and reconfigured as bed cushions and comfy upholstered chairs.
“I still have to finish decorating the bathrooms,” says Mary, who adds there is one room her flat lacks. And that’s space for her painter’s studio. Fortunately, she’s created a new studio in a friend’s backyard where this exceptional artist can get back to the business of creating contemporary art.
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