This Family’s Expressive Melbourne Home Celebrates Their African-Australian Heritage
Each Kenyan textile and Afrobeat record tells a story.
Published Jul 25, 2021 1:00 AM
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There was a lot for house hunters Ryan Green and Fatuma Ndenzako, co-owner and founder of clothing brand Collective Closets, to love about the circa-1950s home in Melbourne’s Inner North neighborhood: It was close to public parks and the city’s vibrant food scene; it had been recently updated; and at 1,300 square feet, it offered room to grow. Even better, their 1-year-old son, Arlo, approved. “He ran around the open house saying, ‘This is it!’” Ndenzako recalls, laughing.
Immediately upon moving in, the couple replaced some of the space’s frillier accents—banana pudding–colored paint, Art Deco chandeliers—with chill, modern-minded alternatives. “The house had a very formal air that didn’t reflect our family. We wanted our home to feel super-relaxed,” says Ndenzako. They doused the walls in crisp white paint (Dulux Vivid White) and swapped in contemporary glass pendant lights.
Joining these new additions are emotionally charged accessories that gesture to both Ndenzako’s African heritage (her parents immigrated to Melbourne from Angola in the ’80s) as well as her and her husband’s Australian roots. “Both ancient cultures take a lot of pride in storytelling and celebrate color,” she notes.
Padding the kitchen barstools is a pair of vibrant cushions made from shuka cloth, a plaid-like Kenyan textile Ndenzako says has adorned the shoulders of Africa’s Maasai people for generations. “The beautiful vibrant colors of the shuka signify bravery, strength, unity, and energy,” she explains. Another shuka is draped over a chair that pulls up to the avid entertainers’ vintage rosewood dining table, which they’ve left unsealed because, as Ndenzako says, “we want all the stains and marks to tell the story of our lives.”
As family and friends gather around it, the hosts set the mood by popping on one of their many Afrobeat records. “Growing up, my family listened to African ’70s funk every week,” Ndenzako remembers fondly. Her favorite album? Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Thank You Mr. D.J.
A collection of portraits, including a painting by Mafalda Vasconcelos, a Mozambican artist with a reverence for the African female form, lead to the living area, where a photo of Ndenzako’s late mother leans regally atop the mantel. The couple’s library of African literature bookends the fireplace with a pair of beaded sculptures, which Arlo has affectionately nicknamed Sally and Morris. “My sister bought them in Kenya on her last holiday. I move them around depending on my mood,” says Ndenzako.
Native plants, including blushing brides and golden wattles, Australia’s national flower, pepper the house. “I pick flowers from my garden every week. They put a smile on my face,” notes Ndenzako.
Oftentimes an object will pique Arlo’s interest in his dual heritage, something the couple is eager to foster. “My parents always celebrated our culture and reminded us that we were African, and my sister and I attended Swahili class every weekend. I loved that we are able to alternate between two beautiful cultures and express another aspect of ourselves,” Ndenzako says. The tradition continues.