We chatted to Nthabi Taukobong, interior designer, business owner, and author, about her recently launched memoir, ‘The Real Interior’.
A veteran of the interior design industry, Nthabi has a career spanning more than two decades. With all this experience, it was only fitting that her next step would be to share some of the wisdom she’s gained.
‘The Real Interior’ explores the privileges and challenges that come with working in the interior design industry and is a celebration of Nthabi’s impressive career.
1. Now that your book, ‘The Real Interior’, has been released, how do you feel about having your story out there for the world to read?
At first I felt a bit vulnerable. Then I accepted that this is a story that I had felt moved to share. The time had finally arrived for me to stand back from it and allow my story to reach those who would connect with it.
2. How do you define success?
After all the lessons and life experiences I’ve had, I would define success as simply being centred and having a clear vision of what you want. It is getting up when you fall, it is being grateful when you win and it’s helping others around you to make it over the finish line.
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3. Luxury is your signature style. How do you define it?
If you need to be on your best behaviour to enjoy it, then it is not luxury. Luxury to me is simply the art of living well in whatever manner you see fit. Space, comfort, family, friends and loved ones around you in your home are some of the greatest luxuries.
4. What interior decor rule needs to be retired and why?
I believe all rules are made to be broken, but one in particular is the one that says you shouldn’t mix too many patterns and colours. I believe that’s so limiting. Decor should be about expressing your individual style, so if you want to mix leopard print, pink and fur in one room, feel free.
5. What are some of the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
These are ones that every interior designer faces at some stage in their profession – difficult and demanding clients, supplier let downs, agreeing to a job below budget because you are desperate for the work, crazy deadlines and over-spending on projects. The only way to excel is to become a master of your profession, build healthy relationships with your team, get to know your clients well and learn to anticipate their needs.
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6. What has been the highlight of your career?
I talk about this in my book in greater detail, but it was going to Mauritius in the first week at my dream job to oversee a few of the company’s hotel installations. I knew then that this was where I wanted to work. Beautiful interiors set in a tropical landscape where the boundaries between indoors and outdoors are blurred. I learnt a lot on that job, such as not over designing a space and how to bring in nature to create a resort-like feel. To this day I use these lessons in all my projects.
7. Who are your favourite local designers at the moment?
I love those local interior designers who are creating their own lifestyle brands with furniture, lighting, rugs, fabrics and accessories. These include Thabisa Mjo of MASH Design Studio, Mpho Vackier of The Urban Native, Siyanda Mbele of Pinda Design, The Ninevites and Sheni Moss.
8. What is your favourite room in your home and why?
My sun room is my happy place. I’m a huge sun worshipper and on weekends you will find me there lying on the sofa enjoying the afternoon rays. I’ve been saving up for a while now for new Moroccan floor tiles and I’ve finally transformed the room into a resort getaway. I also took out all the old and heavy furniture and kept a few key pieces, which has added a more relaxed and airy feel. With the palm trees outside it feels as though I’m on holiday somewhere exotic.
9. What do you do to unwind?
I journal every single opportunity I get, even if I have a few hours in between meetings. It helps me calm down and centre myself. I also love a really good book and can disappear in one for days. My biggest indulgence are my Friday movies – there’s nothing better than a large box of popcorn and sweet treat in a pitch black movie house to really help me forget about the outside world.
10. Since your career started, what progress have you seen in the local interior design industry?
I love the new appreciation for our own, made-in-Africa designs. When I started in the industry, there was this belief that everything from overseas was better and we were desperately trying to emulate European and American design. It has been wonderful to see the spotlight shining on our local creative language. Through our art, accessories, furniture, homeware and fabrics there is more of a celebration of all that is African and it’s inspiring to experience.
11. What advice do you have for aspiring designers?
Know yourself first – what drives you, the reasons for what you do and how you do it. That will help you to stand out from the rest. Do everything from a place of love and passion. Never stop learning and improving your skills in whatever design discipline you have chosen to focus on.