Bo van den Assum's house nestled in the Catskills is the kind of place where you might expect to find a country-cutesy look -- cozy quilts and cast-iron doorstops shaped like Scotties. Instead, there's a gritty, exotic atmosphere that seems anomalous in this crisply whitewashed lodge. It looks as if a traders' caravan of night visitors has crashed for the weekend.
The floors are casually strewn with layers of weathered carpets redolent of dust and frankincense. There are chunky tables, teetering bedposts on stout, turned legs, and spangled pillows piled in friendly disorder. From the rafters waft veils of batik. Everything seems to come from somewhere else, including van den Assum himself, who grew up in Dongen, the Netherlands, and speaks with a lilt that oddly befits a place once known as Camp Rip van Winkle, formerly a Roman Catholic boys' camp.
His furniture comes from Lamu island, one of an archipelago that is 30 minutes -- by dhow -- off the coast of Kenya, near Somalia. The tiny Swahili coast island has been known since the 14th century as a sort of intercontinental trading outpost. A thick, spicy soup of diverse design influences simmers on the island, and the resulting motifs are expressed in its rustic, ornamental woodcarving.
Once a corporate lawyer for KLM, van den Assum says he regularly visited Lamu ''when I had lots of free mileage to use.'' He bought a home there and launched Lamu Industries, his own line of furniture, which is handmade of mbambakofi, an East African hardwood that resembles mahogany.
When he's not in Kenya or Catskill, most any afternoon you'll find van den Assum in his SoHo warehouse showroom, polishing table tops and telling stories about the steamy island or his mainland-bound furniture. TIMOTHY JACK WARD
Photos: ABOVE When he bought the house in 1982, van den Assum found dog-eared black-and-white photographs that tell of its previous incarnation as a spartan summer camp for boys. RIGHT A centuries-old bed brought from Lamu, originally from India, has a mattress supported by braided palm fronds. The wobbly, spindled head and footboards are stained with mud paint. The Hindi-style leg has been assimilated into other Lamu furniture designs. (pg. 42); LEFT A modern Lamu dining table with Hindi-style legs graces one end of a room that once served meals to 100 boys. Karasi- and Dodoki-style chairs from Lamu are joined at the table by two well-worn farmhouse kitchen chairs, which were purchased at a flea market. The canvas floor cloth was hand-painted by Rebecca Buffelle. TOP In the parlor an assortment of exotic masks from West Africa replaces the stuffed elks' heads you might expect. The 1830 house is heated by cast-iron stoves. BOTTOM On a table in the entry foyer is a ceremonial vessel from Lamu, which opens to form a chalice. (PHOTOGRAPH BY ANTOINE BOOTZ FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES) (pg. 45)