At Eden, dawn breaks with a symphony of jungle birds, sykes monkeys, and bush babies. Acacia branches look as if they’ve been dusted with golden fuzz, and the aroma of fresh bread beckons from the main house.
This oasis, in the heart of bustling Nairobi, was once the family home of Kenyan fashion designer Trzebinski. Now, as a boutique hotel and private gallery, managed by the Hemingways Collection, it is one of the most coveted reservations in town, where the only way to experience more than 200 original works of art is to eat and sleep beside them.
Trzebinski’s maximalist flair pulls you into her world. Each suite is like a curated snow globe of her life, resplendent in page-worn travel books, African textiles, fantastical headdresses, and travel mementos. Beneath massive paintings, it’s easy to feel like you’re dozing off in a small art museum. But even better is the warm feeling of being treated like a family friend as you fall asleep in a foreign land.
The Samburu tribe has been called “the butterfly people” for their vibrant traditional robes and intricate beadwork. The ambiance is generously reinforced by the Samburu warriors who work at Eden—many of whom have known Trzebinski for decades. Guests can join them around a blazing campfire to sing, dance, and laugh under the stars.
The Love Story of Eden
Eden opened in 2021, tapping into the global demand for artist-driven luxury accommodations. But for Trzebinski, Eden was more than a business venture. It was an act of resilience. The property is located in Karen, Langata, a leafy, serene district renamed after one of its most famous residents, Out of Africa author Karen Blixen. Late one evening, across from a crackling fire, the echoes of Blixen’s tragic romance resonated as Trzebinski shared her own.
After Trzebinski graduated from the London School of Economics she returned home to Kenya. Eventually, she would become a world-renowned designer—an acolyte of Donna Karan, Paul Smith, and Ralph Lauren. But before her rise in fashion, Trzebinski was 24 and madly in love with an artist and surfer named Tonio.
Tonio, 29, had also returned home after studying in London, at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he studied under Craigie Aitchison and Leon Kossoff. His enveloping tableaux gained interest from top collectors in New York and London. But Tonio felt adrift.
That changed when he met Trzebinski. She became his muse. They married in their 20s. “We were just rushing into our lives,” Trzebinski said with a bittersweet smile. Her stepfather gifted them a 2.5 plot, and her grandmother gave them the funds to build a family home and art studio. Sitting on a plush turquoise sofa, Trzebinski’s eyes darted around the room as if flipping through an invisible photo album.
“We were flat broke, so we had to make everything ourselves,” she said emphatically. The staircase behind her was made of reclaimed wood they found on the shore. “If you look at the architraves around the doors, they’re all eaten by termites—they’re stuff that the Indian carpenters were throwing out.”
“I built this house with the love of my life,” she said. Her long bronze hair was the same hue as the whisky in her glass.
“What followed was a nightmare.”
Loss and Renewal
In 2001, while Trzebinski was on the other side of the planet, she received the devastating news. Tonio had been murdered in a late-night carjacking, at age 41.
“My first instinct was to run for the hills,” she said. “I was 36 years old. I had an eight-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. I wanted to leave this house so badly,” she paused. “I just thought, I can’t live in here. I won’t be able to breathe.”
The aftermath was a deluge of pain and grief, amplified by media intrusion. (“Nobody was interested in the truth,” Trzebinski said pointedly. “Vanity Fair called us ‘Happy Valley aristocrats.’”) She withdrew into her own “fish tank,” as she put it, and led a quiet life with her kids, her memories, and the home they had built together.
Fifteen years later, something stirred within Trzebinski. Her two eldest had left home, and she had another tumultuous marriage behind her. After a brief period living abroad with her youngest child, Tacha, Trzebinski returned to Kenya. The only way she would truly heal from her past was to do what she always did: roll her sleeves up and make something beautiful.
By the spring of 2020, all of Tonio’s work—all the furniture, the books, the memories, their whole lives—arrived at her doorstep in crates. Trzebinski built her family home with Tonio. But with global lockdowns imminent, Eden would be a solo endeavor.
“I felt like I was going on date nights with Tonio, hanging his work again, putting certain pieces together, having imagined conversations with him about where they should go, just like we used to.”
“It set me free, because at the end of it, I finally got to tell our story without saying anything,” Trzebinski paused. “I thought, this hasn’t been a grueling journey. It’s been a holy grail.”
For the Love of Kenya
The more Trzebinski faced her own past, the deeper she explored what it meant to be from Kenya, a place embedded with paradoxes. Land that is millions of years old and simultaneously a country coming of age. As Kenya celebrates 60 years of independence this year, these questions are as vital as ever. “We’re at the beginning of an exciting trajectory, but there is a lot that needs to be talked about and healed,” she said.
Trzebinski devised the Eden Project, her philanthropic initiative, to build community and connection around all aspects of modern Kenyan culture. One evening, Trzebinski and art curator Peter Achayo co-hosted one of these lively gatherings on The Deck—a breathtaking outdoor space festooned with opaline ostrich eggs (by the aptly named Egg Bar) and candles floating like stars on the lake. Notable guests included documentarian and filmmaker Lucy Chodata, restaurateur Sophie Kinyua, humanitarian photographer Alissa Everett, and photojournalist Carol Beckwith.
The following day, Trzebinski organized a riveting brunch discussion around a trio of local entrepreneurs: Ritesh Doshi, who runs Kenya’s artisanal coffee company Spring Valley; Tehmeena Manji, a pioneering tea sommelier who founded Muthaiga Tea Company; and Peter Kinyua, the board chairman of the Kenya Forest Service and Rhino Ark, who spoke about the future of super-conservancies.
Trzebinski, who is unapologetically outspoken, guided the conversations with purpose and passion. An avid environmentalist, Trzebinski ensured Eden complied with the most rigorous sustainability standards. The property uses solar power for heating hot water, recycles all wastewater on the premises, and prohibits single-use plastics.
An Island Sanctuary
The success of Eden and the Eden Project propelled Trzebinski’s latest project on Lamu Island. The glamorous archipelago is steeped in history as one of Kenya’s earliest settlements. This remote paradise boasts a rich tapestry of influences, notably Portuguese and Arabic, which continue to shape its vibrant character. Here, the essence of adventure and purpose thrives, forming the cornerstone of all endeavors undertaken by Trzebinski.
This year, she unveiled Jannah House, an exquisite retreat comprising three buildings, each with en-suite bathrooms, a spacious living area, a dining room, and a private kitchenette. Situated in the heart of Shela Village, its name is a nod to the Arabic word for paradise. And, in Trzebinski’s vision, paradise is synonymous with discovery.
The architectural design is a testament to its commitment to openness, evident through tranquil terraces, sweeping ocean vistas, and a chic open-air bar. A communal sanctuary known as the “Contemplative Scented Garden” beckons guests, providing the perfect locale to unwind while embracing the essence of a traditional fragrant garden, a hallmark of Arab-influenced cultures. This oasis features daybed areas and a bubbling Moroccan fountain, all encouraging Jannah’s guests to seek out and explore.
“I want to go back to the days when you lose yourself in travel,” Trzebinski said. “Where you don’t check into the Four Seasons just to see the same people, hear the same music, smell the same smells.”
Jannah offers the opportunity to rent gorgeously restored Mozambican dhows (Al-Aina, Noor, Khatun, and Tamra) for sunrise or sunset sails along the coast. Beyond Shela Village’s pristine white sand beaches, Jannah Lamu is a short boat ride away from the historic Lamu Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, an array of island activities await: snorkeling, diving, and swimming in the mangrove channels.
Each suite exemplifies luxury hotel standards, with Swahili-style furnishings and mahogany window frames that enhance the charm. The property offers two one-bedroom suites, three two-bedroom suites, and nine bedrooms; communal areas connect all accommodations. While personal chefs are welcome, local culinary gems await with carefully crafted, locally sourced dishes.
At the heart of both properties lies Trzebinski’s commitment to community. Her journey, from love and loss to rediscovery and reinvention, is woven into the fabrics of Eden Nairobi and Jannah Lamu. These hotels are more than just places to stay; they are living stories of love, art, and Kenyan identity.