If you have been following us for a while, you know that we routinely profile Africa-based artrepreneurs who offer tips on running a business in the creative field. For our sixth edition, we spoke to Donald Nxumalo, a South African space planner, who won the first edition of the Steyn City Four D interior design competition Win a Home which aired on the SABC network in 2014. Although in another life Donald says he would have been a pilot, he was able to convince the judges of Win a Home that he was right to have pursued a career in interior design instead. His prize? A tenure as the resident designer of Steyn City Parkland, an expansive property just outside of Sandton. A lover of wallpaper and black and white portrait photography, this don of contemporary design agreed to share his nuggets of wisdom to help budding interior designers become fellow showstoppers.
Lesson 1: Respect local design techniques.
DN: “I was heavily influenced by my grandmother who was Ndebele. She painted people’s homes in interesting shapes and also made reed mats which were woven with different color yarn to create Ndebele patterns on them. Seeing her sell these crafts to ladies who thereafter sold them at the markets really inspired me to believe in homegrown techniques. It made me realize that Africa’s influence on my work is so important.”
Lesson 2: Go to school.
DN: “Studying is such a critical avenue to explore. At varsity [read: university] you gain so many skills such as accounting skills which can help keep a business afloat. In addition, you gain basic life skills like professionalism and other intangibles that distinguish one from the pack. At my office, only designers with a minimum diploma from a varsity are hired. I do this because the more you know, the more you can do. That said, I love seeing people explore social media to gain recognition for their work and I think that it is part of the world we live in right now but ultimately there is no substitute for an education.”
Lesson 3: Focus on your client.
DN: “Ironically, designing and putting together my showroom has been my most challenging project to date. The process was daunting because it required deciding on my style and I mostly work with clients and their tastes. Apps like Pinterest are a great way to gain inspiration but ultimately the client should serve as the springboard to the vision coming to life. During our creative process, we sit down with the client and through a consultation, we ascertain their needs and wishes for their residence. But then, we also use Autocad and Revit to draw up plans and presentation programs like Photoshop and Illustrator to put it all together creatively.”
Lesson 4: Develop a multi-disciplinary design practice.
DN: “I really respect Interior Designer Nthabi Taukobong. As a black interior designer it meant a lot to see her doing so well. She has done hotels and has worked all over the world. She has her own brand of candles and diffusers and even had her own fabric range which was called African Queen with Hertex fabrics, which is the largest fabric house in SA. She is also generous enough to pick up my calls whenever I need support. She is truly an inspiration in humility, talent and business.”
Lesson 5: Pay it forward.
DN: “Interior design is about problem solving. With the limited space available in township homes we as designers can help people use their spaces better. At my company, we personally take on black students from varsities and offer 6 week internships. In my personal capacity, I give motivational talks in the townships as well.”
Lesson 6: Perceive weakness as strength.
DN: “My younger age has actually worked for me. People give me work because they would like to see someone young and eager to grow into a success. My clients think my work is fresh and they love that my company and staff are talented, engaging and passionate. The ultimate ask in this business is quality and that is expected regardless of age. One has to produce quality and be consistent. One has to be persistent to get the business but consistent to keep it.”
Which of Donald’s life lessons resonates most with you?