Several studies have confirmed the correlation between how a space looks and how a person lives or works. With changes in how we view our environment, there is now an increasing demand to put much thought into space designs. But this has not always been the case.
Pitching space designs, in Africa for instance, is more commonplace today than it was a decade ago, with more people now interested in how their spaces look. Interestingly, we are talking about a $115 billion industry projected to hit $121 billion by the end of 2021. And it gets more exciting with the various options available with innovation.
The acceptance of space design in Nigeria coincided with the coming of interior design startups like Spazio Ideale — an Italian expression loosely translated as ‘Ideal Space’.
Tomi Bamgbelu, Founder and Creative Director of Spazio Ideale, has always had a flair for architecture and computers. She studied computer science for her first degree, with a masters in interior design coming after as she followed her love for designing.
In what started as a passion, she soon decided to turn interior designing into a business. Her entrepreneurship journey started by chance.
The rise of Spazio Ideale
After her postgraduate studies in Italy in 2014 and a stint in Ghana, she couldn’t find any suitable design company to join when she returned to Nigeria. They all didn’t fit into the designs she liked, among other concerns. So she started telling people about what she does.
“Usually, when you go to a design school, you have to create a design portfolio of your work. And when I got back, I distributed it to a few people to see. They got to see what I love to do and how I love to create.”
And she eventually convinced some of the people in her circle to patronise her.
In June 2015, she did her first project, a living space, for a friend. The startup has since grown in its scope of coverage and is currently more of a commercial space design company.
Proud of the progress the company has made so far, Bamgbelu reveals that it has done more than 50 projects cutting across residential, commercial, hospitality, and school facilities.
However, most of them are in commercial spaces — over 30 clients — particularly the tech space. With most projects gotten from referrals, the startup touts itself as the first in the tech space, boasting of designing office spaces for popular startups in Nigeria.
Notable mentions include Kuda Bank, Softcom, Heritage Bank, Paystack, Reliance HMO, uLesson, Techpoint Africa, and Max.ng.
Bamgbelu relives with fondness how the team came up with Paystack’s iconic workspace design.
“In our initial conversation with Paystack, we tried to understand how they are and what they do, and we realised that they have a friendly organisation, although small then, but they were like a family and a fun environment to work in. And we designed the space to reflect this.”
A customer-centric approach
Between initial contact to delivery, there are five steps the team goes through to satisfy a client — this is called the Spazio Way. First, a 60-minute meeting, then a conceptual design, detail, execution, and after-sales care.
However, the delivery time depends on the scope of the project.
Although Bamgbelu personally handled the startup’s first set of projects, the founder’s current responsibility is to provide overall creative direction from design to execution.
This is easy because she has a reliable team of 14 highly skilled individuals consisting of interior designers, architects, civil engineers, and building technologists. This fills her with confidence as they all work together to deliver on every project.
The startup also engages partners like muralists, furniture makers, and plumbers, among others. In essence, Spazio Ideale’s work can sometimes require completely changing the entire structure of a space, from ceiling to floor.
Bamgbelu highlights how the team comes up with the design for any project.
“It depends on a few things; we design based on what the client is trying to achieve. The first thing we ask is, why aren’t you doing this yourself? Why do you need an interior designer to do it for you? That’s the only way we can add value.”
Bamgbelu gives her take on why people reach out to Spazio Ideale.
“For some people, it’s in trying to save cost because they don’t know where to get the things they want. Others are looking for expertise because they have this idea in mind but don’t know how to go about it. Some others are looking to improve employee experience or brand association.
“So, every design is usually different, although they might have the same elements. Sometimes, it depends on the company’s culture — fun or reserved, or the functional and aesthetic needs of the organisation.”
The founder believes that the most challenging project in the past six months was creating uLesson’s Abuja office with less than two months given for the design and implementation.
“We did deliver it within two months. So, it was challenging to make sure that happened because of the size of the project, which is 1,000 square metres, and there were so many unique pieces.”
Cost depends on a client’s budget; however, quality is not compromised in the process. Bamgbelu is often encouraged because customers are satisfied that the projects are completed without them needing to step in after the initial discussions. And this makes the startup have repeat clients seeking a redesign or who’ve either moved offices or opened new ones.
If anything, this has helped the company grow. Before 2019, the startup experienced a 50-70% revenue growth. Between 2019 and 2020, the revenue increased by 150% while working towards an equally successful 2021.
Thinking outside the box
In a space with other interior designing businesses like Space Finish, the founder believes Spazio Ideale stands out as it doesn’t set out just to make a space look good.
Besides excellent execution, there is conceptualising and designing. The team comes up with unique designs that blend perfectly into the client’s company structure and aid proper communication and interaction while creating an unforgettable impression on visitors.
To explain Spazio Ideale’s competitive edge, Bamgbelu speaks of how Spazio Ideale got the job to design Paystack’s first office in 2016, a year after the payments company launched in 2015.
Although uncommon at that time, the founder decided to do something different with the office space design.
“What you usually expect in a reception is to see the company logo, lights, probably made of acrylic or glass. Understanding Paystack’s culture, we saw that these guys aren’t rigid. So, their first point of contact, as people enter into the reception, should reflect them. And that is why we came up with that ‘Welcome’ wall where we wrote welcome in different languages.”
This decision would create an unforgettable story in Paystack’s history and influence the decision to invite Spazio Ideale to design its second office.
Bamgbelu relates how the wall made some foreigners who visited the office see them as welcoming and heartwarming people because they felt at home after seeing ‘Welcome’ in their languages.
Despite similar success stories, the startup has had its challenges, many of which are peculiar to Nigeria.
Bamgbelu looks forward to a time when electricity and Internet, inflation, and talent development will no longer be a clog in the wheel of creative businesses seeking to remain competitive.
Other problems that come with playing in the creative industry “include access to good quality partners that help us achieve our projects. For example, it’s difficult to access very good artisans and workmen. And because we pride ourselves on excellence, we sometimes have to redo things until they are right. But regardless of all these, we’re clear on what we want to deliver to our clients.”
Changing seasons and what the future’s like
When campaigns for social distancing and working from home (WFH) became pronounced at the peak of the coronavirus in 2020 — with the idea of having a physical office often debated — Spazio Ideale had a relatively good run, although it lost a few clients.
Bamgbelu reiterated how the startup experienced a 150% revenue growth. One wonders what was there to do during a lockdown and office closures.
“All the time we were working from home, we had designs to churn out. And the design phase takes time,” she clarifies.
Essentially, interior designing is a highly creative business that is yet to be fully appreciated in this part of the world because of how little people know about its influence on living and working.
Bamgbelu explains it this way.
“Organisations provide tools, and people tend to have tools that make them productive. The space where people work is a tool to make sure the organisation achieves its objectives. So, if the staff is happy with the space, it helps them make profit.”
Hence, she recommends educating people and organisations to see its importance. Still, only interested people approach interior designers for consultation or design and execution.
Bamgbelu states that the concept of remote work does not threaten the growth of the business, especially in Nigeria, pointing out that the particular challenges associated with WFH — electricity and Internet — would only encourage companies to run a hybrid model.
Interestingly, Spazio Ideale’s client base is still made up of mostly commercial spaces.
“The truth is organisations want to get their spaces up and running. Everybody is thinking past COVID-19. Yes, there’s the work from home strategy, which we recommend. But we believe the office is not going away,” she submits.
The startup plans to reach more African and international markets by Q4 2021. Even though there’ve been projects from foreign organisations with offices in Nigeria, getting jobs from these companies for their offices outside Nigeria would be a major step forward.