The African Hartz IV furniture experiment

One night i was sitting in front of Swiss TV, just after the news and somehow i was too tired to stand up and go to bed, so i ended up watching a show that has changed my life...
It was an interview with Van Bo a young architect who developed easy plans to build yourself your furniture in the Bauhaus style (find more info here). I was fascinated by the beauty and the multifunctionality of any of his piece.

When i moved to Nairobi and needed to furnish my new flat, i knew, i will buy most furniture for my bed room locally made. The good heavy African style, it has its charm but it can't be all. My living room has to be light, open and welcoming.

So i took up the challenge to build my own furtniture using Van Bo's plan... In Europe it is easy you go in a Baumarkt and they cut your wood and you carry it home... hey but this is Africa... no Baumarkt... so the challenge is more getting the right material for the right price...

I started an experiment, just trying to get the classical Berliner Hocker (already known as the Berliner seat in Karen road in Nairobi) done in different way... an ongoing experiment.

Version 1 : the home made luxury version
Take a taxi from Lavignton and to to Industry area (2 hour drive with traffic)
Find the timber shop : half polished Mahogany wood 150 x 30 x2 cm and 12 screw for 22 USD (2200KSH)
Mahogany wood is very hard, so it was almost impossible to cut into the right dimension. Screws don't go in, so you need to drill and then put the screw in... So you imagine the result not perfect at all...
Add the 30 usd for the taxi it is probably the most expensive Berliner Hocker ever

version 1 (left) version 2 (right)

Version 2 : the easiest
you print the plan and you bring it to the carpenter on Karen road. He looks at you wondering was crazy plans this white person has... offers you a terribly high price... you negotiate it down to 25 usd (2500 KSH)
He takes two days, and brings you a nicely finished Berliner hocker. I carried it in 2 overcrowded matatus (minibus) and walk 1.5 km with in... People were staring at me... transport cost less than a dollar :-)
Henry the carpenter on Karen road

Henry first was so puzzled at the seat, but then he started appreciating his smartness and begged me to let him the plans...

update 2.2.2014. Version 3 : the slum version
Nairobi is under terrorism alert, international staff has been requested to avoid the big shopping malls, stations and airports... fine so i went shopping in one of the not too bad slums (i was told to not go to the malls, slums where not mentioned in the mail ;-) )... I had a friend with me who lives there, so i had the certainty to have someone with me to recognize when the situation would become critical. I had the best shopping experience ever in Nariobi. I met so nice people who served me so politely (not like the unpolite service in the malls), prices were so cheap. I filled my tool box (hammer and at least other 3 great tools for which i don't know the English name) for less than 15 usd, bought a 1000 screws for 4 usd and lot of electrical materials to fix the lamps in my house... I found a wood workshop, it seems to be the most expensive one in the slum, but they have good machine and wood with 30 cm width (which is not the case in other places and this is the minimum you need for the berliner hocker). So ordered the wood for 800 KHS, so about 9 USD... next Saturday i take my screwdriver and my measuring tape, and will assemble a berliner hocker there, so that we still can use the machine to adjust if something would not be perfect...
Sounds like i finally found a cheap option for furnishing my living room. Oh i forgot the wood workshop is located on bus route 46, which stops in front of my house... and this line has big buses, so one could carry even 2- 3 berliner hocker at the same time... this all for less than 50 cent... nothing to compare with the price of the first version :-)

update 24.3.2014
Good options never come easy. It took more than a month until i could get the wood, and the quality was very low. The guy did not manage to cut the wood straight so i ended up in the workshop doing it for him :-(...
So the Berliner Hocker ended up much smaller than on the plan but in the end at least i got one...
trying to get it straight...

trying to get straight and in the same size : a tricky business


and the final product, not perfect...

Definitely this is not the quality for a draper couch... so i asked a fundi on the other side of town to produce a berliner hocker for 1500 KES (about 17 Dollars) and see if he can produce the coach...
A story to follow... (or the endless story of my furniture...)

but all version are in use !

Belive it or not, I have a Draper Couch.... made by the expensive fundi, but well done... so now i am just left over getting nice cushions and curtains and i will have the nicest living room of Nairobi...

Carpenter Henry giving a last touch




It was definitely not the cheapest sofa of Kenya...
cost were 27000 (about 250 dollars) for the sofa, of which about 80 usd were Henry's wage. As he had to search for the raw wood, dry it, smooth it before building the couch, this is a fair price.
Then i added a heavy duty mattress for the sitting cushion for about 2600 so about 24 usd and a light duty one for the cushions at the back for 1800 so about 15 usd.

Now i am left over with finding the right fabric and let someone sew the cushion cover before i have the nicest sofa of Nairobi... the price is definitely worth the result :-)

draper couch 001.JPG
The draper couch with temporary cushion covers...
draper couch 002.JPG