Fundu Lagoon: Dream of Zanzibar


I’m sure you have dreamed about it before. Be it that time you travelled to some breathtaking tropical landscape or even when you just saw a picture of it in your computer. You thought: “- I should quit my job and go live there”.

It wouldn’t be difficult given that this remote location included a turquoise sea, fine white sands and an almost lustful green nature.

Ellis Flyte thought exactly the same, but she made it a reality.

She was to take an enormous leap of faith in her search for a retreat/ escape “holiday home”, and endorse a project which was to become a boutique hotel, and change her life.


In a break from her work as a designer for cinema, theatre and her own fashion brand, Flyte Ostell, she travelled to Pemba, the smallest island in the faraway archipielago of Zanzibar.


Zanzibar, off the Tanzan coast, is an idyllic destination still unknown and remote enough to have escaped massive tourism. Most people are yet unaware of it’s key importance in spice commerce (nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, clove…) or how the islands are exotic within the exotic due to a unique blend of cultures: Persian, Parsi (Indian Persians), Arab, Muslim, English and Portuguese colonial and African (mostly Swahili), a mixture that permeates everything from architecture to cook to music (the latest under its own name: Taarab). They don’t know about the coral reefs or the tortoises swimming among the colourful fish banks. Not even many of Queen fans know that the band’s front man and singer, Freddie Mercury was born there under the name of Farrokh Bulsara.


This place, utterly distant from routine, was where Ellis arrived in a moment when she was reflecting upon her future. The captain of the vessel she was in, took refuge from a storm in a nearby beach, and when the sky cleared again, the designer looked towards her travel companions: “This is the place”. She had discovered that her creativity could be used in a different way.


Shortly after she came back to the place along architect Emma Garstang, her business partners Brian Henson, Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis, who had helped her make this project a reality and 300 local artisans -many of them had never seen a Mzungu, a white person- to start raising a hotel that would be called Fundu Lagoon. Non-negotiable premise was that the marvellous environment should be altered as less as possible, that’s why the most ecological and traditional resources were used: the resort bungalows emerge from the surrounding vegetation so as not to impose to the landscape, built with wood from the island and nearby mangroves, plaited palm roofing, Tanga tiles, raw cotton fabrics, batiks and canvas, and use solar power.


-When was the exact moment that you decided: “I have to come back here to live and start a hotel?” Why? What was the reaction of people around you? What was your main idea when projecting and designing Fundu?

Friends clearly thought it was a little crazy but very exciting. The local people took a while to discuss and asked a lot of questions…meetings under mango trees and canvas to stay out of the sun! But they finally agreed on my birthday and we could finally put pen to paper and commence the build. We would employ 150 villagers to help and pay them daily in local currency. Marcus (her business partner) would live on site with Emma, our architect, for the one-year duration starting in January 1999, and soft opening for the millenium! I travelled around Dar/ Tanzania/ Malawi/India/London, looking for everything to fill our hotel, from furnishings, paint colours, kitchen and bathroom equipment, toiletries etc etc. Quite a year for me too, with frequent visits to site to discuss the progress. I remain the only director who still visits from the U.K., 10 times a year!

“-What is the most precious thing you have discovered in Zanzibar?”

There are a lot of exciting experiences-it is hard to pinpoint one! Maybe the peace, tranquility, soulful of the place and the wonderful local people who are so friendly and keen to learn.
It is a very special faraway destination where you are greatly loved. The location is astounding, the people are immeasurably kind -and keen to learn.
It is so soulful and powerful it can move you to tears, help you find peace in yourself.

-And what have you copied from Zanzibari people’s ways?

The lifestyle details/ the laid-back style. Love the way they walk-we call it the Zanzibari shuffle!


What is/are your favourite Zanzibari dish? Do they use many spices? (since it is a Spice island)

We have local chefs, and there is a Swahili dish on every menu. I love the Samosas and snacks they are so good at, and Pwani Madafu of course- which is coconut milk from its shell! You can smell the aroma of spices as you get off the plane and yes they are used daily in our kitchen and in our cocktails!


Is there any local word you have learnt that has discovered you a new meaning or concept, that doesn’t exist in your native language?

My favourite is Salama, which means “Peace be with you.” The people say it all the time as a greeting. City life does not project that kindness very often!

-Do you still live in London or more in Zanzibar?

As I said previously, I still do live in London, and visit Fundu 10 times a year. I do still design and make clothes for internationally based private customers from my studio in London when I can.

-Do you still keep running your fashion brand Flyte Ostell or working in Fashion? How do you make it compatible with running a hotel? Fashionwise, what have you discovered in here?

I have been working in fashion and costume design from a very young age, and continue privately as described above. It is my belief that as a creative person your work can embrace a number of different areas of lifestyle, from clothing to interiors, to buildings. My late father, Thomas Hynd Duncan, was a celebrated architect and I undoubtedly learned something from him about proportion, colour, form, texture. As for the fabric designs at Fundu, (she also has designed the hotel linens) they are largely dictated by what is available. I decided to use a traditional base cloth used for the Zanzibari boat sails as my staple, a light natural cloth, often draped so that the breeze catches it. The traditional day beds, giant sized sofa-beds for daytime lounging around/ sleeping/ resting, are another local touch which are much enjoyed. Other local fabrics include coffee coloured tent canvas, Indian cutwork bed spreads, local batik.



-Has Zanzibar inspired you in any other creative adventures/aspect?

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources…love their music and rhythm, their colour clash clothing and sense of dress which is highly original.

-Do you organize many outdoor sports activities? Sailing, diving…

All of the above! Sailing on dhows (typical svelte sailing vessels with triangular sails), diving, dolphin spotting and turtle watching…We are the first PADI 5-Star Golden Palm resort (one of the highest ratings in diving offerings for resorts) in Tanzania with a fleet of boats to cater for all the above watersports over and under the water! Plus fishing, day sails, island hopping.


-Your resort was designed to cause the minimum environmental disruption. Have you got any tips for eco and sustainable tourism?

Fundu is a secret hideaway which is not easily viewed until close-up. We do not cut down trees but build around them, use natural materials, care with re-cycling and use solar power.


-You describe your experience as a “soul journey”.

I love falling asleep to the sound of the waves, and the sunsets and skies are sensational. As are the people.


-I’ve just learnt that you were the costume designer for a movie all the kids from the ’80s remember: “Labyrinth”. How cool is that?

Yes, it was a truly exciting film to work on, after also working on “Dark crystal”. I was responsible with Brian Froud, for David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the costume ball!


Were will our desired future be waiting for us? Will we recognize the opportunity that will make us happy and help unfold our potential? What must we work in to accomplish our goal?

Anyhow, Ellis’ story gives us some clues about how to get it.

PS. For a budget take on tavelling to the islands you can visit this post

3 Responses to “Fundu Lagoon: Dream of Zanzibar”

  1. June says:

    This is a great and inspiring article – a reminder that we don’t have to stick to a job or lifestyle we don’t feel comfortable with just because other people are doing it!

  2. Laura says:

    Me encanta el artículo. Te hace pensar y eso, hoy en día, es difícil de encontrar.Enhorabuena!!

  3. [...] Speaking of acting, some scenes of his movies were being projected. Such as Labyrinth, were he plays the Goblin King in a costume by our friend (and Zanzibar dreamer) Ellis Flyte [...]

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