Landing in Lamu, they watched the white-sailed dhows glide up the blue water of the Manda Channel; the patient trains of donkeys ferrying sand in baskets on their backs; the black-cloaked figures of the Swahili women; and the jade green domes of the island’s numerous mosques. They realized that on this remote and beautiful island, time almost stood still.
They had found the ‘home’ they were looking for.
Staying in the small village of Shela, Nanni gazed across the glittering reaches of the channel towards Ras Kitau Bay on Manda Island. Serene and beautiful, he was surprised to note that there were no houses on the pristine stretch of beach. Back in Italy, he found he couldn’t get the image of Manda out of his mind. Eventually, he decided to return, and bought a single plot of land. Embarking on his new challenge, he first built a small house; then, thinking that his three sons and their families would join them, he bought another plot of land and expanded their house into a villa.
Built from local bleached-white coral blocks and delicately styled to reflect a fusion of Italian style and Swahili culture, the villa rose elegantly above the silver sands. Inside, Nanni and his interior designer Armando Tanzini filled the rooms with delicate Swahili niches, intricate fretwork, luscious rugs, hand-made furniture, and an eclectic collection of art, sculpture and carvings.
Friends came from all over the world to stay. One of them, the artist and film director Julian Schnabel, provided the inspiration for certain architectural elements of the villa. Schnabel also used local dhow sails, faded by the wind and sun, to act as canvasses for his flamboyant paintings, which now hang on the pure white walls of the central drawing room alongside the work of a myriad of local artists, Swahili craftsmen, and internationally recognized artists.