I'm interviewing real-life designers about what it is like to run a design business in countries all over the world. As you'll see these designers have all different backgrounds and experiences, but I think you'll be surprised how similar we all are too.
About Ogochukwu Agu
What started as a bespoke bed and bath company has morphed into a full-scale interior design for Ogochukwu Agu in Lagos, Nigeria, every piece of furniture and bedding in her project photos below is made locally by her company. She is a trained pharmacist and currently working on a Masters in International Management in addition to her rebranding her bedding and interior design business.
Why did you become an interior designer?
Necessity. So I started out retailing bespoke made-to-measure luxury bedding online at a time where such wasn’t available in my country. I loved the fabrics. I loved the colors. I loved the creativity of putting patterns together and seeing how such a singular item transforms a space. We made the leap to service during the country’s foreign exchange crisis and subsequent recession in 2016 when retail took a major hit because of near impossibility of importation. We started by making bespoke furniture locally, and then styling the spaces – sometimes for little or no profit – so as to develop a portfolio. These days, most of my works come through Instagram, referrals, and repeat clients.
What are the requirements to be an interior designer in Nigeria?
Currently, there are zero barriers to entry as an interior designer in Nigeria. As long as you have the creative flair and technical know-how, that you can further cultivate by educating yourself. Also, knowing the market and what you have to offer to it goes a long way too.
What is a successful interior design business look like in Nigeria?
One that is able to create luxurious and timeless interiors that can stand the test of time.
What is the biggest struggle you face as a designer in Nigeria?
Without a doubt, and at this moment, my biggest struggle as an interior designer is managing client expectations. Most clients hire the interior designer because, in as much as they have the vision of how they want their home, they don’t have the resources to pull them off. Others hire the interior designer because they have no clue where to start but are concerned about the cost, and so tend to micromanage the process in order to maximize value. There is also the indecisive
client, and the clients with a request to achieve contradictory design end, to work with a severely limited budget, or the unreasonable expectations with regards to timeline. Managing client expectations without hurting the business both financially and otherwise, is one of my biggest struggles as a designer in Nigeria.
What does it take to be a successful designer in Nigeria?
Being able to deliver: on quality, on a timeline, on service promised. And while I would say being vocal about being able to deliver (a.k.a aggressive marketing), I do say your work will easily speaks for you. That being said, having a social media presence helps with visibility and as an easy reference for referrals that will definitely come in droves from recognition of jobs well done. It does mean that I have to stay on top of my game as a designer, and in a country where bespoke interior is pretty young, wear several hats. Continuing to learn and reaching out for advice from veterans with expertise in specific fields has proved really helpful to me.
What is a typical project like for your business?
We love working on complete refurbishments where you get to see a total transformation. Some clients would rather just a few rooms worked on because of cost considerations but we and I prefer to do whole houses or apartments. It creates a more welcoming ambiance when every space in a home has been renovated to a very high standard.
How do you charge?
Our billing practice includes the initial consultation fee, the design fee, and the 10-20% service commission of the overall cost of the project. The initial on-site consultation fee of N100, 000 – N150, 000 ($275 - $410) is non-refundable. This fee covers a general design plan, which is very ideal for the hands-on client who wants to achieve a fashionable home without the cost commitment of a full service design. If the client goes ahead to retain our full design service, the consultation fee is applied to the total cost. We charge a pretty discounted design fee within the ranges of $275 - $950 depending on the size and scale of the project. The discount is to ensure buy-in especially for skeptical clients.
What traits or talents have made you successful?
A combination of tenacity, creativity, natural talent for style, and attention to details.
Do you see any differences between design in the US and Nigeria? If so, what are they?
Oh yes. On the client side, the general public – asides the most of our elites and wealthy – is just now becoming increasingly aware of the relevance of professional/bespoke interior design. And while there has also been increasing trust in local design offerings, we have to jump several hoops to justify fee practices and structures. On the business side, getting and retaining trusted trade partners/contractors is a nightmare. The interior design community in Nigeria is pretty competitive and so, every one is almost always out for themselves.
What is your ideal project?
I love luxury residential refurbishments. My ideal project would be the right combination of the building, client, project brief, budget, and creative freedom.
What is the design community/ design industry like in Nigeria?
Right now, it’s pretty competitive. But I’m looking forward to when we would embrace collaborations. I mean, every project brings new learnings, new ways to better practices and make the process easier and smoother, and what’s better than learning from those with the expertise? Collaboration should however be built on trust, clear and candid communication, and honesty.
You can contact Ogochukwu at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.beddingsnbeyond.com
With the exception of the title image by J. Oluwagbemiga all photos are courtesy Ogochukwu Agu.