No two philosophies of life and living are alike; but as writes Al Noor Juma, there is one thing that we all have in common within our own four walls and that is to step on a comfortable and exciting surface, which however continue to pose a myriad of challenges in the interiors world.
Flooring is one of the greatest challenges faced by architects, interior designers and developers all over the world and more especially in Africa, where the choices are severely restricted by importation logistics and costs.
Whereas there are numerous flooring solutions to match the various tastes floor surfacing remains one task that can never be underestimated.
Among the types of flooring that appeal in buildings range from the natural hard-stone to ceramic and granite tiles, the finger block wood flooring, laminate wood flooring, solid and engineered wood flooring and Wood-grain PVC plank flooring.
Readily available in the country is the natural hard-stone flooring solution, which comprises marble, slate, mazeras and other varieties of mostly volcanic rock strata. These have the important advantages of being completely weather-resistant, and extremely beautiful in final appearance, especially after topical polishes are applied, and the surface is machined to a dazzling luster.
The main disadvantages of this sort of flooring are cost, relative difficulty of machining to size, and installation. Hence, stone flooring is only used in elegant, high-cost projects. Mazeras, which is a locally available material, is very popular in Kenya due to its abundance and fairly low costing – which also means that many flooring artisans have learnt how to work with it and cut and install it well.
Ceramic and granite
Ceramic and granite tiles are by far the largest segment of the flooring market. It is readily available, both locally manufactured and imported, in huge quantities and at relatively low prices.
Specifiers and other decision makers are spoilt for choice here, owing to the massive variety of qualities, styles and colours available. Obvious advantages are manageable costs, ease of installation and extreme durability when proper installation has been completed.
On the other hand, they had disadvantages too. They sometimes feel and look cold, so most builders try to avoid using them in internal residential spaces, except maybe in an entrance lobby or a foyer. They are just about the only choice for large high-traffic public spaces, such as shopping centers, malls, lobbies of government buildings and airports, just to mention but a few.
Finger block wood flooring
It is by far the most popular flooring for apartment buildings and houses. For the last 30 years, it has been used in the East African housing market. It is made from a variety of local natural woods; it is a cost-effective, warm, elegant and easily installed alternative, especially for newly constructed dwelling places.
One main disadvantage it has is that of possible water damage as a result of flooding. However, this can be avoided by the use of proper sub-surface membranes. Also, damaged areas can easily be repaired and camouflaged, assuming the original colours are available for replacement.
Another problem is the occurrence of poke-marks from stiletto heels. This type of floor needs periodic maintenance. It’s got to be cleaned using solvents and polished either with wax or single/double polyurethane varnish.
Eventually, after a few years of use, a complete sanding is required – a tedious and dusty process which could take several days for the various coats of polish to dry.
Laminate wood flooring
This was originally developed in Europe in the early 90s. It enjoyed an extremely rapid rise in popularity, especially in the rental housing market, spreading to commercial spaces, and almost killing the residential carpet industry in the developed world.
Being a synthetic product, with a solid foundation of high-density fibre-board, which is a sheet processed from wood waste and resins, it forms a heavy kraft paper (usually with a wood-grain picture) which is joined to the HDF sheet under high pressure (hence the word laminate), creating a very hard flooring surface which can withstand heavy and rolling traffic.
Installation in this case is very easy. A conventional bedroom can be done in two to three hours. This flooring has cut a significant niche in the finger-block wood market, being approximately the same in terms of costing, and the dynamics of installation.
There are, however, two main disadvantages. Firstly, a little flooding could damage the flooring in an entire room if the water is not mopped up quickly. Secondly, the sound of footsteps is quite high-pitched and irritating, making it unsuitable for commercial spaces.
Another problem is peaking of the planks when the flooring expands in warm weather. Many installers tend to install it too tightly against the walls, leaving no room for expansion. Once a laminate floor has these problems it usually foretells a complete replacement.
Solid and engineered wood flooring
Solid mahogany and mvuli flooring has been around for decades in the East African housing market and is here to stay. Originally used by a tiny niche-market for the upper echelons of society, it has now grown together with the upper middle class in Kenya.
Most bungalows built in the upper income areas, such as Muthaiga, Lavington, Karen, Lang’ata, Westlands, Lower Kabete, Riverside, Dennis Pritt, Hurlingham and others, have either solid wood or engineered wooden floors.
The disadvantages are significant, high-cost (well in excess of Ksh 5,000 per sqm), difficulty in achievement of proper installation, expensive maintenance, not to mention its contribution to the decimation of forests. (An exception is made for bamboo flooring, made from fibrous bamboo stems which grow in huge abundance very quickly in the swamps of South-East Asia).
The construction of engineered flooring merits an explanation. It is basically a solution to the expansion problems that occur with solid wood floors. It is made joining several thin layers of different types of plywood, and topping it with a 2-3mm layer of any beautiful exotic wood.
The joining together of several layers, ensures minimum expansion (the physics gets complicated here). Hence, engineered flooring is generally made with longer planks which fit together snug and tight without movement.
The obvious disadvantage of the engineered floor is the thin top surface, which can wear out in 3-5years under heavy traffic. However, it remains one great flooring for a top quality bedroom or hotel room, though. Finishes ranging from Burmese Teak to Russian White Oak look incredibly elegant and exclusive.
Developers preferring to use the solid and engineered wood flooring have to prepare to dig deep and spend the money on this type of flooring, if he or she wants to sell that house for Ksh 50 million.
Wood-grain PVC plank flooring
This is currently the range in town in as far as flooring markets in the US, Europe and Asia is concerned. In just five years, it has rocketed from near zero, to almost 30 per cent of the residential flooring market in Japan, for example.
Traditionally, PVC has been the low-cost option for mass housing and commercial flooring markets around the world. A thin flat, grey or white square tile with very little aesthetic appeal – it’s only redeeming quality being the low cost and eases of installation.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, American and European manufacturers, such as Amtico, Tarkett, Forbo, Armstrong, Marley and Polyfloor, have been manufacturing beautiful sheet PVC to high specification for over forty years for specialized flooring applications in hospitals, laboratories, pharmaceutical plants, food processing factories, and elegant shops, where a high degree of creative artwork was required on the floor.
The new wood-grain PVC plank was developed by a quantum leap in the technology of PVC sheet production. Using a unique photographic film, certain manufacturers developed the capability to embed an authentic-looking wood-grain acrylic surface onto the PVC, with a hot stamping process.
The resulting visual appearance and special surface texture of the planks, give a unique impression of a genuine wooden floor, at half the cost of solid or engineered wood, without the problems of expansion, and surface deterioration.
The tough acrylic surface ensures several years of an ever-fresh appearance, with only light and easy maintenance. Other significant advantages of the new full-grain PVC planks are the high degree of anti-slip resistance, even when wet, and the in-built anti-bacterial finish, which stops the growth of germs and mold within the grainy texture. The 100 per cent synthetic composition of the planks, makes them water-proof, hence suitable for kitchens and bathrooms.
Disadvantages are, the planks are only 2-3 mm thick, so the sub-floor has to be smooth and flat, and a special acrylic/resin adhesive has to be used to ensure a long-lasting bond to the floor.
One major significant advantage is that the planks can be readily installed on a variety of surfaces, from cement screed to old ceramic, finger-block wood or granite surfaces, very quickly. A living room can be completed in 2-3 hours, and is ready for use after four hours.
The PVC planks are also an attractive alternative for busy commercial spaces, such as shopping malls.
There is no footstep sound as is the case with laminate flooring; and it is very easy to create a unique floor pattern using planks of different colours. One’s imagination can run wild with this type of flooring.
The writer has been running a specialist carpeting and flooring company in Nairobi since 1999.
Is a Will really necessary
Toiling through toils to acquire the very best of the assets can be lost when people inevitably breathe their last on earth writes Cathy Mputhia as she stresses the need for all to write a valid Will so that the property by law does not devolve to the State.
Most people dread contemplating their own death. Consequently, they fail to draw a Will and occasion hardships to their survivors when they pass-on after acquiring so much assets and wealth.
Writing a Will is however one of the most prudent step one could make for themselves and their families. It really is a very simple way through which one may preserve their wealth beyond the inevitable death.
A Will is a legal document containing a person’s declaration as to their wishes regarding the disposition of their property after they die. For such a document to be legally enforceable, it must conform to the requirements as set out under the laws governing succession. In Kenya, this would be the Law of Succession Act, (Chapter 160, Laws of Kenya).
Be on the safe side
By means of a Will you could almost literally determine the course of his wealth from the depths of their grave. Many are the stories of thriving estates which got dissipated not long after the demise of their patriarchs or matriarchs because of their having landed in the wrong hands. To avoid this, one may appoint a trusted person to act as the Executor of his estate, appoint trustees and or guardians for children who are still minors.
To be on the safe side, one may appoint an alternative executor or guardian just in case the default one is unable to act. He could also give instructions as to how his body is to be disposed of or generally how his funeral is to be conducted. This will definitely reduce the strain death causes among friends and relatives as there will be no need for lengthy funeral committee meetings deliberating on the same.
It is a very shameful to witness relatives squabbling in public over who is to get what as relates to the estate of a deceased. Imagine the anguish his immediate family had to endure over something both foreseeable and avoidable.
The mere appointment of executors or trustees does not mean that the wealth preservation process will be smooth. Indeed for complicated ventures such as investment, trusts or maintenance, they may encounter difficulty and thus a Will may specifically outline what they are to do and even empower them to do that which they would otherwise have been unable to do.
No prescribed format
So who needs to write a Will and how does one go about it? Well, the Law of Succession Act states that anybody who owns free property, is over 18 years of age, and is of sound mind can write a Will. There is no prescribed format for writing a Will but the maker must indicate from the onset that he is drafting one by describing the document as such.
Generally, a Will must be in written form (for an oral Will to be valid, the maker must have died within three months of it) and the Testator, for that is what he who drafts a Will is called, must sign and affix his mark to it or some other person must do so on his behalf in his presence and direction.
This process is referred to as executing the Will. Subsequently, the Will must be attested, which means it be signed in the Testator’s presence by at least two people who must have witnessed its execution. It would suffice if they receive from the Testator a personal acknowledgement of his signature or mark. The attesting witnesses should not be beneficiaries under the same Will, but if they are, their bequests may fail.
People need not fear writing a Will. They are indeed free to revoke or alter it at any time. Furthermore, a revoked Will can still be revived by being re-executed.
Whilst people are free to dispose of their estate as they like (Testamentary Freedom), care should be taken when making a Will to ensure all dependants are catered for reasonably. If that does not happen and an aggrieved dependant goes to Court, the Court has the right to intervene and secure them reasonable provision out of the deceased’s net estate.
However it is always best if one was able to determine how the wealth they have worked so hard for is inherited rather than to let the Courts decide for them. In the West, wills have been used to settle scores with dependents. You find cases of someone bequeathing millions of dollars to their pets.
In Kenya, an aggrieved dependant can petition the court to intervene. However, one must be a dependant for this to happen as testamentary dispositions are an exercise of one’s freedom over their property. In the very unlikely event that one does not have dependants to survive him in addition to their not having left a valid Will, the property will by law devolve to the State.
Clearly, there is no excuse why anyone should not write a Will. It is actually in our own best interests to do so. The legal costs for writing a Will, far out-weighs the costs of not having a Will. One shall disclose to his advocate the assets in his possession and make a list of how he would like to bequeath them.
The tribe-less Tribe Hotel
TRIBE, Kenya’s undisputed hottest name in hotelier industry emerges as an icon to behold following its top-notch hospitable service, robustness in stylish architecture, technology and transport aura.
Two years after its launch, the hotel that knows one tribe in name of hospitality – continues to uphold the inner heart of warmth that has since earned it global prestigious hotelier accolades.
With sensational design mix of cool contemporary and African chic, the four-storey hotel with a glass atrium and more than 800 artworks creates a striking and an ever nostalgic wow owing to the formation that intermingle the modern architecture and traditional African tinge of designs.
Interiors of the hotel’s 137 rooms and suites—decorated in shades of ocher, brown, and beige — convey an urban cool nostalgic environment. With curved walls and headboards the rooms with contemporary and traditional sculptures make that warm wow experience desired in a home.
Volume of modernity
Glass-walled bathrooms in all the rooms speaks volumes of modernity and luxurious glam that so easily jells with freestanding tubs, packets of Kenyan coffee and complimentary mini-bar treats, with sumptuous bedding, wi-fi, mood lighting, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and large LCD televisions.
As this year comes to a close, TRIBE – also distinguished as The Village Market Hotel, has reason to boast of being chosen as one of the world’s hottest new hotels in the global circuit by Conde Nast Traveller in the magazine’s 2010 Awards. In its 2010 Hot List, the publication praised hoteliers for expanding in one of the toughest global economic periods in recent years.
“Showing amazing resilience, the art of hotel innovation is flourishing. We combed through the thousands (of hotels) that debuted in the past year and then bedded down anonymously at the most compelling candidates. A robust 134 properties spread across a record 55 countries won a place on our list with their blend of style, service, technology, and transporting aura,” said the award organizers.
During the judging process 16 hotels in Africa and the Middle East cracked the nod and Tribe – The Village Market Hotel, which is part of Protea Hotels’ exclusive African Pride Hotels’ collection, was the only one chosen in Kenya. It was one of the only six properties in the world to be selected for both the UK and US Hot Lists by Conde Nast Traveler.
Danny Bryer, Sales, Marketing and Revenue Director of the Protea Hospitality Group, said he was delighted with the award. “This award recognizes the quality and luxurious nature of Tribe and the African Pride Hotels brand; Africa’s largest and leading luxury hospitality brand. Our staff members are dedicated to providing world-class service and the entire hotel is a design masterpiece,” he said.
He noted that awards of that nature show the international travel market that the best hospitality services are to be found on the African continent.
Bryer said the hotel was also a testament to successful partnerships between local developers and international brands such as the African Pride Hotel group. “The recipe has worked so well that the hotel has since expanded its top-of-the-range conferencing facility to accommodate 100 people from a previous 30.
Re-setting the standards
Director and Chief of Development Hooman Ehsani said he was delighted. “The response has been good from local and international clientele since the hotel opened,” he noted.
“Tribe is not even two years old, but we have already earned a reputation for re-setting the standards of hotel customer service and accommodation in Nairobi. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve managed to achieve in such a short time, but for us, this recognition is a spring-board for the continued development of Tribe, and the continued growth of tourism in Kenya,” said he.
“From the very initial drawing board stage of design our benchmark has always been the global hospitality industry, and this accolade establishes Tribe as one of the top properties in the World, an achievement we are extremely proud of,” said Mehraz Ehsani, the hotel’s architect.
Offices to crave for
Unlike furnishing a home where relaxation takes place, furnishing the office presents different challenges writes, Lydia Opwaka stressing the need to ensure that the environment remains pleasant.
Decorating an office space can be a delicate balancing act. On the one hand you want your office space to be inviting and pleasant for both employees and visitors, while on the other hand it must remain professional in look and feel.
Here are some helpful tips on how to make your office space a pleasant and productive physical environment. They range from painting, decking the walls to minimising clutter to greening the surrounding and furnishing with care.
If you are going to be using a computer you will want to make sure that it doesn’t take up your whole desk, so you may consider this before buying a desk or the computer. A flat screen for the computer can help to leave you some room.
Color Your World
While painting office walls, pick colours that reflect the spirit of your business. If you work in a traditionally conservative industry such as banking or legal services, you’re better off choosing a neutral colour such as light green, beige, or a shade of white. If your business is traditionally staffed by more creative types such as designers or artists, feel free to go for walls with more visual pizzazz. Whichever tone you choose, be sure to use high-quality paint that will last for a long time, as repainting an office space can be a disruptive event.
Deck the Walls
Bare walls can give an office a dull, unlived-in feel, and that energy can affect the mood of your staff. Warm up your workspace by adding some tasteful framed photos, prints, or paintings to your walls. One creative idea is to invite local artists to display their artwork on your walls. It’s a win-win situation — they get exposure for their work while you get free office decor.
Make Your Office a Green Zone. Adding a few plants and indoor trees to your office setup will make your employees feel less cut off from the outside world, especially in offices located in very urban areas.
Potted plants can help to give an office comfortable ambiance and there are now fake plants available that look exactly like real plants. Real plants never do well in an office environment due to the dry air and lack of sunlight.
However as you may also want to go natural; chose to shop for plants by read their identifying tags to determine what kind of light each needs, and make sure they will thrive on the amount of light available in your workspace. There are also many corporate plant services that will “rent” office plants and take over their care and watering onsite.
Furnish with Care
Office furniture plays a large role in how an office space looks and feels. As furnishing a large space can be very expensive, most businesses tend to rent or lease their office furniture.
Unfortunately, the majority of office furnishings available tend to be very bland and conservative looking. One important rule of thumb is to try to maintain the same style of furniture throughout the office.
Mismatched tables and chairs tend to make any space look rather cheap and thrown together. As with wall colour, try to go for a style in furnishings that reflects the energy of your industry. The move will help you save some money on Office Furniture as you make your space look great without breaking the bank.
Control the Clutter
It’s been said that with a clear desk comes a clear mind. Keep that in mind when arranging your desktop. A framed photograph of a loved one, a telephone, and a computer should suffice.
If there are office supplies you don’t use on a constant basis, tuck them away in a drawer. A chaotic physical environment will soon give way to a chaotic energy in the workplace, and this is rarely good for productivity or progress.
If you are going to have employees working for you will need a break area for them to break in and relax their mind a bit. Fatigued employees make mistakes and can become unproductive. If you are going to be working late nights you might also consider having a coffee pot on a table, so someone can have a cup of coffee if they feel a bit tired.
Another thing that you might consider is to hang some framed prints on the wall with outdoor scenes to give the office a relaxed air. If you are going to have clients visiting your office then you might also consider installing a sofa for them to relax on and provide some magazines for them to read.
It is important to have a video screen available for clients with some promotional material showcasing services or products that potential clients can view while they are waiting. On the floor, consider to throw a rug to soften the look of the extensive tile floor.
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