Turning Lemons Into Lemonade: Interior Designer Njeri Wa Migwi

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Picture this, you land a project worth approximately 5 million with the help of a relative and based on trust you have for them, you are not inquisitive on the nitty-gritty of the project.  You take a loan against your car and use treasury bonds bequeathed to you by your father to undertake the project. You invest virtually everything you have bearing in mind that in fortnight, you will recoup your money. The project is done and you go to the client to payment only to be shocked that the cheque is drawn in the name of the person who told you about the project. You call them a gazillion times and get no response. It dawns on you that you have lost everything that you ever worked for in life. What then? You sink into depression. It takes close friends and relatives who comfort you trying to help you back on your feet but even then, nothing makes sense to you. You have an eleven-year old daughter who looks up to you and you choose to be strong for her.

This is what befell Njeri Wa Migwi otherwise known as Arleen Njeri Migwi. When you meet her, you won’t hear of that horrific story unless you nudge her to tell you more about her challenges. She is full of life and words flow from regardless of what she has gone through.

Njeri Wa Migwi

Njeri wa Migwi is many things in one. It is hard to adequately capture it all in words but mainly, she is an interior designer at Divine Concepts. Many people recognize her as an MC while an equally decent number know her from her Facebook page where she writes stories dosed with humour and wit. Her sarcastic and bubbly personality is also seen on that same platform where she is a self-proclaimed ‘potato ambassador’.

Who is Njeri Wa Migwi?

It’s hard to define yourself really but I think I’m generally a half glass kind of optimist, upbeat and eclectic soul. Sounds really cliché.

How is your typical day like?

No single day is the same as the other , generally if I’m working on a project I will be of course on site but other days I’m sourcing for fabrics, cement, aluminum , wood etc, other days I’m preparing quotations or hustling and looking for business

What birthed Divine Concepts?

Pain, lack, need, hunger, validation, money. In the relationship I was in, we were working together with my partner but when I left, I needed to work, earn a living and just move on with my life. There is this one day I was seated in somebody’s office when she asked me what name should appear on the cheque she was writing me. I had no clue at that point. I was there wondering what to say then I just blurted out Divine Concepts and just like that, this baby was born. We have been around for four years now. We specialize in interior design for offices, that is commercial, as well as homes. We do everything from tiling, to painting, ceiling, partitioning for offices as well as doing kitchen and décor for homes. We simply breathe fresh air into boring spaces. That is actually our motto.

Is it something you studied in school?

In college I majored in tourism management and I have actually worked in the travel industry at some point. However, I have always had passion for interior design. I have done it both here and abroad.

When was your big break as an interior designer?

I had designed the interior of furnished apartments on Kindaruma Road in Kilimani but designing for the Managing Director of GT Bank (former Fina Bank) marked the big break.

How was the experience?

I had previous experience managing family business but this was mine. I had to sail this ship. I was full of trepidation and nervous at the same time. What if the client hated it? What if I couldn’t live up to the hype or the standards envisioned? I am glad that it finally went well and the client ended up recommending us to another client.

What do you love most about what you do?

That I can envision space and breathe life that’s uniquely me but at the same time evoking what a client dreams. Nothing is better than when a client is wowed. What makes me happy as an interior designer is that wow look on the client’s face because I accomplished what they wanted. I like it when they have that ‘wow! This-can’t-be-my-house/office’ look. That process of changing something, molding it like a potter and giving it a fresh look gives me satisfaction.

What are some of the lessons you have picked along the way in your career?

Trust your instincts. Not everything is meant to be yours.  If it doesn’t gel or fit let it go, you’d rather not start something that you won’t finish.

Business requires being tough and firm and people will not always pay you.

You will have many sleepless nights and you will sleep hungry.

What’s your definition of success?

How many people did I impact? Did I change lives for the better?

What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are?

I’ve lost money, trust, and friends.  Bad business decisions that come back to bite you. I’ve survived and occasionally had to have only ginger biscuits and black tea because that’s all I could afford.

Clients who refuse to pay.

People who want you to do their projects for exposure. what is that …?

Tell us about the charity activity you are involved in.

I volunteer at ward 1E-Pediatric Cancer ward at Kenyatta National Hospital. I have been doing it for almost three years now and I have fallen in love with those kids because they are children who need someone to show them love in spite of what they are going through. They are regular kids who don’t ask for much but just someone to love on them, hug and talk to them about the disease. We sit, laugh, watch movies and engage in many other activities. Just the other day we had a ‘mchongoano’ and man, those kids threw many jabs at me. I thought I was good at it. Ha ha! We visit them twice a month. We now have 28 kids and normally take them popcorn, crisps, sausages, crayons, mango juice boxes, fruits and some diapers (adult size). You should join us and put a smile on a kid’s face.

Do you have specific days for visits?

Not really. I just look at my budget and visit them when I can, at least fortnightly. I actually would want to go there more often but then again, I can’t go empty-handed because of budget constraints. Social media has really brought awareness. People come with me when I post it on my Facebook page. I was quite impressed during my last visit when about six people showed up because I normally go solo. There’s an amazing feeling just spending time with them.

I understand you also emcee events? Tell us about it.

Yes I do. It all started quite interestingly. So I was at a small-friendly function with a bunch of friends, a goat-eating function, where the MC failed to turn up. My friends know I am talkative and thought I could hack that and so they asked me to do it. Guess what? It went so well that the couple who were getting married was impressed and they paid me. I was surprised! My friends suggested I do it more often. Somebody who was in the audience saw me and was also impressed by the work I did. When their company had an end of year party, they called me and I emceed that function. I also have emceed for KRA and I regularly MC Slam.

How do you unwind?

I’m a voracious reader, yes I shamelessly plunder the best seller lists and fiction is what I love, fantasy, sci-fi series, spoken word poetry. I also listen jazz and watch some comedy.

Advise a young person who wants to take a career path like yours.

You don’t make promises that you can’t deliver.  This isn’t an easy road, look for someone established and learn under them.  Nothing is to menial – pick up that brush, that sewing kit, offer your services as you learn.

Where do you see yourself in about 5 years?

An established brand

Last words?

Interior design is not a preserve of the rich like it is misconstrued. It is something that functions for all of us even if a client lives in a small house in Umoja.

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