When I meet expats in Nairobi, no matter how long they have lived here they will at some point ask ‘do you know where I can get curtains?’ or ‘where did you buy your sofa?’ or ‘who can make me some side tables?’. This exchange often stays verbal and 1 to 1 meaning I end up repeating the same elusive information to various expats but realising it would be better put down in print form.
The reason they ask the above questions is that Nairobi can seem from the outset incredibly difficult when finding good home furnishings, soft bedroom and living items and above all clothes and shoes. Therefore, I decided that after 3 years of living in this city I wanted to write this article to help new and old expats alike who miss Ikea and are going nuts trying to find a coffee table or a decent pair of curtains. So, for those expats who find the under stocked Malls and overpriced furniture shops of Westlands and beyond too much to handle, don’t despair. There are lots of options for all budgets, you just know where to look, and who to ask!
Home Furniture – Bedroom, Living Room, Dining Room, Garden Furniture
Walking into Victoria Courts furniture store, or any other large brand chain furniture store will shock the average expat. “$800 for a two seater sofa in a colour that clashes with everything including itself?!” you’ll scream internally, “I could buy a whole living room set back home from Ikea for that!”. And whilst that is true, sadly it’s a fact of the large brand stores here who contend with high import prices from the Kenyan Government. My top advice is stay away from these stores and do your research before sticking that chez lounge on your credit card. There are better options and it’ll take a bit of travel in hot dusty traffic, but in the end you’ll save yourself a decent amount of cash and in some cases quality.
Odds and Ends – Mombasa Rd and Westlands
This store is on Mombasa Road and also has a smaller showroom in Westlands which has a great selection of sofa, beds, dining room furniture and various us lights, soft furnishings and the odd painting or homage to African wildlife (buy at your own taste/discretion…). It really is an ‘odds and ends’ store and you’ll need to be relatively quick when wanting to buy things as they don’t keep a large amount of stock. We got all sorts of things here including our corner sofa, cushions and throw covers and they often have seasonal sales as well.
TACC – Garden City Mall, Thika
I LOVE this shop. Its the closest thing you’ll get to Ikea and some items are well priced, especially ex-display and staff are very helpful and friendly. They stock everything from beds, dining tables, couches and books stands. TACC also have a tile centre in Lavington if you need items for building.
Ngong Road – Furniture Workshops
The long road that stretches from Upper Hill to Karen after the Rugby Grounds quickly becomes the Rodeo Drive of Nairobi’s wooden and garden furniture. You’ll find everything you could possible imagine and the strip makes for excellent window shopping and the odd lucrative purchase. There are many small open workshops with guys doing dangerous unmasked ironwork so if you are a more ambitious shopper and don’t mind haggling a good bargain, you’ll thorough enjoy your time here. In addition, you can have almost anything made here, from BBQ pits to iron or wooden bed frames in both modern and coastal/Lamu designs. We had all our garden furniture made here and have also bought a fire pit and fire jikos for cold Nairobi nights. You can also buy an impressive selection of plants, turf, water features, lifesize bronze giraffe (why?!) and childrens garden play equipment. Some of the stalls even have their own trucks and you may be able to haggle the transport into the cost as well. When they transport items, make sure they are being gentle with your new bed/wardrobe as it might get banged around in the back of a truck, so ask for them to lay a ground sheet or be careful when loading/unloading. Again the guys making the furniture may not have such an eye for detail as you are used to back home so make sure you explain exactly what you want.
When you pick up items or are inspecting examples from what they’ve already made, don’t be afraid to ask about it and try it out. Swing on the swing. Sit in the chair. Lean on the table. Wobble the bed. Their reaction to this will give you a good sense of their confidence in their own products.
Top advice is buy from the guys who already have furniture out on display and are clearly in the process of making something that day. DO NOT pay the total upfront. Pay a small deposit, take their number (or 2 numbers from two differing workmen on site) and ring them once to make sure they work. If you are feeling very cautious then take a photo of their ID too. Also give a high level of instruction, come with printed photos or the cut out of a magazine so that you have evidence of what you wanted to avoid disappointment. Remember the level of quality you experience out may not reach your expectations of what you get back home.
Dennis Pritt Roundabout – Kilimani
At the corner of Dennis Pritt Road and Likoni Road there are a few stalls in between the plant and fruits/veggie sellers who also make furniture. They also weirdly have an impressive collection of porcelain toilets for sale. Good spot to buy from if you are in the Kilimani/Yaya area. We bought 8 bamboo plants and had 3 long pots made to measure for 4000kes.
Red Hill Road – Gigiri
I’ve heard from expats living up towards the UN area that the quality of furniture tends to be slightly better (perhaps due to high diplomatic standards). The selections is smaller but still a variety along Red Hill Road, after coming through Karura Forest or driving down from Kiambu/Limuru or Runda. You’ll need to haggle a lot from these guys as they are used to Embassy and UN employees with large budgets. Also factor in longer transport costs if you are getting back to Westlands/Kilimani/Junction area (if you live here, consider Ngong Road as its easier).
Goodie’s African Interiors – Westlands
This store is an absolute gem in Viking House on Wayaki Way (Westlands) and the owner is wonderful and has a real eye for detail. They sell handmade chairs, stools and tables made to measure and can make items within 5 days of payment and description. They also accept credit card. Furniture is made to a high quality standard and the cost is very good considering the time and effort put in (we had two kitchen stools for our breakfast bar made for $50 each). They also sell an excellent range of photoframes, large maps of East Africa and Kenya and handmade cards. If you are going to yoga at Acaica on the 3rd floor of this complex or going to Fogo Gaucho for a meat fix, you’ll see it just at the stairwell on your right.
House of Leather – Kilimani and Westlands
Kenya’s answer to a dollar store (except more like starting at $3) this is owned by a smart thinking South African who’s idea of “pile it high and sell it cheap” totally paid off. The stores are set up like a manics lucid dream and you can’t leave the store once entering without going through the maze of children’s shoes, kitchen sieves and plastic flowers. However it truly is amazing and great if you are on a budget as it stocks absolutely everything you might need for your kitchen and also for small home decorating touches. Also great around Christmas for trees and decorations. Very little leather despite the name.
Spinners Web – Westlands/Karura Forest
A wonderful store on Peponi Road that is a large single floor warehouse selling a huge collection of paintings, carpets, table lamps, Made in Kenya kitenge clothes, fridge magnets (the only place I can find them in Kenya apart from the airport, anyone else found magnets that aren’t $10 and in the shape of a golden rhino??) and also a very cute independent café. The prices are fixed so there is no bartering but they are not exorbitantly high and the variety means you can do some one stop shopping for your key soft furnishing and carpet needs. In addition, many of the products are made by small scale handicraft charities and women’s projects so if you want to buy and help others this is also an option. Great for gifts for back home especially around Christmas time!
Noor Lighting – Sarit Centre – Westlands
I often passed this place and was impressed by the sheer number of lights the owners have managed to collect over the years from the UK, Italy, India and China. They have a huge range and styles including LED environmentally friendly lightbulbs and shades. We recently bought two bed side lambs, with shades and lightbulbs for $80 for two. The owners are very friendly and not pushy and can even order in specific designs and tastes. Both indoor and outdoor lighting available and even chandeliers (for when the occasion requires one!).
Taste of Turkana – Westlands
Next to Goodie’s African in Viking House this large store is piled high with shopping bags, laundry baskets, rugs and handbags made from woven reeds from Kenya’s northern county of Turkana. The shop has that wonderful warm reed scent and the owner is very enthusiastic about the handicrafts and stories behind the products. Very good prices and potential to haggle if you are buying multiple items.
Mr Price (but check the price!) – Sarit Centre, Yaya, Two Rivers, Garden City
Every now and then I venture into Mr. Price and then quickly walk out horrified at the price and quality of the items. The South African retail giant came to Kenya 2 years ago and routinely rips off expats and locals desperate for European style furnishings ($120 for a mirror, are you serious??). BUT they do have the odd sale and these are worth trawling through when you need a pillow case or a small bowl for your cactus. It’s also affordable for plates and bowls all year round ($2 for a serving bowl for your hummus, ain’t bad). DO NOT buy bed sheets from here, they are itchy, expensive and will make you cry. Bring sheets from home! For a list of things you should definitely pack before you come to Kenya read my post here.
Langata Link – Hardy
This store is like a showcase for lots of amazing Kenyan designers who make cushions, beanbags, clothes, candles and much more. It’s also home to a beautiful little outlet of Tin Roof Cafe in its sunny courtyard, surrounded by shipping containers housing all the lovely independent designers. Some of my favourites include Pino Nord (Scandinavian influenced designer, made in Kenya) and Soko jewellery (ethically sourced, made in Kenya).
Langata Link also offer expat relocation services including finding you a home, car, converting your drivers licences and registering your new business as well. Inquire directly for your relocation needs.
They also have awesome holiday homes for rent on the coast!
Carrefour – Two Rivers, The Hub Karen, Junction
Expats who have been here for a while will remember Nakumatt Home as the go to for their cheaper home needs, but sadly since they went bust there has been a shortage of items available. Luckily Carrefour’s expanding retail plans across Nairobi are also catering home items, kitchen items and the odd outdoor tent and camper chair. The one at Two Rivers I found to be the best in range for items (and cheese…). The one at Junction is very underwhelming in terms of food and home items but is in the process of becoming better stocked.
Game Store – Garden City Mall
HUGE selection of homeware stuff and GREAT for kids items, colouring books, garden items and camping equipment. Lots of plastic items and not the highest quality but great for one stop shopping and especially if you need an adult hoolahoop to keep your adult boyfriend busy.
Amani Juu – Riverside Drive/Ring Road
This was such a treat to find and has a café and homeware/jewellery/clothes store rolled in to one. Amani is run by a women’s charity and all the proceeds go towards helping the staff and employees who make the delicious food and items for sale. You can find women quilts, children and adult clothes, wall hangings, wooden kitchen spoons, laptop cases and at Christmas time a wonderful range of beaded tree decorations and kitenge dressed angels for the top of your tree. The garden is large and shady and a large jungle gym area for kids.
Tusky’s – various locations. Best is CBD, Kenyatta Ave
Every now and then you’ll find yourself in a Tusky’s supermarket and you’ll ask yourself, how did I end up here? I just wanted milk, and now I’ve bought a jumbo pack of colouring pencils and a princess tiara. I LOVE Tusky’s for this exact reason. They are usually double story and top floor has a weird and wonderful supply of crockery, birthday cards, soft furnishings and fancy dress costumes.
Nakumatt – Village Market
Once the powerhouse of East African supermarket shopping, Nakumatt now sits depressed in most large malls, shutters firmly clamped down as we wait to hear if the Kenyan government will do a bail out. Even more depressing is that the owners have kept a couple of stores open where the staff grimly walk around restocking shelves with one or two items…mainly sponges and bits of old crockery. If you do find yourself near one, it may be worth venturing in as the old stores had impressive Nakumatt Home ranges storing everything from table lamps to bean bags. The best store still is at Village Market but don’t be surprised if you don’t find anything and a desperate staff member pressing their CV into your hand asking for a job.
Mr. Price – carious locations
Buy in sale – best for plates and small bowls
Chandarana – lots of stores but best for kitchen items is Diamond Plaza, Parklands
I was in here the other day for milk after going to yoga and came across the last row at the back of the store which has an awesome and affordable range of plates, saucepans, frying pans, kitchen towels and other kitchen items.
Toi Market – Ngong Road
I LOVE this market but it is not for everyone so bare in mind its hot and dusty and you’ll be heckled if you are a foreigner and ripped off if you are not super price savvy. So bearing this in mind, if you head into the main market, after passing the Uchumi and various clothes and shoe stalls, and enter in on the main road, on your right and left hand side before the fruit and veggie market start are a couple of excellent kitchen equipment stands. They have products from Italy including weighing scales, flat based pots and brightly coloured pots and pans that really liven up your kitchen and make it look different to all your friends (who likely went to the large scale supermarkets). Make sure you haggle the price!
The best service by far is Lynk, a start up that launched 3 years ago helping residents connect with workers in Nairobi who can make furniture, tend to plants and find service workers such as cleaners and even massage therapists that come to your house! It’s amazing and we’ve used it for loads of stuff including having pillows made to measure and having emergency beauty therapists come over when a manicure is much needed. You need to fill out a quote online and then one of their friendly staff will call to let you know who is available and send out a follow up email for you to choose from. Most workers are reviewed online and you pay Lynk directly, helping you from any awkward haggling at the end.
In a traditional sense also, online shopping has finally reached Kenya, although not without its issues. The sites below sell items from the shops listed and also from their large warehouses around the city. The delivery drivers tend to wonder off and aren’t great at directions so I’d advise suggesting them a location you are going to be at for a few hours (your office or home). Most items available are Made in China and not of the highest quality but it saves your trip in the traffic and can plug a gap where an item is needed asap.
Jumia – also has a food delivery app
Hotpoint LG Store – Sarit Centre, Westlands
E Zone – TRM Mall, Thika
Good prices for TVs and other items. Owner prepared to haggle
Text Book Centre – Sarit Centre and Village Market
You’ll find laptops, printers, projectors and anything else for your home office including cartridges, stationary and much more.
Kenya’s answer to the Apple Store, this stocks all Apple products including iPhones, iPads, Macs (laptop and desktop) and all accessories. They also do very good repairs but can be expensive . They accept Apple insurance.
Nairobi Expat Marketplace (affectionally known by all as NEM)
Join this group asap to find items from expats leaving Nairobi who are selling their goods at affordable prices. You might be able to haggle if you are buying multiple items. Make sure you check location as you’ll probably need to pick up item yourself. Deposit on mPesa is standard to protect yourself and seller.
There are also Expat Marketplaces UN (aimed at UN workers but available for all) and also Nairobi Expat Moving Sale.
Salesboards in Sarit Centre/Yaya
Check saleboards in large malls across the city for sales of items, from cars to homes to baby items etc.
Always check the items and owners before handing over all the money.
I hope this helped and for those who have been living here a while and know any other good resources or stores then please share in the comments below.