Saturday, 3 December 2011

Interiors: Lesley Lokko’s fabulous Accra Home….

I’m crazy about interiors…and I’m especially loving former architect, author Lesley Lokko’s fabulous Accra home (above)…. All the images are from her uber insightful website at: -and its got me thinking …I wonder if she would be up for designing and building another? You can read more about it via her website but I particularly love the following interview she gave to the Guardian newspaper some years back…enjoy…. ....

In 2002, after nearly 10 years of teaching architecture in Britain and the US, I sold my first novel, resigned my teaching job and returned home to Ghana, west Africa, where I grew up. Almost as soon as I arrived, I wanted to build. The place had changed dramatically since my childhood, as had my own ideas about "home" and the kind of space in which I would like to live.

Like many expat Ghanaians, I'd spent almost as much time outside Ghana as within it, and when it came to thinking about the design of my house, I realised it would be neither European nor African - a little of both, if I was lucky.

It took me almost a month to work out the issues that mattered - privacy, sustainability, what the building would be made of, what sort of tradition it would refer to - and another month or so to work in models and sketches until I arrived at something that I felt comfortable with (and, possibly more importantly, that my partner felt he could live in).

Having grown up in a typically extended family, and having grown accustomed in the west to an almost exaggerated sense of privacy, I decided very early on that I would build not one, but two houses. One would be a guesthouse for friends and family, the other a main house for myself and my partner. The houses would look at each other across a pool; part of the same compound, but separated by a quite substantial strip of land. Both would be single-space houses, a throwback to the African tradition of living in one room, without western divisions of living-sleeping-cooking-eating, and so on.

I bought two plots in one of the last remaining "inner" city developments in Accra where it is still possible to build your own home. Airport Hills is an expansive development just behind the airport where, on an exceptionally clear day, it is possible to see the Atlantic as you drive down the road towards the main entrance.
I wanted to build the house out of mud; not only is it a fantastically sustainable material (the bricks were dug out of the land I'd bought, compressed to squeeze out air and water, and left to dry in the sun), but it provides a cool living environment and is, after all, what much traditional African architecture is made from.

Building a house in Ghana is a unique experience. For a London-trained architect, several things came as a shock. The terms "plan" and "detail", for example, are loose concepts at the best of times. Much of the instruction on site is verbal, not drawn. The upside is that the design process is much more fluid - you make decisions and compromises as you go along, designing in real time ... it's possible to stride around on site and position doors and windows as the walls go up. The downside is that the interpretation of instructions is equally fluid. It's possible to spend hours arguing over where you thought you asked for something to go and where it in fact is. "But you said ..." Working without drawings can be exhilarating. It can also be madness.

I was determined to put my planning skills to good use. I thought I had thought of everything. I sourced it all ahead of time, including bathroom fittings (from Aston Matthews in north London), kitchen (from Ikea in Wembley) and bathroom tiles (from a man who knew a man who had a shop in Peckham). I bought it all in one go, sending it to a freight forwarder for transport.

The container left Dover, bound for Tema in Ghana. En route, the ship docked in Abidjan where half of the things went missing. Including my kitchen. At the time, a civil war was raging in Ivory Coast, and in such circumstances (as my insurers helpfully pointed out), there is no cover. I only hope whoever has my kitchen managed to put it together.

A few weeks later, I flew back to London and bought another one, which landed safely, if minus the worktops (which I found inexplicably stacked against a wall in the customs shed at the harbour, three months after they had been due to arrive).

There were many highs and lows in the six-month build. The worst day - ever - was the day I found the workers cleaning my mosaic bathroom tiles with acid. The glaze and beautiful greenish tint were burned right off. Despite the foreman's insistence that "That is how we do it, madam", I still don't get it. Acid?

I have now been in the guesthouse (in which we will live until the main house is finished, hopefully within the year) all of three nights. The polished concrete floor, the most horrendous trial-and-error job - mostly error - is gleaming. The kitchen looks nice but tells nothing of the struggle to get it here or put it together. Ikea always forgets to deliver one box, doesn't it?

I'm also surrounded by pieces of architectural art, bought from a friend, an anthropologist turned shopowner. Each one I have bought is unique - my favourite is the Dogon column, a 5ft piece of carved wood that traditionally holds up the thatched roof of the debating hall in a Dogon village. Its height is supposed to discourage those taking part in debate from jumping up in anger. Art such as this reminds me again and again that I am living in a place with a rich and complex architectural heritage, which, sadly, seems to have lost its place in the modern African urban environment.

Local reaction to the house is varied. My partner still isn't crazy about the whole "single space thing", but I'm hoping he'll come round. Despite being African, he worries about walking from the "bed bit" to the "bathroom bit" when the "living bit" is full of visitors. I keep trying to persuade him it doesn't matter.

A few days ago, just before it was completed, I pulled into the sea-shell driveway to find someone standing in the garden with a pencil and paper in hand. Completely unabashed, he assured me he was doing his best to copy it "properly" because he wanted to build one just like it a few streets away. That's Ghana for you. And this is a modern mud house.

“Sam, the ugly duckling who grew into a swan. Now beautiful and wealthy, with a glittering career, no one can understand why she's still on her own. When she meets a handsome stranger on holiday, things finally seem to be falling into place... Meagan, a true survivor. The teenage runaway who worked her way off the streets, she was swept off her feet by Tom, a young army officer, to live on the other side of the world, finally escaping the family she loathed... Dani, the beautiful misfit, desperately looking for daddy in all the wrong places, and finding instead a man who will teach her everything that is wrong and corrupt about love. And Abby, the model wife, everything her husband and family could want and more, but never being herself. Until a dark secret threatens to pull her well-ordered life apart. A Private Affair is the new spellbinding tale of love and friendship, glamour and guilt from bestselling author Lesley Lokko.” Amazon

***Lesley Lokko’s latest book, a-must-read entitled ‘A Private Affair’ is priced £7.79 and available from Amazon at:

1 comment:

  1. Such elegant and classy accommodation. Take a cheap flight to Accra and get your hands on such a beautiful place to stay for your holidays and give your self a comfortable travel experience.