Mukami Mbaabu styles herself as an interior decorator for residential spaces.
Chatting her unearths the true edge of her brand, Interiors By Tifi, a one-stop budget solution for everything interior.
Mukami works with an independent team of fundis for furniture, fittings, paintwork and stitch work for curtains and bedding.
She also has an ironsmith. This means you can contract her for a full interior decor job, construction finishing and other one-off needs for your home.
I am already speaking to her about making a funky bed for my daughter. (She is four, same age as Mukami’s son.)
Mukami also sells handmade decor and craft, including high-quality Ankara from West Africa. And she has some wall baskets from Rwanda and Zambia I have been meaning to buy.
This is Mukami’s story:
“I worked with an events company after graduating with a diploma from Multimedia University in 2009. We travelled a lot around Africa – Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda...
I was exposed to different styling in different hotels. I also engaged with locals who lived and breathed their African cultures and traditions. They inspired me to embrace my African roots.
My personal style is African-themed. I love to play around with Ankara and lesos for curtains, upholstery, trimmings, bedding and any soft furnishing a space needs.
I also love locally handmade craft like wicker baskets and rattan lighting.
Budget management is crucial when executing a client’s brief. One of my earlier clients ran out of money as we were about to complete the project. I ended up sourcing second-hand ones from Toi Market, but they were unique and of great quality – nothing was compromised. Now, I insist that my clients work with what they have.
I quit my job with the events company early in 2012. I stayed at home for a year figuring out what to do next. I was apprehensive, to be honest.
I did not know how I would make a living from interior decorating. I am the first-born of three children, and my parents did not understand why I would leave a PR job because I was not happy.
I have an eye condition, keratoconus; my cornea is thinning.
It started after high school, and my eyesight has been deteriorating gradually since. My ophthalmologist tells me that unless I get corrective surgery, I will lose sight by 50.
Mid 2012, I got onto a Facebook group and posted, ‘I’m an interior designer and I’m looking for someone to work with’. I was so naive, I did not even know the difference between an interior decorator and interior designer, ha-ha. A distant relative reached out with a project. I told her I had no experience, but lots of passion.
She said, ‘Let’s start right away.’ I asked her not to pay me because I wanted to learn on the job.
She was gracious enough to give me a stipend.
The job ran for five months. We did everything with her – from choosing colour schemes to sourcing tiles and curtains, plus paintwork and furniture.
You can tell a lot about a client’s style from their favourite colour. Someone who loves orange is extroverted and loves to explore.
They are passionate and fiery, and do not like to be put in box. Routine exhausts them. I love the colour orange.
Personality and how someone dresses and accessorises their outfits also influences their decor style.
I launched a blog, ‘My Piece of Africa’, in 2015. I write stories about Africa and its people’s culture, traditions, history, artefacts, craftsmanship, and decor pieces I use from the area.
The blog has helped my interior decor clients appreciate African cultures.
We also have a Facebook page, Interiors By Tifi.
Keratoconus has made reading and writing a daily struggle for me, and I cannot see at night. My sense of touch has however been enhanced – I do not see well with my eyes but my hands tell me much more.
The most important thing I learnt from my first client’s project is that the colour on the paint colour chart is not what ends up on the walls.
You have to know how to mix colours to get the shade you want. I remember I painted her walls in shocking primary colours. I also learnt how to manage a client’s budget.
Everything looked up for me after this first job. She referred me to her friends and I got more clients when I shared my work on social media.
Business was excellent in those early years, now the market is flooded with interior decorators and purveyors of accessories.
I am blessed that I have never been without work, though. It was only two weeks ago that my doctor told me I am suffering from burnout: ‘You need to ease your foot off the pedal.’ I am now being intentional about rest and self-care.
I am currently struggling with administrative work – preparing quotations and invoices, responding to phone calls and inquiries on social media.
I need an assistant who will understand the business inside out. That way, for example, they can prepare quotes without consulting me.”