Amanda Sperber drops in on One Forty Eight, a boutique gem tucked in Karen and where the art and decor will make you want to treat the place as your own.
On first arrival at One Forty Eight, guests may feel the relaxed ambiance sits almost uncomfortably with the chichi decor – until you accept that the place is more whimsically decorated mansion than hotel. Opened in early 2017, One Forty Eight is an eight-room house with accompanying bungalow apartments, sleeping a total of 16, on a 2.5-acre plot of land in Langata, 15 minutes from the gate of Nairobi National Park.
“I wanted it to be very contemporary and very personalised,” says owner Elizabeth Fusco, who comes from Toronto, Canada. “Our vibe has been high quality, very bespoke service, very homey atmosphere and tiny, tiny, tiny amount of rooms.”
Fusco has lived in Kenya for more than 20 years, and, along with her husband, also owns Richards and River Camp in the Mara, as well as various other business ventures in the region, including a design shop.
She bought the house from Ana Trezebinski, widow of Tonio Trzebinski, a white Kenyan artist murdered in 2001. He was found dead next to his white Alfa Romeo outside the Karen home of his mistress, killed with a single shot to the heart. The murder has never been solved, and has given rise to comparisons with the fast-living “White Mischief” set of yore.
Tonio has left a lasting legacy on the house: his art is everywhere, on the walls of every room (the hotel serves as a de-facto glitzy storage container for much of his work). “I think it dictates the whole style of the hotel, having Tonio’s art hanging on the walls,” says Fusco. She describes it as a “Pan African” feel, with lightings and fixtures from Cairo, accents from Morocco and furniture upholstered in antique fabric from West Africa.
It’s important to Fusco that One Forty Eight stands on its own, however. Indeed, I knew nothing of the house’s previous owners before I stayed there. I suppose it would have added a layer of intrigue, but Fusco has succeeded in her goal: the hotel is a outstanding experience in itself.
The main entrance is expansive to the point that the massive paintings on the walls, wooden dhow tables, long green sea-glass chandelier and voluminous sofas seem small. There’s no concierge counter or any other such official trapping and you’ll probably feel comfortable popping off your shoes and treating the place as your own.
Patter up the slim staircase of the main house, and you’ll find each of the bedrooms and bathrooms are decorated completely differently and have their own setup. Peer into as many as you can – individually, they’re a feast for the eyes.
I spent blissful nights in the second bedroom, where the undercurrent colour is a sort of deep lavender, as seen in the bedspread and accents. An interesting Lamu-style wood carving and an abstract oil painting of a woman, both sizeable, statement pieces in their own right, are the dominant art in the room but there are plenty of smaller pieces. It feels a bit like sleeping in an art gallery.
The other bedrooms, especially the master with its epic tub and full-wall pink bull painting (you have to see it to believe it) are equally splendid.
Up another set of stairs is the children’s loft, with three single beds. The space that’s now the kid’s quarters was unused when Fusco started redoing the house. She’s especially pleased with the final product and enjoyed leveraging the nooks and crannies to make it feel exciting for youngsters.
Give the attendants your order in advance and there’ll be coffee, tea and biscuits at your bedroom door in the morning before you saunter downstairs for breakfast. The food at One Forty Eight is lovely and if the price to stay is too high, consider dropping in for lunch or dinner.
If you’re looking for a mind-blowing spot, Nairobi does luxury very well, and it’s first rate here at One Forty Eight.
Prices start from $420 pp, sharing, B&B. Resident discounts available on request depending on availability.