On Dec. 26, 2021, Netflix rolled out its new original docu-series, “Made by Design,” highlighting the works of 13 African creatives. For its inaugural season, the show focused on Nigerian architects and designers, promoting revolutionary craftsmanship, sustainable methods, and innovative design.
The series was created by International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI) and Design Week Lagos founder Titi Ogufere and co-produced by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Abiola Matesun. Each episode focuses on a different creator, revealing the faces behind some of the most notable buildings, interiors, and products being designed by Africans today. Here is an overview of the artists profiled in “Made by Design.”
Demi Owoseje Samande
The first episode highlights the career of Demi Samande, a trained architect who established a bespoke furniture company named Majeurs Chesterfield, where she specializes in the restoration and reupholstering of traditional furniture. Born in Nigeria and raised in London, Samande returned to Nigeria in 2016 and focused her business on utilizing locally sourced woods and fabrics, and involving young artisans looking to enter the furniture-making business. Samande hopes to open a furniture academy for Nigerians in the near future.
“Africa’s growth and authenticity lie in designing with the agency to solve African problems whilst being globally inspiring,” Samande said in a statement. “As we develop confidence with this resolve, innovation within our authenticity is inevitable. I want my work to be a catalyst in showing Africans what is possible.”
Architect and furniture designer Tosin Oshinowo, also playfully known as the “beach house queen,” shows off her collection of bright and airy homes that she and her firm, CmDesign Atelier, designed on Nigeria’s posh Ilashe Beach community. With both residential and commercial spaces under her belt, including the Maryland Mall in Lagos, Oshinowo has found ways to infuse her Yoruba culture into the context of her afro-minimalist designs. Oshinowo is also the founder of Ile Ila, a furniture line that employs West African patterns and prints, as well as local wood.
“This docu-series is a validation that we are very much capable of telling our own stories as Africans in the design space,” says Oshinowo. “I am beyond proud to be part of this cinematographic milestone depicting our ever budding industry and I truly hope to see more beautiful projects like this come out of the continent.”
After studying vehicle design at the Royal College of Arts in London and working as a concept car designer, Dapo Akintunde returned to Nigeria with ambitions of realizing his indigenous car concepts. Akintunde, who is also a trained architect, became the first Nigerian to design a uniquely 100% Nigerian car prototype in 2018, and in November 2020, he unveiled a fully functioning prototype. Akintunde is founder and CEO of IVIXI, where he focuses on designing the ideal African vehicle, and is also an author and lecturer.
Nigerian-Canadian artist, consultant, and furniture designer Lani Adeoye is the founder and principal of Studio-Lani, where she creates sculptural lighting and furniture pieces that express “an organic rhythm and a sense of visual harmony.” For Adeoye, it is important that her work reflect a merge between traditional African craftsmanship and modern innovation. Each piece she designs is a celebration of West African heritage with a contemporary twist.
Renowned architect Theo Lawson is known for high-profile projects in Nigeria that include The Motherlan’ performance center, University of Lagos Anniversary Park, Kalakuta Museum, the Kuti Heritage Museum Abeokuta— a museum dedicated to the work and life of world famous Nigerian musician Fela Kuti—, Family Park and Canopy Walk at the Lekki Conservation Centre, and more. The Lagos-based architect has been practicing architecture for more than three decades and defines his core interests as public spaces and green spaces.
One of his most celebrated projects is Freedom Park Lagos, which rehabilitated Nigeria’s first colonial prison into a public space that promotes art while acknowledging its history. “Having grown up on Lagos Island, I realized that this space, which was once a dreaded prison that had now been abandoned for many years…could maybe become a park that celebrates freedom.” The project commemorated the 50th anniversary independence celebration in October 2010 and serves as both a memorial and a venue for creatives.
Muni Shonibare is the founder and CEO of Lagos-based full service interior design and manufacturing company, IO Furniture. In 2020, she launched PIQIT, a retail line of furniture and she co-founded Ethniki, a brand that promotes the work of local artisans and produces African-inspired furniture, accessories, and more.
“We as African designers need to celebrate our rich cultural heritage and appreciate the global influence it has, and make a conscious and concerted effort to take charge and direct the narrative,” Dhonibare declares. “Nobody can tell our stories better than us.”
Shonibare is the founding president of the Interior Designers Association of Nigeria, an adaptation of the International Federation of Interior Designers and Architects.
Described in “Made by Design” as the “radical architect,” Seun Oduwole firmly believes that his job as an architect is to improve the overall quality of the built environment through socially conscious design that is also beautiful.
“When it comes to architecture, I’m quite intentional,” says Oduwole. “Architecture for me is about environmental and social responsibility. We have the task of shaping cities, how people live, and how they interact with buildings and spaces so I see architecture as public art.”
Oduwole is the principal architect at SI.SA and has several residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects in Nigeria. He also previously worked at firms in the U.K. before returning to Nigeria. Oduwole cites some of his biggest influences as being athletes and sports, in general, due to the push for excellence and relentless work ethic.
Award-winning interior designer Tola Akerele makes it a point to highlight that functionality is key in all of her designs. Akerele has designed a myriad of contemporary residential and commercial spaces and is also the co-founder of a sixteen-room boutique hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos, Bogobiri House. Akerele has fulfilled many different roles in her life, including a career in investment banking while living in London and before moving back to Nigeria.
Akerele studied interior design at the Parson School of Design in New York, as well as the KLC School of Design in London and founded iDESIGN Art to help consumers discover and purchase high-quality, affordable art. For her latest venture, Akerele opened a restaurant within Bogobiri House that serves traditional Nigerian foods and she has launched a cookbook dedicated to Nigerian cuisine.
“It was a great honor to be showcased alongside these other great designers and a pleasure to be able to share my life philosophy and talk about my interior design projects and also our art platform iDESIGN art,” states Akerele. “Talking about my work and passions and being able to share influences, inspiration and our design process on key projects was an amazing privilege.”
Papa Omotayo is an award-winning architect, designer, writer and filmmaker whose work focuses on exploring the nature of culture within the context of contemporary Nigerian—and the extended African—condition, locally and globally. He is the founder of A Whitespace Creative Agency and creative director of MOE+ Art Architecture.
“I think there is a tendency to think about design as something that you can import. When you are thinking about design, the challenge is always trying to make something that represents what you represent and what is local.”
After studying in various parts of Europe and starting his own firm in London, Omotayo decided to move back to Nigeria around 2006. Working through cross-disciplinary collaborations, Omotayo seeks to continuously promote inclusiveness by creating nuanced visual narratives of Nigeria’s urban centers. His work has been featured at Art X Lagos as well as residential and commercial projects.
For Omotayo, Made by Design is a series acting "as a meeting place , a mind crucible...of established and budding creatives where one gets to share his/her journey and the other is able to learn from those experiences and or challenges."
Jacqueline Aki is the principal designer and managing partner at James Cubitt Interiors. She studied building technology and has led mid to large-scale commercial and residential projects, including designing projects in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote D'ivoire. Her clients have included companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle Foods, MTN, Dangote Industries, Diageo/ Guinness, and Ericsson.
“...human beings spend most of our time indoors, so we need spaces that feel like it is our haven and suit whatever lifestyle a person has,” says Aki.
Aki reflects on the impact of the series and its relevance to the design community. "For me the series acts as a meeting place , a mind crucible if you may, of established and budding creatives where one gets to share his/her journey and the other is able to learn from those experiences and or challenges."
After a career in broadcast journalism, Tracy Nwapa embraced her passion for interior design and officially entered the field in 2013. She describes her design aesthetic as a merge between minimalism with touches of eccentric flair.
“I tell young girls not to be in a hurry to be like someone else; look for someone that inspires you, then find the things that are similar to what you want and make it your own.”
Over the last eight years, Nwapa has renovated some of the most prestigious properties in Nigeria. She also prioritizes promoting furniture made in Nigeria by local crafters. “About 70% of the items we use in our work are made in Nigeria,” explains Nwapa. “People didn’t believe that you could get high-quality materials from Nigeria, but we are doing it.”
Known as “D-Artist,” Diseye Tantua is regarded for his unique style of African pop art that combines graphic symbols and vibrant colors with various types of texts. His drawings are based on traditional proverbs that are made popular by headboards and bumper stickers on buses or taxis. Tantua focuses on social groups in urban spaces, often depicting forms of transit and movement. These scenes are overlaid with popular local expressions that speak to the energy and dynamism of the city’s inhabitants.
“For me, design is something extremely personal; it’s my way of life,” Tantua explains. “I would never want to jeopardize my authenticity for fame or fortune.”
Interior designer Osaru Alile is also the self-professed “pilot of happiness.” The interior designer and product designer is the principal partner at CC Interiors Studio, with a career that has ranged from lamps and light fixture production to furniture design to launching a bespoke fashion brand.
Alile’s approach to her work follows the same philosophies that she applies to life, which is to make things better than you encountered them. “I don’t ever want to be somewhere, go somewhere, talk to someone, or engage with a human, place, or thing and not leave it in a better place than I found it,” she says. That is my philosophy: I want to sprinkle happiness everywhere I go.”
The Netflix series has happened at an important crossroad for African design, where conversation on design on the continent is expanding and designers across the continent are making their mark in various creative fields. " It’s a coming renaissance for me, knowing that many design enthusiasts, novices and even everyday Nigerians will watch the series," says Alile.
With the first season of “Made by Design” successfully launched, we hope that Netflix will follow up with a second season that highlights a new batch of African talent working within one of the continent's many countries.