My Eden project: inside the Anna Trzebinski shrine in Nairobi

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If Eden – Nairobi’s new address that is part hotel, urban sanctuary and arts hub – looks like a house, it’s probably because it once was. Germany-born Kenya-raised fashion designer Anna Trzebinski and her late husband Tonio Trzebinski hand-built it almost 30 years ago as newlyweds in their twenties. The coffee tables are made from wood salvaged from a sunken dhow that ran aground while Tonio was surfing on their honeymoon. There are collages on the walls by Peter Beard, a friend and neighbor, depicting artist Francis Bacon and the Queen.

Trzebinski has packed a lot of life in half a century: two fathers, two husbands (Tonio died in a murder and carjacking case in 2001; her former second husband is a warrior and guide Samburu), openness and the closure of a bush camp, three children. Her meticulously embellished accessories have been picked up by brands such as Paul Smith and Donna Karan. “I’m 56 and independent Nairobi is 58,” she tells me. “We are growing together. ”

Anna Trzebinski in the living room of the workshop annexed to Eden; behind her is a work by her late husband Tonio Trzebinski © Jennifer Clasen
The living room in the workshop annex, with a sculpture by Stanislaw Trzebinski and a painting by Tonio Trzebinski

The living room of the annex workshop, with a sculpture by Stanislaw Trzebinski and a painting by Tonio Trzebinski © Jennifer Clasen

Turning his family home into a hotel wasn’t exactly on the game plan, but it didn’t make sense either. “What is extraordinary is that bringing together all the threads of my life here has freed me,” she says. “It looks like a new beginning.”

The idea for Eden and its philanthropic spin-off, the Eden Project, took shape last year thanks to conversations Trzebinski had with her friend and neighbor, famous artist Wangechi Mutu. “We discussed at length what matters most to us now, living in contemporary Kenya,” says Trzebinski de Mutu, whose work has been exhibited everywhere from the Tate Modern to the Pompidou to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that Trzebinski calls an “informal mentor and champion”. The two women had felt a change in Nairobi, both before and during the pandemic:, since childhood, ”says Mutu. “It has become possible to think about the meaning of the house, apart from the fact that it is a physical place; like, do we know who we are, as Kenyans?

The exterior of the main house in Eden
The exterior of Eden’s main house © Jennifer Clasen
The Eden Bridge, with works by Tonio Trzebinski
The Eden Bridge, with works by Tonio Trzebinski © Jennifer Clasen

Trzebinski has spent much of the pandemic in firefighting mode, facing a slump in his income. An existing rental agreement was suddenly terminated at her home, and the foreclosure blocked trunk shows that support her niche sewing business. So she auctioned her entire inventory online, at cost, collecting cash to keep her all-female craft team afloat. “No one lost their job; no one has suffered a pay cut, ”says Trzebinski. “We have worked together for three decades, given birth together, married, educated our children together, buried husbands together.” In six months, the team (more accustomed to embellishing exquisite suede coats) helped transform Eden’s handful of buildings from a family home into a creative sanctuary and arts hub that could offer a new kind of hospitality. They sewn up the screens, painted the butterfly murals that connect the common areas, polished the hardwood floors, and draped sand-colored netting over the fiberglass patio roofs to filter the sunlight.

Nine rooms were cut out from the different spaces and filled with memories and ephemera of a traveling life. A “woman-made” borehole and lake provide a source of water for professional kitchens, and the flagship bridge is enveloped in four acres of permaculture garden.

Guests at Eden's Egg Bar, including environmentalist Peter Kinyua (far left), his wife Sophie and their children Mathew and Alexa;  educator Nyokabi Kenyatta;  Trzebinski and his daughter Tacha Lemarti;  and producer Lucy Chodata

Guests at Eden’s Egg Bar, including environmentalist Peter Kinyua (far left), his wife Sophie and their children Mathew and Alexa; educator Nyokabi Kenyatta; Trzebinski and his daughter Tacha Lemarti; and producer Lucy Chodata © Jennifer Clasen

A peacock visits the Egg Bar in Eden

A peacock visits the Egg Bar at Eden © Jennifer Clasen

“There was never any question of lying heads on their way to a safari,” Trzebinski said of her ambitions for Eden, which she sees as a political forum and an arts club, a place where locals can come together. and engage with the topics of the day, nationally and globally. “I was so encouraged when people like my former boss, Richard Leakey, and activist Kathy Eldon bought into the idea of ​​the place.” Eldon provides sponsorship through its US-based setup, Creative Visions. Under his aegis, says Trzebinski, the Eden Project regularly hosts monthly panel discussions with various parties – events that “break stereotypes about age, race, religion and gender.”

I get a taste of the Project’s possibilities as a social impact platform a few days later. When night falls, it’s like a theater curtain, sudden and dramatic; fires and candles are lit and the place comes alive. At the bar, above which ostrich eggs hang like giant earrings, is a disparate group of people: artists, environmentalists, politicians, food gurus and financiers. With the exception of the son of Kofi Annan and Peter Kinyua, director of the Rhino Ark fund (whose concert is tonight’s event), he’s a female powerhouse. There’s Emmy-winning producer Sigrid Dyekjaer, straight off a plane at the Cannes Film Festival. The three-star chef Dominique Crenn, an arm tied to her fiancée, the American actress Maria Bello, is so inspired that she wants to recreate the idea in France, by launching a consortium of “non-hoteliers” sharing the same ideas.

The main living room of Eden
The main living room of Eden © Jennifer Clasen
The master bedroom in the main house
The master bedroom of the main house © Jennifer Clasen

Tonight, however, everyone is there to celebrate the great Rhino Charge, which raised $ 1.4 million for conservation with funding from the Kenyan private sector during the lockdown. Kenyans do it for themselves, says educator Nyokabi Kenyatta, daughter of the country’s founding father. The pride is palpable – reinforced since the pandemic, she says, when expats left in droves; “It allowed people to get to know their own country better and less depend on international support. “

Eden bridge and the lake
The Eden Bridge and the “Woman-Made” Lake © Jennifer Clasen

Nairobi was changing long before the pandemic. Mutu describes “a lot of vertical growth – high rise buildings, apartment buildings and shopping malls where there used to be bungalows and small stores. There is a resurgence of entrepreneurial activity in a relatively stable economy. But Eden, in the verdant enclave of Langata, is undeniably an oasis, surrounded by what is still real savagery in this booming “maximum city”. None of the Kenyans I spoke to believed a place like this would have been possible 10 years ago. “There are [still] nothing like it, ”says Lucy Chodota, charismatic creator of To rush, Kenya’s response to Sex and the city. “It’s dynamic and it heals.

In the future, Trzebinski wants to write a dissertation and maybe create another project on the coast in Lamu. His new home next to Eden is a hive of activity; staff, dogs, children, guinea fowl. Her daughter and her friends are paddling in Lake Eden. There is, I note as we prepare to say goodbye, the deeply Kenyan feel of a village about it. “There is a farewell in Swahili that I cherish, that you say to the people who are close to you,” she told me with a smile. “Tuko pamoja. We are together.”

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