Interior designing in Ethiopia: Bringing style and elegance

Hadra Ahmed

Italian Renaissance is believed to have been a key point in history when the wealthy people began to adorn their houses and chambers in a style that was unique and expensive. However, interior designing became beyond privilege and prestige for the rich during the mass production era of the Industrial Revolution when many middle class Europeans took to the habit of having designer made chambers. 

Many key personalities have influenced the development of this profession, too. The American architect and interior designer Frank Lloyd Wright, who was known for his impeccable light fixtures, carpets and window works; the Scottish designer and water colorist,
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who is still known as “the father of the Modernist movement,” and whose inspiring Art Nouveau captivated the British Royal family in early 1900s; and the French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, otherwise known as Le Corbusier, whose unmistakably detailed work contributed to not only his profession as urban planner and furniture designer but also the profession of interior designing itself are just a few.  

  In Ethiopia however, the evolution of professional interior design may not exceed the last few years. Salome Dagnachew, one of the few professional interior designers in Addis Ababa, described the evolution as something that has picked pace in the last three to four years.  The first office to have had professionally designed office was Zemen bank, according to Salome.

“Now I can say that it is becoming a trend. Although many customers don’t know what exactly they want, they want to have their offices decorated,” Salome told Addis Standard.

Salome has established her own company, Baroque Interiors and Events, in 2011 mainly to do “designing and styling based on turnkey contracts.”  Baroque’s profile, however, goes beyond designing and styling as it touches on areas of office usage designation & space allocation, partitioning and office space management, furniture selection and procurement as well as facilities staffing management. 

 In just three years, Baroque Interiors and Events left its mark of style and elegance on many companies and offices from Juba in South Sudan (Afrikadit) to Addis Ababa, its biggest portfolio being the Capital Hotel andSpa where it was in charge of designing the mezzanine floor, the first floor, a restaurant and a bar on the ninth floor of the Hotel’s building as well as the entire building for the spa, which will be inaugurated soon. Currently, Baroque is doing the entire designing work on the expansion building of Nexus Hotel.

Style and elegance

Globally many events influenced and continue to influence the development of interior design: style, culture, the development of language, international political and social developments are but few. But most importantly, the history of interior designing was defined by what Frank Lloyd Wright called “organic architecture,” the relationship between mankind and environment. Inspired by his own philosophy of “organic architecture,” in 1935, Wright designed the Kaufmann Residence known as ‘Fallingwater’, in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Ever since then, Wright’s architectural and interior designing of the “Fallingwater” has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture.”   

One can’t say the same about Ethiopia though, where there is not even “enough understanding between interior designing and interior decorating,” Salome said.

But that is not Salome’s biggest challenge. Indeed, a growing number of Ethiopian private business people are enjoying having designer made offices and it is possible to simply double that number. But most of the time her work circles around buildings built for entirely different purposes. “A building can be built for office but my clients want me to design it for spa,” Salome said. It is challenging because the buildings are not built considering drainage, or other electrical systems suitable for spa.  Although it is the job of an interior designer to make the necessary changes, “it is costly for the client, and for me it’s a challenge.”

However, Baroque Interior and Events prides itself as having “pioneered a very unique concept in office interior design in Ethiopia” with Salome herself having a special affection for office space designing and decorating.

Salome studied interior designing in India, and did her diploma at the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID). Having master’s degree in business administration from The International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia helped her to “see interior designing not only from style and elegance point of view but also from the business point of view.”

Salome believes perception as an unnecessarily thing associated with the profession that is potentially hindering the development of interior designing as a trend in Ethiopia; many people think having a designer made office as an expensive move. “Without knowing the actual costs people are simply afraid of it,” Salome said, adding many clients express their wishes to have “something nice like this or that office, but then they are scared of the cost.”

Salome has left her marks in designing expensive offices, hotels, residence quarters and spas with furniture and finishing materials purchased from Dubai and China.  But growing up with a special taste for designing means, (“As a kid, I always wanted to demolish my parent’s house and remodel it again”), Salome believes it is also possible to bring style and elegance into one’s environment without bankrupting oneself. 

Photo: Salome Dagnachew

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