Entrepreneurs · Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview


by Akumbu Uche

I love well decorated interiors and as such, a good chunk of my browsing time is spent on virtual hangouts like Apartment Therapy and The Selby. Recently, whilst searching for similar websites to feast my eyes on, I came across Okiriko, a Nigerian blog dedicated to indigenous interior design.

Despite being less visual than I had anticipated, the intimately written but highly informative articles on offer, dishing on decorating tips and urging for an environment friendly approach to design, resonated with me.

Fascinated, I e-mailed some questions to one of the site’s Administrators, SCAD*-trained artist and interior designer, Azuka Okonji, and she graciously answered them.


Azuka Okonji
Azuka Okonji


Before co-founding Okiriko and starting up your own design firm [Ekaje Design Studio], you were already an accomplished artist and illustrator. Why did you make the switch to Interior Design?

Actually, Interior Design was my first love. I was 14 when I decided I wanted to become an interior designer. I couldn’t get enough of magazines like House and Garden. I would keep stacks of them and pore through them over and over again. So you can imagine my disappointment when it was time to do JAMB and I looked through the courses searching for interior design to no avail, I remember seeing Industrial Design in OAU* and briefly wondering if the courses were related. So Fine and Applied Art for me, was the natural substitute; I had been drawing and meddling with colours since I could remember so doing something in the Arts was inevitable.

Do you find that these two (Fine Arts and Interior Design) complement or conflict each other?

They complement. Illustrations that I do, drawings, design, graphics, they all feed and strengthen the same creative source.

A lot of people use the terms Interior Design and Interior Decoration interchangeably; what’s the difference?

An interior decorator “decorates”. The surface treatments you see like curtains, wall treatments, light fixtures, flooring and the tasteful and artistically pleasing – arranging all these elements in a space is the work of a decorator. Anyone really, with a creative flair and a good eye for colour can decorate.

A designer on the other hand is an “interior architect”; we deal with the actual space planning of the interior of any structure. We make decisions based on quality of life and ergonomics. We study the interaction of man and his environment and we bring solutions that maximise quality of life. We study a bit of everything – construction, electrical layouts, plumbing, lighting, furniture, the merits and demerits of various materials, like carpet, wool, paint, etcetera.

So in other words, an interior designer should be able to design a home for a 70-year old man in a wheel chair who is allergic to natural fibre, and loves to entertain. The architect deals with the design of the external shell of a building while, ideally, a designer takes over the interiors and does everything else. This of course also includes decorating.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m your client; could you help me find contemporary art pieces that match my design theme/colour palette?

Absolutely, although my personal opinion as an artist is that art pieces shouldn’t necessarily always be made to “match the décor”.

The world is going green and I would like to adopt that kind of lifestyle. How easy is it to find eco-friendly furnishings in Nigeria?

Very easy. Under-development comes to our aid a lot in Nigeria, not because of our love for the earth, but because we are still a very “manual” society for the most part. We take resources from the earth and produce what we need with very little processing.

The problem I see in Nigeria is not “going green” but staying green consciously. In many rural parts of the country people are still building their homes with materials they get from their immediate environment, [for example] my grandfather’s 4-storey building was built entirely with mud. We plant indigenous plants, we eat organically grown fruits and vegetables when they are in season, we call a carpenter to make a lot of our furniture, and we are not a wasteful society, even if a lot of that is due to poverty.

What we should watch out for are our production and use of plastics and most importantly, the things we import. We need better quality control.

Is it possible to redecorate my home/workspace without necessarily buying new things?

Yes of course, I have an article on my website, “Making the Most Bang for your Buck!” that gives pointers on this issue. We have the wrong belief that oodles of money need to be spent to redecorate; it is not necessarily true.

Looking around your environment and seeing things with “new eyes” shows one different possibilities. This is also a part of going green.

In our society, the services of a professional are more likely to be hired by the Oga Sirs and Big Madams. Do you have any D.I.Y tips for those on a limited budget?

There are loads of websites and magazines that offer countless D.I.Y ideas. Just Google! Be creative with what you have, never be scared of trying out a new idea.

Wallpaper has a reputation for being tacky so I’m surprised to find that you make a case for it on the website.

Ha ha, in what world is wallpaper tacky? Not at all! I pointed it out as an option and a good one. The problem I see with wallpaper is the perception that it ages badly, it’s a pain to put up and take down and after all it’s only just “printed paper”. But wallpaper like everything else has evolved a lot – from washable, to paintable to the range of beautiful patterns ranging from floral to geometric. Its application method has also greatly improved as well as its being easier to uninstall.

Wallpaper still maintains a relevant role in design and I have seen a couple of wallpaper shops here that have a very impressive range of product.

Final question. Home improvement and decoration shows are one of the attractions of cable TV; any chance we might soon see you doing something similar on one of our local channels?

Ooh, nothing like that being planned for the immediate future, but nothing would make me happier!


*SCAD – Savannah College of Art and Design, USA

*OAU – Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife



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