This article originally appeared in When Is Now.
I was excited to visit Nairobi, but to be honest, I was underwhelmed by the lodging choices laid out in front of me, including the “just in case” room I had booked. We were just a few weeks out from our departure when Jamie, from Extraordinary Journeys, forwarded me some photos and information on a boutique hotel that was set to open just two weeks before we arrived. The subject line of that email read "Introducing OneFortyEight Nairobi".
Within minutes of opening the information, I knew that this was our spot. A beautiful boutique hotel in a quiet leafy suburb of Nairobi, drenched in art and quirky accents, and minutes from the places we wanted to visit.
We had spent a couple of days in London before heading to Kenya. Our British Airways flight left London at 8:00 a.m. and we arrived in Nairobi a little after 9:00 p.m. that same day, which happened to be New Years Eve.
As with the majority of our airport stops in Africa, Extraordinary Journeys arranged airport transport. In Kenya, this person quickly moved us through passport control to baggage claim, and then made sure that we made it to our guide. This guide (also arranged by EJ) took us to and from the airport, as well as to the spots we visited during our time in Nairobi.
In this post, and in the next several posts, you will notice a theme: “African Hospitality”. It is a hospitality that is unparalleled and one that stems directly from African culture, tradition and community based values. I have yet to visit Africa without feeling genuinely cared for while there.
This care was a crucial part of our experience at OneFortyEight. While the art and beautiful property were outstanding, the hospitality is the real star.
We were greeted by Ruth and Mags as we pulled into the driveway. Our bags were taken to our room and we were given a tour of the main part of the property and of our studio apartment. We freshened up and went back into the main house, where a huge fire was burning and our bottle of champagne was chilling over ice.
As Mags said goodnight, she explained the rules to us: Ruth would stay with us until we went to bed and would get us anything we wanted from the bar or kitchen. Or, if we wanted the place to ourselves, we could excuse Ruth, help ourselves at the bar and just write down whatever we took. We were set with our champagne, but enjoyed Ruth’s company. She gave us a little bit of background on the property and taught us a few words in Swahili, which she claims is a very easy language to learn. A little before midnight, we were able to convince Ruth that we would be okay without her for the rest of the night, settled on a time for coffee to be delivered to our room and to have breakfast on the patio and said goodnight. And there we sat, in this beautiful room, with a crackling fire, a bottle of champagne and each other. There is no other place or way I would want to ring in 2017.
Mags was concerned that we would have wanted more activity for our New Year’s Eve, but it was so perfect. OneFortyEight’s hospitality was warm and attentive throughout our stay. The next day, Mags had suggested that we go out for dinner. She made us reservations and called her “go-to” taxi driver to take us and bring us back. He actually just waited for us at the restaurant. We didn’t take out enough shilling (Kenyan currency) at the airport, so Mags gave us some and charged it to our room. When we left for dinner, Mags and Ruth walked us to the car. When we returned, they were waiting for us in the driveway. When we returned from dinner, Ruth asked if we would like a drink by the fire. We did, but unfortunately we needed to pack. So Ruth, upon her suggestion, brought a glass of wine to the room. We had a very early departure the next morning. Ruth arrived with some coffee and biscuits, well before dawn, and when we got to the car, there was a packed (delicious) breakfast for us. And, of course, Mags and Ruth saw us off. Their personalized care and attention were unforgettable.
Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature’s unrealized ends. – Aristotle
On that first night, as I walked around the living area of the main house, I mentioned to Ruth, “I just want to look at everything in here.” To which she responded, “Just wait until you see it in the light.” She was right.
When I refer to the living room of the main house, I am referring to the former home of artist Antonio Trzebinski and his wife, designer Anna Trzebinski. There is an enthralling side story, that is worthy of its own post, but it is a fifteen year old mystery full of a deep rooted history and speculation. So, I will leave you to do your own research. Mr. Trzebinski died (at a young age) fifteen years ago and Mrs. Trzebinski has since moved to London with their children. What is left is a perfectly preserved home wreathed in the late artist’s work and dotted with native tribal elements and, well, quirkiness. And, that was the deal when this home was turned into a boutique hotel: It stays as it is.
Wood is the core element of the main house. From the outside, it looks like a log cabin in the woods.
The wood continues throughout the inside and is the perfect backdrop to show off the artwork and other decorative details. The first thing you notice upon entering is a massive wood fireplace crowned by an emerald chandelier. However, the art, particularly the two pieces that flank the fireplace, quickly demand your attention. And the art… it is fascinating, and bizarre and beautiful and it is everywhere. In front of the fireplace is a wooden carved out coffee table filled with ostrich eggs and covered in glass. And just behind that coffee table is a sofa that swallows you the second you sit on it. And you should let it do so. And sit there. And take a moment to soak in that incredible room.
Extending off the main room is a verandah that is equal in size, if not larger. The most lovely thing about the verandah is that it brings the indoors outside with more art, furnishings and multiple sitting areas that all look out onto the tree filled property (and the occasional snacking warthog). On the corner of the verandah is a large square table, where we enjoyed breakfast.
It is a serene little spot to lounge with a glass of wine and a good book.
Inside, an intricate wooden staircase leads to the second floor of the main house, which holds the master bedroom, with a private verandah, and two additional bedrooms.
On the third floor there is a large loft with three single beds. This room is intended for children and it looks like it would be an absolute blast.
All rooms are available separately or large groups or families may reserve the entire house.
The studio apartments (where we stayed) are what was formerly Mr. Trzebinski’s studio. It has been beautifully converted into four, two-story, open concept lofts. Each has a grand entryway, with floor to ceiling windows, that leads to a cozy sitting area and the bathroom with a large rain shower.
The top floor has the bed, a small sitting area and a television. It’s a brilliant design and the windows and open concept make it bright and cheery.
All four studios are identical in layout, but vary by the pieces of Mr. Trzebinski’s art that adorns the walls.
The new owners of OneFortyEight created a small addition to the studio.
On the backside, they added a sitting room that is a replica of the living area of the main house. You can find those huge, plush couches, a large wooden fireplace, a dining area and, of course, more art.
Upstairs, you will find two single story studios with huge soaking tubs.
A Perfect Day in Nairobi
We technically had one full day in Nairobi, but we were able to see a lot thanks to OneFortyEight’s prime location. On that day, I spent the morning wandering around the property with Ruth and getting a little too excited about the resident parrot, warthogs and peacocks.
We were picked up at 2:00 and taken next door to the Giraffe Centre, which is the breeding center and home to Rothschild giraffes. It is a nonprofit center focused on education. And, you can feed the giraffes! And kiss them. As well as learn about them and the center’s conservation efforts.
It’s well worth a visit. It costs about 5 USD per person and you can plan on visiting for about 45 minutes.
From there, we went to a great shopping center that is filled with a number of small shops selling local, handmade crafts and jewelry. If your bag is already filled to the brim (like mine), they will ship your purchases.
We had just enough time for coffee before our 4:45 appointment at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. We have supported the DSWT for a long time and have wanted to visit for years. The Sheldrick’s story is amazing, and I highly encourage you to check it out. The very short version is that they rescue baby elephants whose mothers have been killed as a result of poaching. But it’s not just elephants. They have two rhinos, a giraffe and recently a rescued baby hippo…named “Humpty”. You can “adopt” any of the rescues, and if you do, you can visit the center during a special viewing time.
We were lucky enough to meet our adopted baby Jotto. Isn’t he amazing?!
We spent a little over an hour at the DSWT and then made it back to the hotel with plenty of time to freshen up before a lovely dinner at the legendary Talisman.
Our stay at OneFortyEight far exceeded my expectations. At the time, they had been open for less than two weeks, which means they will only get better as they perfect their rhythm. My only regret is that we didn’t stay one more night, just so I could spend a few hours on that verandah.
OneFortyEight is a distinctive property, in a beautiful setting, with imitable service. It is the perfect place to recover from the long journey to East Africa and slowly adjust to being in Africa.
To find out more about OneFortyEight Nairobi, you can visit their website.
Good to Know
- With only ten rooms, this is a peaceful boutique hotel.
- This is a wonderful place to unwind and adjust to a slower pace. Embrace it.
- There is a boutique onsite.
- You will see stunning glass bottles all over the property. They are handmade by the owner.
- There is a lovely wine, beer and liquor selection.
- If you are visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you must make reservations in advance.
- Allow plenty of time if you are departing out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.