The stately Lengishu House in Borana
Set high on a hill with East-facing rooms and floor to ceiling sliding glass doors allowing for magical sunrises and spectacular views of the sprawling Borana Conservancy is a stately home that takes inspiration from its location.
With 4 individual cottages set on the property, its hard to pick a favourite spot, but I love the main house with its stone floors and high vaulted ceiling with eucalyptus beams; it is fondly dubbed a cathedral ceiling. The room is massive, and if not properly outfitted, would have run the risk of looking empty. Firstly, the use of adobe walls as opposed to a pale colour was an apt choice as it is warming and draws the space in. Then there’s the curatorial approach to the multilayered decor. I love spaces that merge family heirlooms for that ultra personalized touch, with stuff collected from different countries and decades. It is for this reason that while Lengishu was officially opened in June 2019 having taken three years to build, it has the surprising effect of feeling like an elegant home that’s been enjoyed and lived in for decades.
I ask Minnie MacHale, who owns Lengishu with her husband Joe, about a few pieces in the main house that draw my eye. As you walk into the front entrance hall and turn left into big wide steps, there are two Burmese wall hangings on either side. Minnie found them on the floor in the back of a little house-on-stilts in Inle Lake in Northern Myanmar. They were old and covered in goodness knows what, but the colours were so vivid and artistry striking that she bought and later cleaned them up herself. There is a Swahili chest which her grandfather brought back from Zanzibar to the North of Scotland in 1928 when he was the British Naval Commander-in-Chief, Indian Ocean. As children, Minnie says it was their dressing up box, but it has since found its way to Laikipia. Her grandfather’s knee-high tan leather hunting boots from 1910 are now part of the décor, found by the doorway. During the excavation of the site, she saw a large boulder which she liked and decided to make it one of the centerpieces.
Furniture is used to create separate spaces in this room which divides into an upper formal sitting room, dining area with a small bar, and a relaxed lower lounging area. There are two life-sized cast iron sculptures holding up torches (they are fitted as real gas lamps) bordering the steps going down from one level to the next. From the corner of my eye, I keep thinking there is somebody else in the room. They were cast in North America and Minnie bought them late one night from an art collector in London who was selling his entire collection from the 60s. The walls are given a pleasant lift by a large blue Italian linen tapestry which compliments the red oriental rug and adds a touch of old fashioned opulence. Red, which stands out amidst the muted tones throughout, is an ode to the Maasai neighbours. With everyone off in their individual cottages, this was the space where we came together for breakfast and dinner, then to hang out playing a board game, or pour a drink from the bar and snuggle up by the fireplace to chat late into the night.
The scheme feels organic and earthy, seamlessly blending into the environment. Naturally occurring rocks were excavated to create the flat foundations where the buildings stand. The woods are sustainable. The thatching is makuti with the roof coming just a little over the windows to provide shade. Brightly coloured flowers in full bloom are dotted throughout the property. The garden is indigenous and the landscaping was done by Ruth Horsey who’s based in Timau. The house runs on solar and there’s a greywater recycling system which sends the water back to the garden. Luxury aside, there is a sense of being rooted in nature, the property being the thoughtful brainchild of Ben Jackson, the builder, Emma Campbell, the project manager, and Minnie, a client with a sharp instinct and who was actively involved in the process. For their efforts and focus on sustainability, Lengishu House was recently elected as a member of the prestigious The Long Run organisation.
From friends and families to couples, there’s an ideal cottage for everyone. The decor for each may be individual but the beds were made from old recycled wooden dhows and fence posts by local tradesmen in Nairobi. My spacious room has all the trappings expected of a high end holiday home complete with a woodburning stove for cooler evenings, and the outdoor terrace looking out onto Borana Conservancy is perfect for relaxation. Alternatively, if wallowing is more your speed then the freestanding rich copper bath with glorious views is the bateau for you. Trust me, I discovered that I’m better at this than elephants. Back from dinner? light a candle, play some jazz and relax. Raining in the morning, quick hot bath before breakfast. In the middle of the day just because? pour a glass of wine and have a bath while reading a magazine. The cottage also had a kitchen and living area where West African artifacts were propped above the fireplace mantel.
Despite the light trickle of rain, the u-shaped pool was too tempting to pass up. An afternoon was spent swimming its length then pottering to the poolhouse where chef Sam would whip up delicious dishes using fresh ingredients from their little shamba. For a property of this calibre, the service is exactly what one would expect. Top notch. I was really impressed, too, that they actually did research on a very specific diet I was on, and when it was meal time, not only did they accommodate me, they did so with a bang.
I already miss the study at the house, a cozy nook where the writer in me was content to while away the hours in. It’s the little bits and bobs that make it special. A Scottish soldier hat, that painting of a Maasai girl, a tip box which was Minnie’s grandfather’s post box, a beautiful dunbar tartan (their Scottish family heritage) pillow propped on the most comfortable of sofas, the fresh flowers, and the books. Oh, the books. In overhead shelves, in baskets, on side tables. I pick up a copy of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and start to pore over it.
Rates and activities
At $9500 for up to six guests in the high season (non resident rates) and a current resident rate of Ksh 500,000 for up to 12 guests, Lengishu House is undoubtedly the most expensive place I’ve ever stayed in. Offered on an exclusive-use basis, heck, even President Kenyatta has stayed here and he reportedly loved it, as did our team. When you hear that the rates can include full board accommodation, local airstrip transfers, alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, laundry and wifi, activities on Borana Conservancy such as game drives, guided bushwalks, mountain biking, one horse riding excursion per person and more, it all suddenly makes sense. Even sundowners are included, and they are a whole affair: either at Pride Rock or the private sundowner area at the end of the ridge which boasts the same views as the rock. It seems like a sundowner spot “miles from anywhere”, but you only have to walk a few minutes to enjoy it.