Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Interview: Teri from Nafasi Interiors

I’ve been noticing some photos on social media lately of beautiful interior design here in Rwanda and I was intrigued. I discovered that they were done by Teri Clar of NAFASI Interiors and I decided to reach out to see what inspires her and to learn more about her business and her experience living in Kigali. To browse through her work you can check out her website, Facebook page, blog, or Instagram feed.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi! I’m Teri Clar. I have had my own interior design consulting business, NAFASI, for 6 years now. The first 4 years were in Washington D.C. and then when I moved to Rwanda in 2017 I expanded NAFASI to this side of the world. The most recent development of NAFASI is opening The Design Bar, a boutique interior design shop in Kimihurura. I am from upstate New York. I love curating, painting (on a good day,) taking my dog on walks around our neighborhood in Kimihurura, and the sunshine of Rwanda.

What brought you to Rwanda?

Since my husband and I first met, we dreamed of moving to Kigali together one day. He had heard amazing things about the city being such a gem and put the idea in my head. I used to live in Tanzania in 2008-2012, and I was itching to get back to the region too. We are both Returned Peace Corps Volunteers which may explain it! I was so glad that I could transition my business overseas, still doing what I love, and also supporting my partner while he spends his days now training and working on career development for his organization’s staff in Rwanda. I get to practice my Kiswahili daily now too!

What are some of the interior design projects you’ve done in Rwanda?

The biggest project I’ve done here is designing the IREMBO offices. (Formerly Rwanda Online.) The CEO was very excited and energetic in having an office for her growing team. We wanted it to feel thoughtful and intentional, techy and inspirational, and also very comfortable to be in for long workdays.

Another big project was the BBOXX Rural House of the future, which displays all of their off-the-grid products in a rural house, designed to look rural and techy at the same time. That was a new challenge I hadn’t faced before in DC!

I’ve worked on a few residential homes in Kigali, renovating kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. I also designed the new rooms in the guesthouse, The Nest, to look fresh, tropical, and minimal. The Design Bar is actually located on the bottom floor of The Nest! This is my very first physical location, where I can showcase my design work, meet with clients, and also sell all of my beautiful goodies to people who aren’t necessarily looking for an entire space-makeover.

What gave you the idea to start The Design Bar?

The Design Bar is in Kimihurura KG 676 #23 and I just opened it in July 2019! It was my way to answer a lot of problems in my industry that I noticed here in Kigali while trying to work on all of my design projects. I made it my mission to find easier solutions for consumers- rugs, lighting, paint, art, plants, comfortable furniture. I wanted more options for people who want to decorate their space and feel a little bit cozier and a little bit more like home, and to offer those options all in one little shop.

I also wanted to use it as a studio space for me to explore my own creativity and re-design the shop every season. And hopefully seeing all of my new designs can inspire shoppers and clients in their own homes.

Can you tell us more about what makes the Design Bar different than a typical furniture showroom?

It’s different in that you can see how the pieces look styled and finished in a design, but then you can instantly bring the design home with you that very same day. Everything in my shop is for sale, from the art on the walls, to the XL sectional sofa on the floor, to the lights hanging from the ceiling! It’s all for sale on a first-come-first-serve basis, right then and there, without having to order it and wait. I thought this would be great for instant gratification for the customer and it will also clear out space for the next season’s new collection. So this current Summer Collection of pieces will all be replaced in October as I set up the Winter Holiday Collection to come in.

Where do you get your inspiration from for a new design?

I typically get all my inspiration from my client. Whether it is a couple looking to freshen up their living room, or a company that wants to show its employees how special they are, I pull all of my inspiration from them.

To start any new design project, I always have a consultation with my clients, pulling out all of their interests, their style, and the exact functional needs of their space. Then I pull together a unique custom design presentation based on all of the information they have given me. This includes layouts and space planning, a visualization board image of how their space will look, a budget, any drawings needed for renovation work, and a list of items to have made or to buy. Then I get to work and make the design happen! I’m making it sound simple, but it is a long process with a lot of decisions, quality control, and management… which is why it’s my full-time job helping other people to do it! My favorite aspect of the process however is the creativity involved in understanding my client and turning their needs into a new remarkable design that is custom to them.

At The Design Bar I’ll get to be the lead for inspiration and I’ll be able to use the space to try out my new ideas. My personal inspiration is always different, but sticking way outside of the box usually has something to do with it. 

Do you have any tips for how someone on a budget could turn their new house into a home?

Yes! Interior design isn’t about buying expensive things, it’s about buying the right things. The current collection at the Design Bar is a great example. Finding a few great pieces that fit together and a couple small adjustments to the basics of a room can make a huge difference.

Here are some tips to try right away at home.  Paint and curtains are simple and affordable first steps. Paint your house if it is dark or off-white-dingy-yellow. I can always help you select your color at The Design Bar, but “Brilliant White” is your friend. And re-hang your curtains. They should hang high and wide so they don’t interfere with your sunshine, the fabric just kissing the floor at the bottom. Indoor plants and lighting are also huge. If you have that really cold blue lighting here, please at a minimum, change the bulb to warm light. And add a rug! If your floors are tile, a rug will warm up any space. And if you don’t like the tile, it hides them too. 😉

Where are some of your favourite places in Kigali to shop for interior design materials?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. The Design Bar is basically a huge collection of all of my favorite pieces from all of my favorite shops in Kigali, mixed in with some of my own furniture and accessory designs too. Currently I am carrying No.41, a non-profit in Gisenyi who make incredible hand carved wood accessories, as well as really stylish woven pieces. I love them, so I carry a lot of their stuff. I also carry Talking Through Art, Beeutiful Creations, More Than Sparrows, Bee Light, Izihirwe, and Inwood pieces. Some pieces we’ve collaborated on their designs, and some I’ve just curated my favorite pieces of theirs. I love all of these vendors, and I’m always on the lookout for more! I try to do the leg work of curating what is available in Kigali, so that you can come to one spot to get the best of the best!

What does the future hold for NAFASI and The Design Bar?

In the very near future for The Design Bar, I will open up my back room to showcase even more goodies for clients! I also have already held a couple events, and I’d like to host even more. I wanted The Design Bar to feel different. I want it to be a super comfortable spot to come in for a full customer service experience. Not only are you seeing all of the beautiful made in Rwanda pieces, but you hear our curated playlist, you smell the candles, you feel all of the fabrics and samples, and you can sip on a glass of wine or bite into a fun cheese, all during your shopping experience. To get a hold of us on WhatsApp, call +1(571) 969-1144 and I can always try to meet you at the shop if you’d like my assistance in making your purchases, too. Bring photos and measurements of your space for bigger decision items!

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  1. Am a designer from Nairobi. I also teach design in the Creative Design Department in UR University Rwanda. I love what Teri is doing.


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