National Trust needs £2m for Kenyan poet’s house

Otherwise the Wandworth house's unique fretwork decoration could be lost



The National Trust is trying to raise at least £2m to save a modest London terraced house which was the home of Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache. Inside, every wall is covered with decorative fretwork and curios; the interior as a whole is a unique and highly personal creation.

Asalache left Nairobi for London in 1960. As well as publishing a novel (A Calabash of Life), he also worked as a civil servant in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

After buying his Wandsworth house in 1981, a basement wall became damp, and he covered it with floorboards found in a skip. He then decided to decorate the boards with fretwork, and from there the asymmetrical decoration gradually spread, eventually encompassing the whole interior. Asalache’s tastes were eclectic, and he was inspired by African, Islamic and British art and design.

On his death in 2006, he left his home to the National Trust. The building dates from 1815 and has small rooms, which means that visitor numbers would have to be limited to up to eight at any time (possibly around 4,000 a year). But although the house has been bequeathed, it will need substantial repair work, as well as an endowment for its long-term preservation and opening.

The National Trust estimates that this will require a minimum of £3m, plus a further £2m if a neighbouring property is to be bought as an educational facility. The trust has committed £1m from its own funds, but is seeking the rest from outside donors (possibly including the Heritage Lottery Fund). The money needs to be raised by June 2010. If the appeal fails, the bequest will have to be declined and Asalache’s unique interior might be lost.