Isyaku: Documenting History of African Interior Designs

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Binta Suleiman Isyaku, former lawyer now interior designer, and the founder of Albedo Design School, is bent on providing a documentation of African Interior designs as well as promoting interior designs that work for Nigerians and African climate.

The quest for the publication began a year ago, when Isyaku innocently launched African designs into her interior design school’s curriculum. “I was so shocked to find that there were no documents on Nigeria interior design. You’d find lots of publications on interior designs on every phase of Europe’s development – renaissance, the gothic, the neo-classist and so on, but none at all is documented about Nigeria’s history of interior design.”

Unlike many, who would have simply moved on to work with available and existing design forms, Isyaku choose to bear the responsibility of providing a publication on the subject.

What’s in it for her? Not much, nor anything that meets the eye. Isyaku simply believes that while learning about western interior designs can help people solve design issues, it neither solves Nigerians problems nor is it functional with the African climate.

Tell us about your Research into the History of African Interior Design.

It is quite interesting what we have found. When we were compiling our interior design curriculum, we searched for publications on African and Nigerian Interior Designs, without success. As Nigerians, we need to design for ourselves. I needed to understand the phases of Nigeria’s interior design history, its beginning, and its progression. The idea is to yield better aesthetical and functional designs. With the research, we are trying to develop our history. We are going back to villages, to grandparents, and retrieving old images of old houses from the 60s, 70s, 80s and so on, to put together Nigeria’s history of interior designing.

At present there is no existing publication on Nigerian Interior design?

None that we could find. In African architecture, there are publications, but none on Africa interior design. However, we are still looking.

Resource materials for the publication are sourced organically, from primary sources?

Yes. We are going to villages, talking to grandparents, and collecting old photos of homes from decades’ past. The research is slow and will take time, but I believe we can do it. Further, during the final designs exams of our students, we infuse elements of African designs in their projects, so they can do the research and submit the research to us, which we use to develop our content.

You mentioned that there were gaps in the phases of the history of Nigeria’s interior design, expand more about this?

Yes. Let’s use our bathrooms as an illustration. We used to take our baths on the bare floor, scooping water with our hands or bowl to rinse our body. Suddenly, from floor bathing, we jumped to bathtubs. There was no modernization of our old form of baths, we simply jumped to bathtubs. In the kitchens, we cooked with woods and stones, this progressed to the tripod cooking stands, to coal pots, and there it ended. There are huge gaps in the phases of our interior design history. Perhaps, it’s because we don’t have the technology or the desire to ensure its gradual progression. However, it is never too late. We can go back to where we stopped, from the use of coal pots, and ask, “how do we progress from the coal pot? How do we merge the coal pot and gas? That way, we make it functional in an indoor kitchen, because we have moved away from our culture of outdoor cooking with the advent of modernization and the security challenges that go with it.

When did you decide to project African interior designing into your work?

That was last year, actually. When we started the curriculum development, I was shocked to find that there were no documents on Nigerian interior design. You’d find lots of publications on interior designs on every phase of Europe’s development – renaissance, the gothic, the neo-classist and so on, but none at all is documented about Nigeria’s history of interior design. This is a problem, because we deal with Nigerian problems. In our homes, we all deal with Nigerian problems, that’s what people complain about. The former, may help people in understanding interior design problems, but it won’t help them to solve current Nigeria’s peculiar problem. That’s when I decided there is a need for such a publication.

How is the research going so far?

Slow but steady. We have meetings once in two months, on the subject, so that we don’t forget.

So, there is hope for increased demand for Nigeria Interior designs?

Yes. I won’t exactly call it African Interior design, rather something that works for us, Nigerians.

You are lawyer. How did you veer from a career in law to interior design?

(Hahahaha) It’s a matter of necessity. I was working at the FCT High Court when my husband was transferred to Lagos. I went to with him to Lagos but had to shuffle between Lagos and Abuja, every month. At some point, it became quite problematic, so I had to resign. After doing arbitrations for a while in Lagos, and there was nothing else to do, I switched to soft furnishing, such as bedsheets, and throw pillows. Until one day, I said, “Why not learn interior design?”. I got a diploma in interior design. I started to design for friends and family, initially, to working with international based clients.

 

 

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