Celebrating and showcasing the art and artists of Africa’s creative economy is the driving mission behind Nane Quagraine’s company 54kibo. The brand is an online home decor retailer that curates luxurious, handmade pieces structured by the stories of Africa and its Diaspora. Partnering with more than 30 inspirational designers and artists who trace their roots back to Africa, 54kibo sells one-of-a-kind home decor, kids' items, and lifestyle accessories including home lighting, wall art, rugs, throw pillows, furniture, jewelry, and handbags. 54 is the number of countries in Africa - Kibo is the highest summit on the continent, on Kilimanjaro. So, 54kibo symbolizes the height of African design.
The Ndebele Necklace Lampshade gets its name from the African jewelry that inspired it. Fitting seamlessly into modern home decor, this beautiful contemporary African design light fixture embodies the shape of a necklace through the use of wooden rings and carefully woven thread as a representation of wholeness and timelessness.
Oola: Talk about the journey of creating and bringing to life 54kibo. How long from inspiration to launch did this project take?
Nana: I explored a number of ideas over the years on how best to share aspects of African culture on a global front, but in the end design seemed like a no brainer. People gravitate towards the visual consumption of art because it ignites the senses, and the unique beauty of contemporary African design draws you in immediately. Plus the design pieces are structured by history so there is always something to learn and explore about the piece’s sourcing, assemblage, or inspiration, about the world, and hopefully about yourself. Our team has been working on the concept for 54kibo since late 2017 - building the site, curating the products, setting up operations and the processes and systems needed to launch. With the site launching November 2018.
Oola: With 54kibo, you’ve given a voice to many designers and a design culture that’s slightly out of the mainstream, what has been the most rewarding part of starting this company?
Nana: It has been rewarding to see the broad appeal of our products to a wide range of customers across the US. This was our hypothesis to begin with but it has been gratifying to see it play out. Both male and female who love design and are looking for unique pieces that hold deeply rooted stories, much like the way an art collector would acquire art. We like to think of our collection pieces as functional art. Both trade and direct consumers alike enjoy these pieces. We offer a special trade program for our customers who are interior designers. It’s a way for them to shop one-of-a-kind pieces for their clients who are looking for the exceptional. For example, Lisa Hunt’s motif work is a form deeply rooted in Africa, each piece original, signed and dated by Hunt. You can read more about her work here. Or take Marie Burgos’ furniture: the shape and rich colors that are carried throughout her collections are inspired by her familial roots in the Caribbean, which also introduced her to the beauty and vastness that that part of the world has to offer, read more here.
Oola: If you had to boil down the design aesthetic to a few sentences of 54kibo what would it be? With the wide range of pieces, we know it's a lot to ask.
Nana: 54kibo delivers timeless beauty; every piece is a union of elevated craftsmanship inspired by a slice of history. Our aesthetic is contemporary not tribal. We have the patterns, color, texture, and sustainability elements that typically signify African design and global design in general. However, our curated collection is versatile and can be used from minimalist to maximalist, modern to traditional design styles depending on the goal of the customer. What’s important to us is that the pieces are contemporary and can uplift the design of any modern home.
This unique white throw pillow showcases contemporary African design in a colorful print from iconic South African design house Shine Shine. This fearless blue woman surrounded by a halo of rosebuds next to her adoring leopard will add a fun, whimsical touch to a living room or bedroom, tying art and comfort together in a bold accent piece.
Oola: Finally, as a working mother, do you have any work-life balance tips, or mom hacks that make doing it all easier?
Nana: I’m very thoughtful about how I spend my time and how I continue to build systems to ensure repeatable tasks happen without much effort. I get a lot done by relying on processes and systems but I have to admit I’m still seeking balance!! I rely on routines - these help to free up my mind space and reduce the decisions that I would normally need to make on a daily basis. For example, I set meal plans for the work week. This includes making a large pot of soup on Fridays which helps ensure there is something tasty in the fridge for everyone throughout the weekend. In terms of managing my calendar, I generally have themes for each day of the week to ensure we’re making progress on all parts of the business. Mondays and Tuesdays are always reserved for marketing activities and Fridays are for admin duties, planning and catching up on work that I didn’t get to earlier in the week.