Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bespoke furniture in Africa

When we arrived in our house on site here in Mwadui, there was only one wardrobe in the bedroom. I was told that my wardrobe was being repaired and would be delivered to me soon. Three days later, on a on a Saturday afternoon the carpenters brought my wardrobe! 

Although it was made from press board and initially not too bad,  within months, the screws holding shelves up, and hinges with which the doors were attached, became loose. Then the press board began to peel away from itself. (if you can imagine this!)  Always, I'd do running repairs and the wardrobe held up for a few more months. In July the door to the shelf section broke off completely and no amount of fixing helped any more. I used the door (which had a mirror) as a standing mirror when I blow-dried my hair. Then the drawer in which I keep my smalls, derailed completely. Seriously, the metal rails on which the drawer ran, twisted and warped and I couldn't open the drawer at all. One day when I decided to removed my lingerie from this drawer, as I pulled it open, the bottom fell out! *Sigh*
The wardrobe (above) which the company supplied was made of pressboard and within a year, was almost unusable! 

Without any further ado, I asked Michael, my askari to go over to the town carpenter, Stanley and ask him to call on  me. Stanley arrived a few minutes later. I showed him the broken wardrobe, and asked if he could take measurements and make me one exactly the same, except this time, to use proper wood. 

He made measurements, took down notes, and went off to draw up a quote for me. The next day he returned: total cost of a new wardrobe made from a good local timber, with locks, handles and a new mirror: Tsh858,750/US$532. As with my curtains and flat-screen television, we were paying for the wardrobe personally. I discussed this price with Grant who said I should go ahead and have it made. 

Stanley required a deposit of Tsh400,000 which I paid him, on the condition that he had to have the wardrobe finished by the end of August else I'd not pay him the balance. 

In the middle of August I walked over to the carpenter's workshop where Stanley and his assistants had made great progress with the wardrobe. After I'd taken several photos to show Grant, Stanley suggested I return the next Friday if I'd like to see how much further he'd got. 
 The skeleton of my new wardrobe
Stanley planing one of the doors

 A different angle

On Friday 30th August I visited the carpenter workshop again where Stanley and his assistant were fitting locks to the doors and drawers. He promised that he'd varnish the cupboard over the weekend and that it would be ready on Monday. 
 Stanley shows how easily the drawer slides in and out of the cupboard
Stanley's assistant demonstrates the locking mechanism 

On Monday, Grant met Stanley in town. Stanley told him that my wardrobe was ready for collection. Grant organized a vehicle, I asked Michael to arrange helpers from the Guest House kitchen and mid-afternoon (yesterday) my wardrobe arrived!

Once it had been placed  in my bedroom (the other wardrobe has been moved to Grant's bathroom where, later, Stanley will try to repair it so that I can use it for storage) Stanley showed me how easily the doors and drawers opened and shut and that the locks were in perfect working order as well.

I paid Stanley the balance and thanked him for a job well done. In my opinion, this craftsmanship is every bit as professional as you'd find in a first world country.

The hanging space (guess who likes shoes?)

Shelf, drawer and cupboard space

 Well done Stanley!

For more posts about other people's worlds, please click here


  1. Wow, what a great piece of furniture. Stanley is a craftsman.

  2. It's a beautiful wardrobe Jo! There is nothing better to me than well made wood furniture. I cannot stand the particle board (I think this is the same as press board) version of things. As you've experienced, it doesn't stand up to use and in your case it barely stood up at all. How great that you can now hang your clothing as well as fold them for storing.

  3. Wow ! he did a great job and at least you have space enough now to hang up your 200 dresses !
    We are off to the Geneva Lake in a few minutes the weather is wonderful !

  4. Jo, it is a beautiful wardrobe! It is a shame the furniture they sell now is made out of that icky press board. It does not last at all. Stanly did a great job! Have a happy week!

  5. What a talent! That was surely one of his masterpieces...And how organized you are sister! It helps to see how easy not only to pull the drawers easily but to know where to get what you need...Blessings to you.

  6. Nice! It's wonderful to use local crafts persons who take pride in thei work.

  7. A truly skilled furniture builder is a thing of the past here. I love the wood. So nice to find local craftspeople.


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo