• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Celebrating the living legacy of Agatha Eric-Udorie’s 30 years expertise in interior design

Celebrating the living legacy of AGATHA ERIC-UDORIE’s 30 years expertise in interior design

Agatha Eric-Udorie is a professional interior designer, who exudes a rare mix of deep passion and intuitive knowledge.

In what many close associates describe as a fascinating twist in fate, the young professionally trained nurse found herself being tutored in the workshop of a carpenter, which eventually led to the birth of the success story called Agatha’s Interior Design Ltd, being told today.

As a young lady in a majorly masculine profession, Eric-Udorie grew in knowledge and the rudiments of carpentry, and so also grew her intense desire for beautifying interior spaces. She combined this passion with her already broad exposure to luxury and detailed finishing, which straightened her path into the very enterprising entrepreneur of repute she has become. Her generous experience encompasses all facets of the industry and some aspects of civil engineering and finishing construction.

In 1994, after adding a lot to her knowledge, exposure and entrepreneurial experience, Agatha Eric-Udorie went ahead to start off Agatha’s Interior Design Limited (AIDL) with the support of her husband, Arch. Eric Uche Udorie.

Agatha’s Interior is a design & lifestyle driven company whose primary mission is to be the foremost residential, project and hospitality furniture, and accessories leader in Nigeria.

In 2013, Agatha was nominated to the International Federation of Interior Designers & Architects as a Resource Council Member.

By her inspirational leadership, Udorie has led the Agatha’s Interior Design Ltd team to win several industry awards both locally and internationally, which includes; The IDEA Award (Interior Design Excellence Award) for best showroom 2013 and 2014 amongst several others.

Agatha, till date, has been and remains in charge of affairs at the company since inception, being fully responsible for providing the direction, inspiration, motivation and guidance through the company’s several growth stages and phases evidently witnessed over the past years. She is still fondly called the “Lady Carpenter.”

It has been 30 years of continuous growth and visible impact in the industry, and satisfaction for their distinguished clients.

She has a Doctor of Science (D.Sc) in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Business Management from International Entrepreneurship University (IEU), USA.

How did you get started in the interior design and furniture business?

I would say my entry into the Interior design Industry was purely divine. Divine because, if you consider my background as a Nurse, it is completely unrelated, but I had a friend called Phil Makenzie and an Italian C.E.O called Franco Gassani, who guided me at the start of my business. Franco had a marble factory/furniture company called Finishing Marble Product, where I worked part time and the experience was phenomenal.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting out in this industry?

The major one was lack of start-up funds. The second was inability to come up with a business plan, and the third was that it is a male dominated business. Nevertheless, with consistency, focus and faith, all of the aforementioned have pushed me to where I am today and I remain grateful to God for that. We are here to stay, even thirty-years after and counting.

How have you seen the interior design and furniture business in Nigeria evolve over the past 30 years?

I have seen some remarkable improvement in the quality of our production. Nigerian carpenters are now able to mirror the designs available abroad, and with the increasing availability of raw materials the craft and quality of products have improved tremendously. We are almost at the stage where you can put a Made-in-Nigeria fabric sofa side-by-side a product made anywhere else in the world. That’s Agatha Interior Design’s strength, we make the best sofa’s with comfortability.

What unique design elements or trends have you noticed in Nigerian interior designers?

Nigerian interior designers have tried to infuse the African identity to our designs. A lot of traditional African materials are being incorporated, and this has given our designs that uniqueness of identity. Materials like our aso-oke, batik, zani, plain George, isi agu, and so on.

What is your approach to creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing living space for your clients?

First of all, I take the brief from the client, secondly, I execute the client’s brief by designing, and creating a mood board, and finally, once the client accepts the design, we start execution of the project.

How do you stay inspired and keep up with the latest design trends?

I attend a lot of interior/architectural design exhibitions both locally and internationally, and we also participate in exhibitions locally, interior design masterclasses, interior design magazines, Pinterest, and also reading interior magazines and blogs. I eat, I sleep, design.

It’s been 30 years in this business, what are you grateful for? What have you learnt?

Firstly, I am grateful to God for life and giving me the ability to be hard-working. I thank Him for strength and tenacity. I am grateful to my dear clients and country Nigeria for the opportunity given. I am also grateful that I have learnt to continuously improve myself and adapt to new designs and trends.

What advice do you have for aspiring interior designers or individuals interested in starting their own furniture business in Nigeria?

First of all, I will advise you to go to a design school and secondly, ensure to find an interior design mentor. Thirdly, always have a good business plan.

How are you inspiring other aspiring interior decorators from your wealth of experience?

I believe in cultivating and inspiring the next generation of interior decorators by leading by example and sharing my knowledge and experiences. First and foremost, I encourage young aspiring decorators to consistently expand their skills and knowledge through continuous learning. It’s important to stay updated with current trends, design principles, and technological advancements in the industry.

I also emphasise the value of practical experience and recommend seeking internships or apprenticeships with established interior decorators or design firms. This hands-on approach allows young decorators to gain real-world exposure and learn from professionals who have mastered the art of transforming spaces.

Furthermore, I emphasise the significance of developing a unique perspective and style. I encourage young interior decorators to explore their creativity, think outside the box, and remain open-minded to different design influences. Developing a signature aesthetic and incorporating personal touches can set them apart in a competitive industry.

In addition to technical skills, I stress the importance of building strong business acumen. Understanding various aspects of running a successful interior design business, such as client management, budgeting, and marketing, is essential for long-term success. I encourage aspiring decorators to gain experience in project management and to continuously refine their communication and negotiation skills.

Lastly, I strive to inspire younger individuals by showcasing the emotional impact of interior design. I highlight the transformative power of creating spaces that not only provide functionality but also evoke emotions and enhance well-being. By emphasising the positive influence that interior design can have on people’s lives, I aim to ignite a passion within the younger generation and help them envision the impact they can make through their work.

Overall, my goal as a seasoned interior decorator is to mentor and inspire younger individuals by sharing my expertise, encouraging continuous learning, and highlighting the importance of creativity, business knowledge, and the emotional connection to design.

How do you source materials and furnishings for your projects? Are there any unique challenges in Nigeria’s market?

We source materials locally from our local market in Mushin and Yaba in Lagos state. We also source materials from our industry partners.

On challenges, there is the lack of trained skill personnel, lack of working capital and high cost of raw materials.

Are there any cultural or traditional elements that you commonly incorporate into your designs?

Yes. These days, we try to infuse pieces or materials that are identifiably African. For instance, we can make throw pillows in African fabrics, have some vases painted in African prints and several other elements.

How do you balance clients’ preferences with your own design expertise to create a harmonious finished product?

The client’s preferences are very key, because at the end of the day, the home is theirs and they have to be very happy and comfortable with the furniture pieces selected. While we do well to make suggestions in line with the latest design trends, we start from where the client’s knowledge stops, and offer our expertise and knowledge of how each living space should be set up.

Have you observed any major shifts or changes in the preferences and expectations of Nigerian customers in recent years?

Yes. We have observed that a lot of trends have changed and we have to work the client through the design trends.

How do you handle project budgets and ensure client satisfaction while delivering quality work?

We try as much as possible to interpret the brief, making sure we do not go beyond the client’s budget. We work with what they have and still ensure professionalism in delivery.

Can you share any tips on creating timeless designs that stand the test of time?

Kemi is asking me for “expo”. On a lighter note, the answer to this question is not for the internet. The client will be required to pay professional fees for me to divulge. Seriously though, one timeless tip is that furniture made out of wood is timeless, because you can do restoration on the furniture and change the look.

What role does sustainable and eco-friendly design practices play in your work?

We live in a world where our interactions with the environment must be done in a responsible and respectable manner. For instance, continuous deforestation and inadequate replacement of trees has its climatic effects, and as such, we must be innovative enough to use sustainable materials, means and practices. Example is saw dust and wood shavings, which are both bye-products of wood, are now used to create wood boards, which are used to make furniture, and this practice saves us cutting down many trees.

Are there any specific challenges or opportunities unique to the Nigerian interior design and furniture industry?

Energy is a major challenge. Others include machinery, lack of funds, lack of design schools, and to crown it all, lack of government patronage.

What are your thoughts on incorporating modern technology and smart design features into homes and offices?

This is the future, whether we like it or not, technology has already impacted every area and aspect of our lives and it has found its way into our homes and offices. I believe technology should be embraced, especially in the areas where it brings added comfort and convenience.

What are some common misconceptions about the interior design and furniture business that you have encountered throughout your career?

One major misconception is that it is a lay-man or artisan practice, while this was true in the early days, it is no longer so today as the industry employs a lot of professionals like architects, designers, draughtsmen, procurement experts and the likes, and even our day-to-day operations is hinged on a lot of knowledge and technology, the absence of which would have since stagnated the growth of the industry.

Can you share any success stories or proud moments from your journey in this industry?

First of all, my most exciting and proud moment was to furnish the home of Mo Abudu. Some of my numerous awards include the ‘Arch of Europe International Award’ for excellence in our operations in far away Barcelona Spain, coupled with the Honorary Doctorate degree of science from the International Entrepreneurship University in Delware, U.S.A.

After schooling in the UK on interior decoration, how excited are you that your daughter will take over your legacy?

I am thrilled and proud to have the opportunity to transfer my business to my daughter, who has pursued her passion for interior decoration by studying for it. Her education and experiences have provided her with valuable knowledge and skills, and I have full confidence in her abilities to continue and grow the business.

When the time comes, to facilitate a successful transition, I would work closely with her (doing so even now) to ensure a smooth handover. This includes sharing insights gained from my years of experience, providing guidance on client management, business operations, and networking within the industry. I would also encourage her to develop her own unique approach (which she is doing already) to design and style, fostering her creativity and individuality within the business.

As part of the handover process, I would gradually introduce my daughter to existing clients and business partners, allowing her to establish relationships and showcase her capabilities. This would help in maintaining the trust and reputation the business has earned over the years. Alongside this, I would also make myself available as a mentor and advisor, providing ongoing support whenever needed.

Furthermore, I would encourage my daughter to continue her own professional development and stay updated with emerging trends and techniques in the field. By attending workshops, conferences, and staying well-connected in the industry, she can ensure the business remains innovative and competitive.

Ultimately, my focus is to empower my daughter to run the business independently while fostering her own leadership skills. I believe in giving her the freedom to express her creativity and make decisions while learning from her own experiences. This approach will allow her to shape the future of the business while honouring the foundation that has been established.

Transferring the business to my daughter is not only a family legacy, but it is also an opportunity for her to carve her own path in the industry. I have every confidence in her ability to succeed and contribute fresh perspectives and ideas to the business. This transition represents the continuation of our shared passion for interior decoration while ensuring the business thrives for years to come.

Concluding words

We thank God for helping us achieve three decades in the industry. I am also thankful to all my clients, staff, encouragers and devoted support systems in my life. We look forward to another phase of growth, which is captured in our new logo, we can now be called veterans in the industry and we look forward to being the pillar of growth for the industry at large. We recently rebranded our colours from blue and yellow to soft pink, brown, Russian red, burgundy and green, and we are loving the new look.