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How I turned my idle land in Kiserian into a money-making venture

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Photo credit: Wendy Watta | Nation Media Group

After retired banker Susan Gichia and her husband bought land in Kiserian, about 25 kilometres from Nairobi, it lay idle for 10 years.

"We bought the land in 2004. On our 10th anniversary, we felt challenged and decided to build, starting construction in 2014," she says.

She found the land by chance.

"I love mountains and water bodies. I once came to Olepolos for nyama choma and I loved the view. I thought it would be nice to have a holiday home here. I asked around for a contact and one afternoon my friend and I got a local person who took us around, all the way from Champagne Ridge to Kona Baridi; this is the last land that he showed us. He thought we were looking for farmland, so he kept taking us to such places, but I was set on getting a place with a view. When I saw this area, I loved it, and we bought it thereafter," she says.

The idea was to build one house and then do something else, like a boutique hotel, on the seven acres of land.

They built a four-bedroom holiday home.

"We took three years to build it because, at some point, we took a break when funds ran out, and then we continued as money came in," she says.

Everything was sourced locally, except the tiles, which they brought in from Dubai.

"The local white stone is from a quarry nearby, the roofing is Decra, and the cladding stone is all local, but the one inside the house is from Stone Art. When it came to furnishing, we went with an African theme. The beds and sofas are from Odds and Ends, and the tables you see with African carvings were done on Ngong Road. I worked for a Pan-African bank and would collect pieces here and there, from places like West Africa, when I would travel for work," she says.

Photo credit: Wendy Watta | Nation Media Group

Was it always meant to be a holiday home?

"Yes, the idea was always for this to be a holiday home. When my children were young, we used to go on a lot of holidays. We would book a weekend house in places like Naivasha, Maasai Mara and Kajiado...just places near Nairobi. I liked that holiday homes allow for the intimacy of just being with your family so you get time to bond, as opposed to a hotel where there are lots of people around," she says.

The inspiration

The construction plan for the house came from an online site that Susan liked that does mountain cabins.

"I took this house from that site and tweaked it to our surroundings and locality, then got a local architect to do the plans. The building was all by local fundis (masons)," she says.

She says she preferred Kiserian because the views are amazing.

"You can't get this anywhere else. There are also activities to do, like we’re near Ngong Hills so you can leave the house to do a day hike there. You can also drive to Lake Magadi for the day. Kiserian is also near Nairobi, so the drive to get here to check out your investment wouldn’t be hectic," she says.

Susan and her husband named the house the Patch of Heaven.

"The house has four bedrooms and sleeps eight people. Since it’s not very busy on weekdays, sometimes we rent out one or two rooms. We get from Sh35,000 to Sh40,000 depending on the day of the week," she says.

Photo credit: Wendy Watta | Nation Media Group

The clientele

Their main clients are Kenyans coming for a weekend getaway close to the city, mostly groups of families and friends.

"We get a lot of chamas; when women are going for a chama outing, they love coming here," she says.

They added the swimming pool last year. "They [customers] always asked for one, so I felt it was important to add one. It cost a couple of millions to build," she says.

Running an investment away from where you live is always a challenge. Susan who also has another holiday home, a two-bedroom beachfront apartment in Watamu, which came after Patch of Heaven took off, says getting reliable staff is the secret for their success.

Photo credit: Wendy Watta | Nation Media Group


"Luckily I’ve had Mustafa here for three to four years and he’s been good to me and kept the place well. Without staff it doesn’t matter what you do, there will be issues. He’s also the chef, so I get the benefit of having both a caretaker and a chef on site.

Being away from your business alone is a challenge but once you have good people on the ground then it’s not as bad," she says, adding, "The other property sells itself since it’s beachfront. It also gets more business since it’s a bigger home so in Watamu parents with children take the house for the weekend."