Call of the Wild
A couple living in Kenya wanted a home where they could host high-powered business meetings, which would also serve as a private family retreat. While it needed to be elegant and impressive for guests and business associates, it was also the place where they would be raising their two children.
Interior designer Perla Lichi, who has offices in South Florida and Dubai, fulfilled their wishes by designing the 40,000-square-foot estate with opulent public areas and cozy, intimate private spaces.
In addition to the 35,000-square-foot main house, she designed two out-buildings that play to the clients’ fondness for Asian culture: a Chinese pavilion and an authentic Chinese tea house. In addition, the clients also requested that she follow the principles of Feng Shui, a system that originated in China 3,000 years ago for creating balance and harmony.
The house has marble flooring throughout, 6 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and an indoor pool. The designer chose a color palette of Earth, water and sky tones, and used dark, hand-carved woods, gleaming silver leaf, hand-painted plaster frescos and graceful arches to create a home fit for royalty.
A Dramatic Entrance
The breathtaking two-story foyer features a magnificent floral-patterned stained glass skylight in gold, peach and turquoise that brightens the space in the daytime, while an elegant chandelier made of iron and crystal illuminates it at night. Two large mosaic medallions designed to create the illusion of area rugs add interest to the neutral marble flooring. In the center of the space is a grand piano where the children can practice their music.
A hand-carved mahogany railing accented with silver leaf leads up an angled marble staircase, while the adjacent walls feature hand-painted frescos. Under the staircase, arched double doors lead to a cozy family room with a stone fireplace and an area for kids to do their homework.
In the formal living room, more gleaming silver leaf outlines large, handmade plaster wall frescos and decorative plaster ceiling detail. Three iron-and-crystal chandeliers hang in the center of the ceiling. LEDs illuminate the perimeter, where air conditioning vents are cleverly hidden.
The designer divided the long room into two separate sitting areas. One of them faces a stone fireplace, where a painting above the mantle slides into its frame to reveal a TV screen. Hand-carved, French-style walnut sofas upholstered in velvets and silks provide seating, and the cushions feature the same hues of peach, pink and gold that make up a large, hand-tufted, silk area rug.
The formal dining room presented a challenge. “The clients wanted to be able to seat 24 people, but the room is square,” Lichi says. “It was a limited space for that many people, so we had to get creative with the table shape.”
She solved the problem with an X-shaped table that has four arms leading out from a circle in the center. Silver leaf covers the body of the table, while the centers of its different sections are etched mirror inserts edged with marquetry wood. A gold-and-cream ceiling soffit is the exact same shape as the table, and silver leaf gleams from the centers of its arms. Silver and gold leaf accents the elegant mahogany chairs, which feature Victorian-style tufting and velvet upholstery on the fronts, and silk embroidered with a floral pattern on the backs. On the walls, hand-painted frescos edged in silver leaf create the feel of a European castle.
Designed to Enjoy
A large indoor pool is the centerpiece of a room with stained glass clerestory windows, a non-slip stone floor accented with a glass tile mosaic and walls padded with acoustical panels to absorb sound. Large murals depict scenes from Italy. Doors on one side of the space lead to a spa, sauna, massage room, barber shop and his-and-her bathrooms. On the other side of the space is a carved mahogany, granite-topped bar. Doors on the far end lead to an inviting garden.
A game room offers a place to relax or play billiards, and a cracked glass staircase leads from it to a state-of-theart home theater on the next level. It offers comfortable seating for 16, a large screen and a top-quality sound system. “I kept the design there simple,” Lichi says. “When you go into a home theater, you’re there to watch the movie, and you don’t need a lot of ornamentation.”
The master bedroom, on the other hand is rich with romantic ornamentation. A hand-carved mahogany bed fits perfectly into graceful pillared arches on a feature wall. Two Bombay chests flank the bed, and a spread in plum and aqua adds a punch of color. Overhead are hand-painted frescos outlined with decorative moldings and silver leaf. “We took a plain ceiling and added makeup,” Lichi says with a smile.
The outside of the main house is ideal for entertaining. Graceful pillars support the roof of a wide verandah at the back. Whimsical, egg-shaped rattan chairs, which can also be found scattered elsewhere around the yard, offer seating.
The cocktail table is unique: made from the trunk of a tree, it features a ring of hand-carved, detailed miniature houses. An entryway leads to the indoor swimming pool and its adjacent bar so that guests can climb out of the water, pick up a drink and head outside.
A pathway of stone and brick leads to the larger of two outbuildings, a Chinese-style pavilion where twin sculptural lanterns light the way at night. The structure features traditional Asian architecture, with columns, a sloping tiled roof with upturned eves, and shoji windows, as well as bamboo flooring and a raffia ceiling inside. “It’s like something you’d see in Beijing,” Lichi says.
The space inside the pavilion is designed to serve two purposes: business and pleasure. A bilaterally symmetric table that runs the length of the room provides a space for the homeowner to stage corporate meetings. In the center are two hibachi grills where, if dinner is on the agenda, chefs can prepare Asian-style cuisine for those in attendance.
Two stainless steel vents above the hibachis carry away smoke and steam so that everyone has a clear view of the chefs. Comfortable club chairs upholstered in chenille are only on the outside perimeter of the U-shaped table. Stainless nailhead accent trim on the chairs matches the vents, as do decorative metal strips that lift the hibachis above the tabletop. “The room gets used a lot for business,” Lichi says. “They can have a chef, or two chefs, cooking dinner, or just hold a meeting.”
Another outdoor walkway, this one made of stone and wood planking and flanked by clipped, emerald grass and small shrubs, leads to the teahouse. The small, dainty structure has wide overhangs and a pointed roof, and tall greenery provides a colorful backdrop behind it. Twin urns on either side create a symmetrical feel, and a mosaic with a dragon design adds visual interest at the entrance. “It’s a ladies retreat where the owner likes to sit and sip her tea,” Lichi says.
The clients are happy with their new home, and Lichi is proud of her work. “It’s a very elegant house where they can entertain VIPs,” she says. “And it’s also one where the family can feel comfortable.”