Homes and Property

Our eco-friendly home

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The interior of Dr Porter’s house. Most of the furniture was home-made and some of it was bought from African art and craft shops within Gulu Town and from Kampala. photos by Josline Adiru  

By Joseline Adiru

Posted  Wednesday, July 23  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

With a combination of ideas from magazines, hotels and other houses, the Porters built a two-bedroom grass-thatched house in 10 months, writes Joseline Adiru.


On the hilly suburb of For-God village in Bardege Division, Gulu Municipality, there stands a golden coloured traditional grass-thatched house by the road side. A closer look at the house portrays a traditional and artistically decorated grass thatched-house.

The house is owned by a couple who decided to build a house near one of their daughter’s home. The wife explains how they attained their dream home.

Why a grass-thatched house
I am Dr Holly Porter Aber, an anthropologist and a researcher doing research on justice and security. We have always wanted a roof design based on the traditional Acholi ot otota with multiple stacked layers of grass, we have a great respect for Acholi ways of life. We also wanted to show that using locally available natural materials in a traditional way is not only ecologically friendly and beautiful, but also practical.
This is why, when we went to Zanzibar during our fifth wedding anniversary, we adopted the grass-thatched house idea.

The coast of Zanzibar is very beautiful; most of the relaxation structures and the accommodation have grass-thatched roof designs, but most especially, the conducive environ in the grass-thatched hotel room was amazing and we thought of exporting the designs to our home.

Our house is based on a number of other décor ideas including the ones we got from Zanzibar. One of them was a beautiful house design I fell in love with in 2004 and I would always collect various house designs from magazines and keep them with hope that one day, I will put them together to build my house.

My husband and I started drawing different sketches from what I had kept. But after we came up with a sketch of a modern grass-thatched hut, we both liked the design and immediately arranged for an expert engineer to come up with an authentic artistic design.

In 2011, we bought a 30ft by 39ft plot of land and erected our first temporary grass-thatched hut in two months while the construction of our house was underway.

I contacted Dominic Ocaka, an engineer with OB Technical and showed him the design and instructed him to build for us the house we had drawn on paper.

In October 2012, we started the construction of our grass-thatched house, which we expected to be more spacious than the small hut we were living in then because we have children. The firstborn is adopted and she is from Gulu. It was therefore important that she has a permanent place somewhere in Gulu.
The grass for roofing the house was bought cheaply from Atiak village in Amuru District. Each bundle of grass cost Shs4,000 which was cheaper compared to buying iron sheets.

The whole budget for building was Shs80m. The house was built in two phases. The first phase was for constructing the structure and the second stage was where the contractors engaged in carpentry work.
It really took so much time and it was costly because every piece of furniture had to be specially molded to our taste.The house has two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, sitting and dining rooms.

We built it in 10 months without stopping but the most strenuous part about the entire construction process was roofing the house and installing the windows.

Our love for eco-friendly environs made us come up with selective choices of trees, flowers and grass. We designed a spacious compound to accommodate the children. Above all, it acts as our garden for relaxation and hosting visitors for barbeques.

Most of the trees are floral because I love flowers. I have roses, lilies and other types of flowers. I get these from hotels. Whenever I see a beautiful plant at a hotel I ask for a seedling and come and plant it in my garden. I pick other plants along the road. So have not spent a lot on the compound.

I also have a small garden where I plant my vegetables, it is well maintained and I also use as a nursery bed for planting my flowers.

We spent Shs30m to shop for traditional furniture while we designed some of the furniture according to our test. We planned for all our furniture to be artistically traditionally cut logs to give a modern African home. This means that all the furniture at our home was home-made though a few of it was bought from African art and craft shops within Gulu Town while others were from Kampala.

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