Painter Henry Mzili’s journey to remodelling house into a home

Mzili chose to have a small home because it is intimate.  PHOTO/edgar batte

What you need to know:

Mzili bought a finished structure, which he then renovated and remodelled to suit his tastes and preferences. He used colour and blended different components to achieve harmony.

Initially, Henry Mzili Mujunga did not see his home as a workplace so when he was setting it up, his mind was focused on putting up a place where he could simply relax. Later on, the idea of adding a studio cropped up. He is a Ugandan painter who started his journey as a child. He would mould things and build miniature houses from charcoal. In 1996, he graduated from Makerere University Margaret Trowel School of Fine Art.

Three years later, in 1999, he started his professional journey as a painter an exhibition at Tulifanya Art Gallery in Kampala. The artist’s choice for a small house was because he wanted to have access to everything within a small space as opposed to a bigger one.


He bought a finished structure and renovated and remodelled it to suit his tastes and preferences. “First, I changed the roof. I wanted a black one. I changed the front too. I changed the colour scheme, from red to green; it is a natural colour. Green and blue give you a non-intrusive feeling. When I am among the green of the plants and house, I feel I am not disturbing my sight very much as opposed to  if I had a red house. In fact, I don’t like colours that have red in them but many people like and use them, “the 50-year-old artist explains.

As such, he concentrated mainly on the outdoors and gave it a rugged environment with many plants and grass everywhere. “That took a bit of time because I wanted it to complement some aspects of my art. The nature around gives me peace of mind and calms my heart and soul,” Mzili explains, adding that he does not like the modern minimalist home ideas where you have clean walls.

His walls are lime green with rough surfaces. The house is enclaved in colourful plants and flowers whose dark green perfectly complements the soft green walls and white windowpanes.

The grass in the big compound is well mowed, dotted with a few trees from which birds occasionally chirp and sing, completing the nature cycle in the relatively quiet corner of Lungujja, a Kampala suburb.

Adjacent to the house is a gazebo where he relaxes with family or friends for an out-of-house, open-air experience. He used to smoke but not anymore.

“I picked on the habit when I was older especially when I lived in Germany and then my daughter and wife helped me to discard it. They criticised my smoking so I felt awkward being around my family, so I found myself quitting,” he explains.

Within the bigger compound, is a thick hedge of purposefully grown plants that are infused with well-maintained shrubbery. He chose to plant a lot of bougainvillea because he wanted to create some feeling of security around the perimeter wall. The artist picked and planted some hibiscus and other plants he found interesting because of their red petals.

Henry Mzili relaxes on the floor of his sitting room.   PHOTO/Edgar Batte

“They are not flowers, and I don’t know what to call them, but I find them very interesting because they are red no matter the weather condition. I don’t have to wait for the blooming of the flowers. The plants are red all year round, “the artist explains about his choice of plant life within his home. 

He adds, “Also, I like herbs. I planted mululuza (bitter leaf), raspberries, oranges, avocadoes, mangoes.”

You could say that beyond beauty, there are a variety of medicinal and edible plants on top of matooke (green bananas) and vegetables. The trees in the compound provide shade but he also harvests firewood without necessarily cutting off branches but sustainably picking the soft branches that naturally fall off or those on the dried, weak ones that no longer serve an active purpose on the trees and are simply dead wood.

On the lower end, is the artist’s studio and the main house on the upper end.

The home is closed within a concrete fence. His studio is a creative space, with a cluttered table; painting brushes with a colourful cup holder with paint spilled on its sides then a music mixture that represents Mzili’s music identify as General Mzili (he was one of the crooners that made Tilapia Kampala the place to go), and several paintings hanging on the walls.

Amid the studio, is a piece he is working on. It stands on a pedestal right next to another table. It is a photographic vibrant illustration of two happy girls spurring in what looks like a boxing session.

Yet with all that, he still yearns to have more of his artistic presence in the home environment. He adds, “The artist in me is not as much as I would like to see it here (home). I have many ideas. I move and travel a lot and see ideas out there. One of the ideas that I would want to add my home spaces, are sculptures. I want to have more sculptures in the compound.”

That is home, for now. He is building another home somewhere in Jinja. “So, I hope to do everything that I want there, for example, I want my home to be near a water body such as  a river or lake. People like to be near water. I do not know why. I guess it is a spiritual element given the view of the water because it is calming and gives you a feeling of infinity and replenishment. For me, it is the idea of being away from the noise of the city,”  he says.

It is a weekday and Mzili is in a relaxed mood, adorned in a dark green long-sleeved T-shirt with green flowers. With bare feet, he is in his artistic character, painting as he listens to some reggae music. 

“I chose this neighbourhood because it was quiet, but it has recently become noisy given the recent developments,”  he observes. Mzili’s home sits on about a quarter of an acre.

Within his spaces, he is torn between the bedroom and living room, only for a moment.

“I think I would go for the bedroom for obvious reasons. The bedroom is a place of rest. It is also a place for marital bliss, “he adds.

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