Architect and Designer Miminat Shodeinde on Interpreting the African Experience Through Art
London-based designer Miminat Shodeinde has always known what she wanted in life. She founded her eponymous design studio Miminat Designs in 2015, just after completing her studies in interior architecture from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. “I’ve always known that I wanted to run my own studio, I always knew I wanted to do my own thing,” she says.
Her own thing is designing gorgeous home interiors around the world and the furniture to go with it. From sleek glass and wooden tables to curved chairs made from suede leather and mahogany, Shodeinde’s designs display her eye for form and appearance with an aesthetic quality and approach that does not compromise on functionality.
Shodeinde says she has many sources of inspiration, citing everything from nature to music but it is evident that the one influence that always comes through is her Nigerian heritage. It appears in the names of her names of her furniture – the Omi table is named after the Yoruba word for “water” – and in the colors used in her Okuta collection of kitchenware: gold, to represent the richness of African culture.
From Cape Town in South Africa to Cognac in France and Kuwait in the Middle East, Shodeinde’s work takes her across the world, where she brings along her aesthete’s sensibilities and artistic touch to interiors rendered in neutral shades, natural woods and tactile fabrics. Shodeinde still considers herself a fine artist, blending the worlds of architecture, furniture and product design to “align the prosaic with the poetic,” and today, she is still aware of what she wants: for her pieces to be looked at.
The Folklore spoke to interior architect and furniture designer Miminat Shodeinde about creating furniture that doubles as art, how she pushes the boundaries of her imagination and why her work is never really finished.
Can you please tell us about your background? How would you describe yourself and what you do?
My background is in fine arts. I am a fine artist. I actually wanted to be a painter but growing up in an African household, I was told, “no, that’s not going to pay the bills,” but I was encouraged to do something else that still involves creativity. For me that was architecture, I wanted to be an architect but I didn’t want to study for seven years. I’ve always known that I wanted to run my own studio, I always knew I wanted to do my own thing, so I didn’t want to be in school for so long. So, I studied interior architecture in Edinburgh and that’s where furniture-making manifested. I would skip lectures and return to my dorm to draw furniture. I just became obsessed with it. From university, I knew I wanted to go into the design field, especially furniture. I’m not actually trained as a furniture designer at all, so it’s all self-taught.
Is design something you’ve always wanted to do?
Definitely. My dad trained as an architect so I had a lot of input from him, which was great. He definitely helped me out with my homework. It was great to have him there and still, to this day, he has a lot of input in everything and that’s always good.
Did interior design come first and then you found furniture-making along the way?
Yes, interior design came first definitely, then furniture. I remember when I was studying, I hated all the items of furniture that were there so I just decided to design my own furniture and make my own for my projects.
Private residence in Cape Town, South Africa by Miminat Designs
Apart from interior design and furniture, are there other areas of design that you would like to venture into in the future?
I’m an all-rounder really, so lighting and products interest me. I’ve designed jewellery, I’ve designed bags. Fashion is not my thing but I did try to explore. I think with fashion, it can be very caged sometimes. With furniture and architecture, I do believe that you can really push the boundaries of your imagination but I didn’t find that with fashion. I’d also love to design boats one day.
What is your design process? How does a piece of furniture start in your mind? Or when you’re designing a new space, what is your starting point?
I wouldn’t say I have a design process. I pull references from everything, really. Whether it’s architecture, nature or music, everything – I know that sounds ridiculous – but everything really inspires me. I would have an idea of something and I will let it sit in my head for a while – it could be a day, two weeks – so the idea fully crystallises. Once I’ve done that, I then take it to paper: I start sketching, if I’m in the mood I’d make little models from bits of paper or Blu Tack, or foil, or whatever I have around me. Then I’ll take it on to CAD [Computer Aided Design software], which is where the magic really happens. Once you see the idea in 3D format in front of you, that’s when you can really manipulate or change things in certain directions until you get to what you want. Most of the time, I never feel like my pieces, my furniture is ever actually finished. I always think, “I could have just done that”. But I’m so indecisive that if I don’t get things off my desk, I would never do anything.
The Omi Table by Miminat Designs
A lot of your work, particularly furniture design, has African influences but you’re a born and bred Londoner. Is it important for you to bring your African heritage to your work in the Western world?
It’s who I am, really. It’s not even a case of importance. It’s just me; I’m Nigerian, I’m a very proud African. Anything I design, it just comes out of me and it’s a representation of me, basically. I grew up in a very proud Nigerian home. Yes, I live in the UK but I’m still very, very aware of my background, I love my culture, I love my country and I think it’s not celebrated enough. I think we’re very good at other things, but with design and architecture there needs to be more of us pushing this message and showcasing our interpretation of the African experience but in the Western hemisphere.
Your designs have been compared to or described as sculpture. Is this intentional on your part? Are you designing practical things such as tables, chairs and bowls as artistic artefacts too?
Coming from an art background, it was very important for me to continue to showcase my artistic skills in my furniture pieces. A lot of people often say, “your furniture is very sculptural,” and it definitely is. When I’m forming the idea of each piece, it is a very sculptural process so whether that’s me sketching, or modelling, or playing with it on CAD, to me it’s all a sculptural, artistic process. I guess the end result ends up looking like that, it’s not something that’s mass produced, it’s very personal. I think anything that’s very personal is automatically quite sculptural.
Where or when do you feel most inspired? Are there any particular things or rituals you practice to get design inspiration?
My desk. I love my desk. Once I sit at my desk and I have a huge glass of water and my coffee, that’s when I’m the most inspired. I don’t like noise but I love music. I’ve always said that if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d be in the music industry, but not singing because I cannot sing, my voice is terrible. For me, being at my desk inspires me the most. I love sitting at my desk, having my notepad, my music, and that’s where all my ideas are formed.
The architecture sector is famously a generally privileged discipline and Black people tend to be underrepresented in the design industry. Has this impacted your experience at all?
Yes and no. I say no because I never let that affect me. When I first started, it was very, very hard; it still is very difficult. Like you said, we’re so massively underrepresented in the industry but I just don’t look at it. It might sound naïve or silly, but I literally don’t pay attention to it. I’ve always just stayed true to myself. I remember when I started, people would be like, “Oh, your work is too African,” then it “wasn’t African enough,” but I just thought I’m going to do what I do, just do me. I think the most important thing is to do you, really, and the rest will fall into place. I can’t really say there’s a formula for success. I think I’ve grown very organically and I’m very proud of that and I don’t think I’ve taken any shortcuts, it’s just an organic growth. Throughout, I’ve learned, I’ve refined, I’ve tweaked and gone through the whole process and I think that’s really important for anyone.
Do you find it easier or harder to design furniture over designing a building or space?
Not at all. I enjoy both, too much, I think. But they go hand in hand for me. When I design furniture, I always design thinking about where it’s going to go, where it’s going to be placed and what space it’s going to be in, whether it’s a space designed by me or someone else. It’s a beautiful marriage, they are husband and wife.
Which piece of yours would you say is your best work? Do you have any favorites or do you love them all equally like they’re your children?
That’s a really hard question! Each design represents a different version of me. I love them all because looking back at each piece and knowing my headspace and where I was at the time, every piece is personal, every piece is my baby so I have a million children and I love them all! I can’t think of one piece that I love more than the other. And they’re all so different as well, so you can see the journey from where I started to where I am now. They all represent my growth and I just hope people like it.
The Oscar Chair by Miminat Designs
You make use of handcrafting and artisanal processes instead of mass production. Was this an intentional decision?
Going back to my art background, I never wanted to mass produce. I’ve always said that each piece I make would stand the test of time and is a collector’s item rather than a piece of furniture, so I like my pieces to be looked at.
Finally, what is the next thing we can expect from you? What are you working on at the moment?
Quite a few things actually. I’m working on a private house in Kuwait, which should be completed in November. I’m also working on a beautiful house in London and I have a show at the Design Museum coming up in September. I am designing a crazy piece that I’m not going to say too much about, you’ll have to wait and see.
Portrait images by Olivia Jankowska, courtesy of Miminat Shodeinde