Along the coast of Lagos, between Badagry Creek and the Atlantic Ocean, sits a serene and private waterfront community known as Ilashe Beach. The island, which extends between Nigeria and Benin Republic, offers access to one of the most pristine and luxurious beaches in all of Lagos, and its exclusivity—you can only get there via boat—makes it one of the state’s best hidden gems.
Since 2012, architect Tosin Oshinowo—the mastermind behind the Maryland Mall and lifestyle furniture line Ilé-Ilà—and her Lagos-based firm CmDesign Atelier (CmD+A) have been transforming the island with their series of beach houses crafted for private clients. In this very niche market, Oshinowo has managed to forge ongoing relationships with her clients that have resulted in a successful referral network that keeps her in demand at the beach.
“It seems I’ve created something very special at the beach,” says Oshinowo in an interview. “I didn’t intend to, but it just so happened.”
The largely natural setting of the beach presents challenges for both architects and developers. Some areas along the strip are as narrow as a mere 400 meters wide. With nearly a decade worth of experience working on Ilashe Beach, Oshinowo has become an expert and her connections with each of her clients has afforded her the opportunity to be able to revisit some of her earliest projects to see what ultimately worked and may not have.
“There are so many things you have to understand to be able to build here. You have to understand edge of coast, you need to know the kind of materials that are available locally that are resistant to salt,” she explains. “There is nobody in Lagos with the level of experience that I have at the beach. I have become a specialist.”
One of her earliest works at Ilashe Beach was a roughly 1,200-square-meter “White and Wood” house, completed in December 2013, that featured a mix of traditional and contemporary styles and boasted a “U” shaped layout surrounding an in-ground pool. Each of its three bedrooms offers views of the Atlantic Ocean and there are several "rope railings" throughout the space, including on its main staircase and on the outdoor balconies.
Around this same time, Oshinowo and her firm were also working to refurbish an existing beach house, known as "Lacasa Prive," that offered a whopping 12 bedrooms. As part of its revamp, the house was converted into four apartments and the exterior was given a makeover inspired by contemporary Mediterranean influences.
The homes are just two out of eight that CmD+A has completed on the island, with two more currently in development.
The most recent home under CmD+A's belt, and undoubtedly the most famous, is the Sencillo Beach House, a three-bedroom abode, completed in 2018, spanning 900-square-meters with a 21-meter-long pool that functions as the focal point. CmD+A describes the house as having a “minimalist” aesthetic with an “emphasis on neutrality to fully reflect and celebrate the beach surrounds.”
Oshinowo relied on locally sourced materials and integrated a series of beautiful rose gold-colored laser cut steel privacy screens that drew inspiration from indigenous Yoruba “Adire” fabric patterns.
The Sencillo house has hosted the wedding of Nigerian singers Simi and Adekunle Gold and currently operates as a high-end resort, with prices starting at a hefty N500,000 (around $1,311USD) for an 8-hour daytime visit during weekdays.
For her next project on Ilashe Beach, Oshinowo is looking forward to moving away from the realm of familiarity as she crafts a pavilion space, this one named the Agaja House, that will offer an eight-meter cantilever, strong pops of color, a functioning rooftop that will be suitable for sunbathing, and an absence of rooms. It’s the to-be-determined colors that she is most excited about.
“I can see my language evolving as a designer,” she says. “You push your aesthetic but your end user has to buy into it. I was lucky that my client was receptive to my wanting to explore pops of color for this project.”
Ultimately, Oshinowo is hoping that Ilashe Beach will one day become a bigger area of tourism for Nigerians. The area’s exclusivity makes it very expensive to live and maintain property there, much less spend extended periods of time. Additionally, there aren’t any restaurants or grocery stores, thus making it even harder to plan for a lengthy stay but as it picks up momentum, hopefully it will become more accommodating.
In the meantime, Oshinowo is appreciative that she has been granted the opportunity to thrive off of client referrals on Ilashe Beach. And with nearly 10 projects successfully executed, she is quickly building a distinctive brand on the beach and has become the ideal consultant for anyone else looking to build there.
“The world of engagement with a private client is growing. It’s so important to be known for something. Do one thing really well so it’ll always be a reference point.”