Wel­come to Mary’s Min­i­mal­ist House

Home atop One West sky­scraper has lots of art pieces, bold colours, writes Mar­garetta wa Gacheru

Business Daily (Kenya) - - THIS WEEK -

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.

Pain­ter’s room

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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