International Standards with a Kenyan Flavour
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Stuart Parker
Planning Interiors is bridging the gap between global expectations and East African identity as the interior design firm of choice in a region that promises to be the final domain for international business migration.
Taking the decision to fly solo in 2003, following 10 years of operations as a subsidiary of Planning Systems Services, the consultancy’s subsequent 12 year evolution has comprised a diversity and expansion, not only of its service portfolio, but of its sector clientele also; planting the Company in the perfect position to raise the bar for the industry in its native Kenya, and the surrounding region.
Managing Director (MD) and joint owner, Eugene Ngugi explains: “I have participated in international design forums for a number of years and have always found that Africa is grossly underrepresented. This means that in a lot of ways, Africa is the last frontier when it comes to potential for investment and development.
“The last place to look in terms of these ideas and innovations is Africa, and one of my goals is to help put Kenya on the world map as far as interior design is concerned.”
Progressing hand-in-hand with this strategy is the Company’s internal drive to enhance its own capacities and capabilities; an ambition that has been in place ever since it gained independence in 2003, and one that has been all the more necessary through the influx of world-renowned international clients.
Ngugi continues: “While general design trends at the moment are seeing more standardisation and an almost uniform approach to things like clean, modern spaces, we differentiate ourselves by bringing something unique and Kenyan to this, using lots of colours and earthy materials to ensure we carry out projects to international standards, but with a very East African flavour.”
To facilitate such growth over the years, Planning Interiors has adopted a flexible approach to operations, which was initially significant in veering away from the traditional commercial sector focus that proved so prominent as a departmental function, to a more eclectic sector demographic at the turn of the 21st century.
This need was compounded by the advent of enhanced competition in the market and has culminated in only 50 percent of works being conducted in the commercial space now, with hospitality and retail forming a balanced split across the remaining half.
“For us, it is important that we remain flexible because we have clients involved in varying business sectors,” Ngugi says. “Whether it is restaurants, hotels, offices etc, we have to be able to service each client in the way that they choose to venture.
“Complementing this is the increase in the number of international corporates coming into Kenya with their own designs but no way to implement them. Around 30 percent of our work now is helping to implement work designed by others, so it’s about continuously modifying our service provision to accommodate these different needs.”
In turn, this has given what is a relatively young workforce the opportunity to work with international associates and hone their own capabilities, as part of Planning Interiors’ strive for enhanced sustainability within the business.
With specifications set to higher standards than previously experienced in the region, the Company is ultimately thriving on this balance between global expectations and developments, as well as diversified local contracts.
Ngugi adds: “It’s important not to just rely on one sector because the amount of work we have is dependent on the economy and trends in these sectors.
“For example, because of the security issues the country was facing a few years ago, the tourism and hospitality industry was significantly affected, which had a knock-on effect on us.
“It’s risky to build a company based on the presumption that you will have business from one sector, and that is why we have found a balance between our core team and the ability to work in partnership with other firms across numerous sectors.”
Power of design
Collaboration forms a pivotal component of Planning Interiors’ efforts in general, happily working in tandem with freelance firms and external specialists in order to find the optimum solution for the client while again developing its own young designers through the process.
The utilisation of expatriates has further aided this cause over the years, and has formed an overall network capable of carrying out some of the most complex and customised projects for international heavyweights looking to make themselves at home in Kenya.
“We have done work for international corporates including the likes of IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Deloitte and City Bank, as well as large local companies like Kenya Power and Kenya Commercial Bank,” Ngugi notes. “We have also done work in the restaurant sector for chains like Java Coffee House, as well as alongside international clients in the retail sector and on a number of flagship hotels here in Kenya.
“It’s a smorgasbord of international clients looking to establish a presence here, as well as a vast amount of local businesses as well.”
With a tight grip now established at the top of the sector in Kenya - Planning Interiors’ nearest competitors only half the size - the capacity and network that the Company now enjoys stands it in perfect stead as Ngugi edges towards his goal of aligning Kenya with the western world’s design stature.
“What we are now trying to do is become more aggressive in marketing ourselves and raising our profile to gain more exposure and keep ahead of the market’s evolution,” the MD concludes. “Over the next few years, this will see us hopefully open up some new divisions internally, while also working alongside local partners to develop an interior design school in order to help young designers meet the future needs of the industry.
“Finally, as part of our guiding strategy in terms of corporate social responsibility, we hope to improve opportunities for the underprivileged and we know we can do this and more in our society through the power of design.”