Client: Suno Kay Osterweis
Architect and Interiors: Claudio Modola
Suno Kay Osterweis first visited Lamu, off the northern coast of Kenya, in 1996 after a brief safari. She was immediately seduced by the island’s heady mix of stylish, easy living and the eclectic crowd of regular visitors. She returned often eventually becoming acquainted with Claudio Modola, an architectural designer who practices in Lamu and lives on the neighboring island of Manda. In 1998, she acquired a narrow, steep plot of land facing the Indian Ocean, and quickly enlisted him to help her fulfill her dream of building a house of her own there.
Modola worked for weeks on sketches and eventually presented his client with a scheme that would fit the site’s topography and unusual dimensions. A fountain, to mark the transition from the outside to the inside, was to be at the entrance; the living spaces and master bedroom were to be placed on the upper levels to take advantage of the views and the ocean breezes. The ceilings were to be 23 feet high, and a swimming pool would be perched nearly 20 feet above the ground. The style would be inspired by the island’s Islamic architecture
Osterweis’ and Modola’s vision proved a difficult proposition. Building on Lamu is never easy. This centuries old island, with an old town that is a UNESCO protected Cultural Heritage Site, is accessible only by boat or air, and cars are not allowed. Thousands of blocks (composed in part of coral topsoil and cement) had to be fabricated on Manda and transported in small boats across the channel’s often rough seas. The site presented its own challenge: Hundreds of tons of sand had to be removed before the foundations could be dug.
Photographs by Tim Beddow
Despite the obstacles, the house was finished almost two years after construction began, and Osterweis focused her attention on the finishes and interiors. For the former, she replicated the traditional plasterwork of the local Swahili culture found on many of the island’s buildings – a process which, using local artisans took two and a half years, producing surfaces of superb sensuality and subtle color.
Most of the furnishings were sourced locally on the island, using salvaged driftwood, and local craftsmen.