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Kigali Creatives: Talented Designer Teri Clar On The Emerging Interior Design Industry

One of my favourite moments of the day is walking through the front door of my home after a long day of work.

Entering the mini world I have thoughtfully put together while being welcomed by my fun-loving dog, always brings a positive shift in my mood.

Have you ever thought about how your space affects your feelings, productivity, and relationship with the people you share it? Does your home reflect your personality and ease everyday activities such as cooking, reading, working, and getting dressed?

I met Teri Clar, the force behind NAFASI Interior Designs, in her newly renovated and styled home in Kimihurura. We talked about objects that make us smile, functionality, and design at home. NAFASI (which means space in Swahili) was established in the US, but like its curious and restless owner, it travels, evolves, and adapts. Currently, NAFASI is in Kigali and invites you to play, innovate, and think outside the box to enjoy a functional yet stylish home.

  • Living room

When I ask Teri how she first got into interior design, she takes a minute to think about it, and then she exclaims: “Why hadn’t I known earlier?”. She continues: “Looking back, there were so many little hints during my childhood. Even later, when I was in Tanzania with the Peace Corps, I remember being placed in this little house, and exploring affordable ways to turn it into a pleasant space.”

Teri studied Art, but for many years she was suppressing her creativity trying to fit in what many consider as real jobs that make money.

After Tanzania, still unsure about the career she wanted to pursue, Teri moved in with her sister in Washington, D.C. to figure things out. Following a year of job hunting and traveling, Teri had an ‘aha’ moment: “Why don’t I just do what I like?” So, she started meeting interior designers and all different types of creatives, and passionately dedicated her time to learn the interior design industry. In 2013, clear about her interests and dream work environment, Teri created NAFASI.

Bedroom of the Art House (AirBnB)

How did Rwanda occur? I ask. “My husband wanted to move to Rwanda with his work, and at that time, after having established my business, I was ready to be out of America again. I was doing pretty well, and everything was running smoothly, but I needed a new challenge” she replies.

Even though she knows the interior design industry very well, and she is confident with her work, Rwanda is a whole new market for Teri.

She explains: “My first interior design project in Kigali is this rental house — our home. I wanted to use myself as the guinea pig in this market. I know that I can make designs, but I wanted to meet carpenters, and people I can collaborate with. And, I wanted to have a local portfolio so people can trust me with their space.”

From the moment you leave the city behind and step into Teri’s front garden, there’s a serene vibe that surrounds you.

What I notice first, is that all spaces have been creatively incorporated into the interior, and serve a purpose. The patio is split into two with long, white, breezy curtains hanging on the pergola, separating a dining space from a snug outdoors living room. I enter into the living room with an open-space kitchen and a cosy reading area where Teri’s dog hesitantly plays with its toy. My eyes stop at the details: the orange lamp above the dining table, the wine and bar cabinet, and the two-coloured side table.    

Guest room

“We got lucky to meet a landlord who let us do all this. He paid for all the renovations. It took them one month to knock down the walls, tear out the tiles, and extend the ceiling. We got the house we wanted, and the landlord got an interior design.” Teri continues:

“A lot of people don’t necessarily own in Kigali, but landlords seem always to want to renovate. It’s an interesting time for interior design in Rwanda. Having a plan and offering that to your landlord increases the value of their house.”

In D.C. Teri was specialising in residential interior design, but in Kigali, she is also into the commercial sector. When I ask where she finds inspiration, the answer comes easy: “It usually starts with the client. During the first consultation, I ask a million questions about the colours they like or dislike, their habits, needs, and of course budget. I use their answers as my inspiration.”

But what are Teri’s favourite colour and style?

“Now I am into my dusty rose phase. I like soft, creamy things. But I always think that ranges of blue are neutral and fun at the same time. You can use blue, black, and white with anything.”

  • Master Bedroom

Teri’s style is a combination of many things. “I go more towards eclecticism, and I am a little bohemian. I like to make things feel softer and homier. I can do minimalistic styles, but it’s not what I would choose for my home. My husband is much more modern than me. Before we moved in together, my apartment in D.C. was pink with pictures all over the place. It was very feminine. When I did a style analysis for him, I was like: ‘Oh no! You have the opposite style!’ Ever since he has changed my aesthetic, and this house is the better blend of both of us. It’s masculine, but it has a lot of layers and softages. I couldn’t live in a pink, fluffy apartment again.”

If you enjoy taking up DIY at home, and find manual tasks stress-relieving, Teri recommends a couple of things that anybody can do, especially in quite old houses.

“First, remove the put-down curtains. The curtains have to sit on the wall when they are open, not in front of the window. I think the most important thing is natural light coming into your space.”

“Also, there’s a lot of yellow-custard paint on the walls. If you can’t decide on a colour, do brilliant white, which is very common and affordable. If you paint everything white and let the natural light in, you will immediately see the change.

Another simple design tip is to bring plants inside. Snake and monstera plants thrive indoors. Last, if you have to start from somewhere, I would say start from the living room, which is the most exposed of all the rooms in your house.”

  • Living Room of the Art House (AirBnB)

Teri’s work life varies from day to day. Sometimes it’s packed with meetings, and at other times, she blocks herself in her office for eight hours straight working on deadlines. The most challenging part of her work is finding people she trusts to work with. “I don’t have a selection of homeware as I had in D.C., and I am not used to creating furniture. However, I feel it’s turning out really well.”

“The most fun part of a design project for me is the tangibility. Seeing the finished product, taking the photos, styling the last details, and be like: ‘Wow, we all did this.’ Having a completed piece is what I need to feel accomplished.”

In May, Teri is opening a studio a few blocks down, on the ground floor of The Nest B&B.

She will be displaying furniture, and start selling things too. Teri explains: “What I will offer is grab and go stuff, instead of designing something and then waiting two or three weeks for the result. You can have something that is well-designed and take it. With hand-carved woodwork, you can see that there are always flaws — it’s not factory standard. So, if it’s exhibited customers can see the flaws, and decide whether they can live with that or not. I am aware that nothing is ever going to be perfect, and I embrace flaws.”

Teri Clar

What makes Teri a good designer? “I like so many different things, colours, and styles, as long as they are done well. I look at a room, and I can see its potential. What clients hire me for is make what they want to look cool. Whatever you want, I can take that and elevate it.”

Before I leave, I ask Teri what piece of advice would you give to young designers in Rwanda, who are taking their first steps into the industry. “It’s an excellent time to start because the industry is so young still. If you are a creative person, you will stand out, and you can be a pioneer. There’s so much to work with — so many people and materials. If you combine forces, you can make big things. Don’t doubt yourself.”

Photo credits: NAFASI

Maria Iotova is a freelance writer, editor, and communications strategist for the non-profit, hospitality & travel sectors. Driven by curiosity, emotional awareness, and an unfading sense of adventure, since 2009 she has worked with international teams in England, Greece, Ghana, South Korea, Mauritius, and Rwanda.

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