What you need to know:
- When he quit his formal job, his friends termed his move brazen and even reckless, but he wasn’t bothered.
- He tried to find another job, but that wasn’t quick in coming. He even tried his hand in businesses such as opening a carwash, but success was elusive.
- None of that really gave him the fulfillment he was yearning for.
It is a cold and cloudy day in Nairobi and Steve Maina is going about his work – redesigning a client’s office space. He is clad in blue jeans pants and a cardigan. On top of the black cardigan he has thrown a light green reflector jacket with the inscription: Neat N Fit.
His work space features wet paint, rulers of different sizes, a nail and hammer, pieces of wood and cardboard on the floor.
“It seems disorganised, but this is what it takes to repurpose a room. When we are done, you won’t believe there was ever any kind of mess in this room,” says the self-taught interior designer with 10 years’ experience. He settled into this unique career by accident, but has perfected his skills over time.
“Whenever I visited my friends’ homes, my advice on how they could adjust and upgrade their spaces impressed them. That is how I knew that I would succeed effortlessly as an interior designer,” he narrates and adds that repurposing a room calls for a great deal of imagination.
But, what are the intrigues of being a self-taught interior designer?
“It is all about learning through mistakes,” Steve explains. “That comes with its own challenges. Most clients hardly believe I can do so much without formal education. Convincing them to trust me with the job is always an uphill task. But, once I get the contract, I go out of my way to deliver beyond client expectations.”
However, Steve says it is always difficult to find a balance between the amount clients are willing to spend, and delivering exactly what they want.
“Sometimes clients think a designer is overcharging them yet that is the actual cost of the upgrade. A project may cost between Sh800,000 and Sh1 million depending on the client’s timelines.”
This amount covers electrical works, CCTV, internet installation, partitioning works, custom-made furniture, cabinetry, branding, ceiling, gypsum and floor works.
“The toughest decision I ever made was to resign from my job at the bank. Not because the workplace was toxic, but to look for greater satisfaction,” he recalls. “I wasn’t even sure how that would pan out because I had spent barely one year at the job. I was just no longer fascinated by the routine work of handling deposits,” he says and adds that he yearned for a job that would grant him more flexibility.
When he quit his formal job, his friends termed his move brazen and even reckless, but he wasn’t bothered. He tried to find another job, but that wasn’t quick in coming. He even tried his hand in businesses such as opening a carwash, but success was elusive. None of that really gave him the fulfillment he was yearning for.
When the carwash business flopped, Steve almost sunk into depression.
“I prayed a lot and remained determined. During that period, I came to know my true friends, and I chose to cut ties with all the fake ones. I later approached a few of the few remaining friends and asked them to lend me some money, and I promised to make better decisions in my next venture. They encouraged me and told me that I would be a really good interior designer, and I believed them.”
But Steve was acutely aware that he couldn’t do the job alone. He needed skilled personnel to actualise his dream.
“I was armed with only my wild vision and the support of my friends. I began searching for an architect, an engineer, and an extra handyman. And because I was not able to pay them regularly, I advised them treat mine as a side hustle. I then embarked on the process of sourcing for clients and negotiating deals, and later martialing my small team to execute the tasks. That was hectic, but I was determined and knew that it would pay off someday,” he added.
While at it, he signed up for Youtube tutorials, and read books to learn about interior design business. He also experimented with new, unconventional designs.
Three years later
When he was confident that he had learnt the rules of the game, he decided to “do things the professional way.”
“In 2014, after a period of trial and error, I registered my company, Neat N Fit.
He says that his current role as the founder and Managing Director offers him the flexibility and satisfaction he once yearned for.
“Compared to my banking job, my business demands a lot less neatness and no fixed working hours,” he says with a chuckle.
In this pandemic season when many have lost their jobs, Steve’s business is returning optimum revenue.
“Companies that have survived the pandemic now need people with the skills I have to recreate their work spaces because the workplace has been significantly altered. An example is bars. The bars’ operating hours have been reduced, so to remain afloat, bar operators are customising their facilities to accommodate restaurants and work spaces. This is where I come in.”
Now, after seven years of professional practice, Steve says that the world would be a better place if more people embraced unconventional career paths.
“If I carried anything from banking halls, then it must be good negotiation skills, goodtime management and attention to detail. It was all worth it in the end,” he says.