National Trust

Late Kenyan poet’s extraordinary house offered to National Trust

1815 Wandsworth villa with unique wooden fretwork interior


The National Trust has been offered the idiosyncratic London home of Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache, who died last year. His small Wandsworth house is decorated throughout with wooden fretwork, covering every wall and ceiling.

Born in Kenya in 1935, as a child he herded cattle while reading Shakespeare, and he later began an architectural course in Nairobi.

Asalache moved to Britain in 1960, taking various jobs (including a spell as a civil servant at the Treasury), and publishing poetry and novels.

In 1981 he bought a house and began to transform it into a work of art. His entire home ended up being lined with fretwork shelves, arches, architraves and friezes, made from pine rescued from skips and cut with a simple saw on his back steps.

The highly personal designs were inspired by a wide range of sources, including Zanzibar, Moorish Spain, Damascus and Istanbul. On his death on 26 May, Asalache bequeathed his house to the National Trust.

His partner, craftswoman Susie Thomson, says that he “wanted it preserved”. The bequest poses a dilemma for the National Trust, which rarely takes on new properties, and usually only does so when there is an endowment to fund running costs.

As a property, Asalache’s 1815 villa has a relatively modest value for London, but the interior is unique. The National Trust is therefore considering its options, which could include handing over the house to a charitable trust which would preserve it and open it to the public. A decision is expected later this year.