Monday, December 4, 2023

Interview: Sophie from Palm Apartments

Sophie Edwards opened the doors to her apartment complex, Palm Apartments, in August 2018. Have a read to see what was involved in pulling off a pretty monumental design and build project. You can learn more on their Facebook page or website or email [email protected].

Can you tells us a little bit about yourself?

I am half Maltese and half English. I spent the first 8 years of my life in Malta and then moved to London. After university in England I moved to Africa to join my boyfriend (now husband) in South Sudan. This was the first time I had lived in Africa however I had spent time in Africa throughout my childhood. My father was born in Uganda and my parents spend a lot of time in Kenya, so East Africa is very familiar to me. I love to travel, explore and my dream to see as much of the world as possible.

Why did you decide to build Palm Apartments?

We moved to Kigali two years ago, when Rowley, my husband, got a job here.

I spent the first few months searching for a place for us to live. We really wanted our own place but didn’t want to rent an enormous house.

Every house we looked at seemed to have endless bedrooms, jacuzzi style baths, tinted windows, tiles from floor to ceiling and a patch of concrete where the garden should have been!

We also looked at the available apartments and found that they tended to be apart-hotels.  They felt too temporary, like short term accommodation which lacked a sense of community.  We didn’t feel that we could live, and really make Kigali our home, in one of those types of apartments.

What we wanted was an independent apartment in a beautiful garden. Somewhere where we would be totally private but also part of a community. There seemed to be only one solution. Build it ourselves!

Who designed the Palm Apartments building? It’s pretty unusual for Kigali.

I’m passionate about design. I love architecture, interior design and gardens. I like the connection between the interior and exterior, how to minimise the transition between the two.

I want to ensure that everything I design looks great, but also meets its most important function, comfort.

I have a large resource library of images and references that I have collected over many years. I keep these references for inspiration. Sometimes I don’t know when I’ll use a particular idea but, I know, that at some point it will inspire me.

I have a London based architect, who I’ve worked with for a while. He is brilliant with space, ensuring that every area is utilised to its full potential. We work well together and have a shared aesthetic. We commissioned a local architect to manage planning permissions and ensure that everything was done correctly here in Kigali.

Why did you choose that location?

I really love Rugando as its very central; in between Nyarutarama, town and Kimihurura. It’s quiet, residential and has lots of great restaurants within walking distance (The Hut, Inka Steakhouse, Filini, Habesha, Kigali Heights). For me it ticked all the boxes!

What was the most difficult part of the project?

Building here was a huge challenge! When I first starting working on Palm Apartments, I didn’t completely understand what a big undertaking it would be. That’s probably fortunate as I probably wouldn’t have started had I known!

As I was managing the project myself, I was working seven days a week.  We had no holidays. Fortunately, I have an understanding husband!

The hardest thing was the sourcing for kitchens, bathrooms, tiles, furniture, and woodwork. I really wanted everything to be of the highest quality and finding the right quality of material and design in Kigali was impossible.  I had to import just about everything which was expensive and complicated. It was a vertical learning curve!

What did you enjoy most during the project?

I have worked with some really wonderful and talented craftsmen. The man who did all the steel work (windows, pergola and balcony railings) was absolutely amazing. He worked on site all day for a year and made everything himself. He was very supportive and focused. He translated everything I designed brilliantly. I also had some wonderful Kenyan carpenters who made the shutters and doors. We really wanted the doors to be beautiful, made of the best timber and to be the connection between the apartments, the balconies and the garden. I also had a very experienced Quantity Surveyor I’m not sure what I would have done without him.

What was the concept behind Palm Apartments?

The concept was to create really beautiful, modern, stylish and functional spaces set in a lush garden in a completely secure compound. It was important to build a sense of community at the same time as each resident having their own private space. I wanted to make the building feel harmonious and peaceful.

Did you have to worry about security?

Kigali is reasonably safe compared to other cities around the world. Of course, security is always a priority when deciding on somewhere to live so I have made sure we have a really secure and safe compound.

We have high walls, security cameras, 24hour guards and each apartment has an intercom system with the guard house.

What do you think people prioritise when they are choosing where to live?

I think location is important, but the priority is privacy, space, light, and comfort.  People do not want to feel isolated, but at the same time need privacy. No one wants to be able to hear their next-door neighbour’s conversation.  They don’t want people peering into their windows as they walk past!

Having lots of natural light, some individual outdoor space, a very comfortable bed, and powerful hot shower are the sort of things that make a difference.

How do you think living in Kigali compares to living in other East African cities?

Before living in Kigali, my husband and I lived in Juba, South Sudan. Kigali is a world away from that unpredictable and unstable country. The wonderful thing about Kigali is the security, to be able to walk freely in the street without any threat makes it incomparable to other African cities. The climate is also pretty perfect and I love the way it is so clean.

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  1. Very elegantly built and designed. Might seem out of place at first glance (think Morocco or Zanzibar) but it belongs. Hope this inspires developers in Kigali to think beyond the usual Nyarutarama “villa” design.


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