Unique rustic handmade furniture from dhow wood

   Furniture designer Lumman Kyhle rustic handmade furniture. Photo/Margaretta wa Gacheru

Furniture designer Lumman Kyhle rustic handmade furniture. Photo by margaretta wa gacheru
By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Posted  Thursday, March 20  2014 at  15:50

In Summary
  • Lumman’s carpenters often come up with innovative designs of their own, making each piece of furniture unique.
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Dhows have been sailing in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. The first records of their construction date as far back as early Greek and Roman times.
What we don’t have records of is the recycling of old derelict dhows, the ones worn out by the wear and tear of working the high seas.
That’s probably because the woods used to make fishing and cargo-carrying dhows have rarely, if ever, been retrieved for the purpose that Lumman Kyhle devised just 13 years ago.
The Swedish housewife had been living with her family on Mombasa’s South Coast for some time when she was struck by the idea of recycling old dhows and using their wood to create classy furniture and artistic home decor.
“I think she just saw these beautiful boats rotting away on the beach and realized they still had some utility and rustic beauty,” says Lumman’s good friend Ben Raymakers who’s also the proud owner of several choice pieces of her dhow wooden furniture.
He’s got a solid hardwood dining room table made from mahogany-like woods, including Murunza and Mzambarau trees, which can comfortably seat 10.
And he’s also got a sturdy seven foot tall bookcase made from Mango tree planks.
But Lumman’s dhow wood workshop in Karen makes a whole lot more home furnishing than just book shelves and dining tables. Her wood working staff creates everything from high chairs, mirror frames and benches to sideboards, coffee, bedside and buffet tables.
Fashioning home furnishings according to Lumman’s sleek Scandinavian designs, her staff of well-qualified carpenters often come up with innovative design ideas of their own, which is one reason why every piece of furnishings is unique, one of a kind.
Carpenters
Currently, just three carpenters work the seven types of wood that dhows are made with, the most notable being the murunza, mvule, mzambarau and mango woods.
In the beginning, however, Lumman had to hire more than a dozen carpenters since there was such high demand for her dhow ‘art’.
But once she decided to shift her business and move to Nairobi, she scaled down her staff. One reason she did this was thatshe needed workers with multiple skills, not just woodworking.
“We’re involved in the total process of finding old dhows, negotiating prices with their owners and getting them dismantled so we can transport them back up to Nairobi,” says Elijah M. Nelson who works closely with fellow carpenters Moses Dume Gonzi and Augustus Katana Baya.
“We only go for more dhow wood once a year,” adds Baya, who said they can buy two big lorry-loads of dhow wood at a go.

All three men have families at the Coast, so they visit them several times during the year. But the buying of dhows is quite an intense undertaking so they try to bring as many ‘junked’ jahazi and ngalao dhows back as they can.
The big jahazi dhows can be up to nine metres long and before they get ‘junked’, they are used for sailing long-distances and transporting cargo, including fish and people.
“The smaller ngalao dhows are mainly used by fisherman,” says Baya who added that negotiating for payment always includes their close collaboration with their boss.
“Sometimes we buy from the fishermen; but then at Shimoni [where they find quite a few old boats], there’s one hotel owner who owns several dhows and we buy from him,” he adds.
Occasionally, they will also buy old canoes since their flat bottoms provide useful hardwood planks that can easily be fashioned into benches, coffee tables and even into Spartan ‘sofa sets’.
Currently, Lumman’s dhow wood furnishings are on a special display at her Karen workshop on Molodo Road, off Dagoretti Road.
Antiqued look
Because all the furniture is ‘one-of-a-kind’, the men say they are happy to take special orders, although in the case of the dining room table they were finishing when we met, Baya says it took them a good month to put together, including making the ‘frame’ for the planks which had to be carefully fitted together and attached to the super-solid legs.
The finishing was also time-consuming since it not only involves cleaning each plank and treating it with termite repellent, but also water-proofing, waxing and finally polishing till the natural grains of the woods shine.
In some cases, a piece will be whitewashed with a water-based paint that will then be dried and scrapped off to leave an antiqued look like the dining table standing in Raymakers’ home.
Pricing of Lumman’s dhow wood furnishing is negotiable, however, the dining room table that took the men more than a month to make is priced at around Sh320,000.
The coffee tables are approximately half that price; but for all the effort put in to create a unique dhow wood piece of furniture, one could easily describe it as priceless.

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