Saturday May 31 2014

Gloria kawuma taking on the task of beautifying homes

Gloria Kawuma has been doing interior designing for three years now.

Gloria Kawuma has been doing interior designing for three years now. She says the trend has grown wit more Ugandans travelling and desiring to re-live their experiences back home. photo by rachel mabala 

By Henry Lubega

If home is where the heart is, then which better way to make it comfortable and deserving than giving it a touch of class to keep your heart at peace? Cavendish College-trained interior designer, Gloria Kawuma, will do just that, to make your guests look with their eyes and mouth wide open.

Having grown up in a home where pictures of buildings was the order of the day and sometimes visiting construction sites with her architect father, Kawuma formed her mind from childhood to beautify what her father created. “I grew up seeing my father drawing plans of houses from nothing and sometimes I went with him to the different sites. This had a lasting impression on me.”

As Kampala’s original seven hills have expanded and increased in number, so have the changes in the interior appearances of the houses decorating the mushrooming upscale and middleclass residential areas. With the growing middle class that is exposed through their travels, the mother of three saw an opportunity to live her dream as an interior designer. Kawuma says at university she could not pursue her dream course because Makerere did not offer interior design.

“After Makerere where I had done a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, my father sent me to Cavendish College in London for a diploma in interior designing. However, upon my graduation, I decided to start a family and raise my children first to a level that I will be comfortable leaving them under the care of a maid,” says Kawuma.

After almost a decade of dedication to her family, the mother of three decided to join her father’s company, Habitat Consultants, an architectural firm based in Kamwokya, as her springboard.

The new trend of interior designing is being driven in particular by the growing middle class, much as the perception of interior design in Uganda is misunderstood for interior décor. “An interior designer is like an architect. You need to know how much space the client wants and how much is available to bring out the kind of design he wants.

In most cases, the interior designer is consulted right from the time of drawing the house plan, which is not the case with interior décor which comes in as final touches on the finished work,” explains Kawuma.
Kawuma, who has been practicing interior designing for the last three years, adds that it is important to know what the client wants and bounce it off the available space, and financial ability.

Using her father’s office as her base, Kawuma has not advertised her services. It has been her work doing the marketing. “Save for the first client who contacted me after reading my column in a construction magazine, other clients have been referred to me by friends and other satisfied clients,” she says.

Kawuma adds that sometimes, it is hard to satisfy a client’s taste. As a result, they have to go shopping together, especially for the fabrics. “There are times when the clients are not decided on what they want by just looking at the samples and we have to go shopping for the materials together to allow them to make their own choices. Then, there are those who will make up their mind by just looking at the samples without having to go to the market themselves,” she says

The clients
“I deal with people from all walks of life, but those ranging from the late 20s to the late 30s are the majority and easiest to deal with.” Kawuma, however, adds that though she has clients in their 40s and above, they are not easy to deal with like the younger ones. She attributes the reluctance among the older people to take in the changes to rigidity and not wanting to change. “Some older people are conservative in their perception of modernity when it comes to interior designing,” she says, adding that much as they want something new, they are not ready to go the whole way. They still want to hold onto certain things, which Kawuma says is not the case with the relatively younger people.

“Most people in the late 20s to late 30s are open to new ideas and are more adventurous than the older ones. The young generation has lots of idea, are more open-minded and ready to go against the norm. For instance, it is very easy for the young client to have hot colours splashed on the wall while the older group would rather keep it in the traditional colours and not splashed.”

The challenges of the job

Like any business, Kawuma says interio

d onto certain things, which Kawuma says is not the case with the relatively younger people.

“Most people in the late 20s to late 30s are open to new ideas and are more adventurous than the older ones. The young generation has lots of idea, are more open-minded and ready to go against the norm. For instance, it is very easy for the young client to have hot colours splashed on the wall while the older group would rather keep it in the traditional colours and not splashed.”

The challenges of the job

Like any business, Kawuma says interior designing is something new to many Ugandans and understanding the concept is not an easy task. “Many people confuse interior designing with interior décor and that’s where the problem starts. The interior designer is consultant from the beginning of the housing project, unlike interior décor, which comes in when the structure is already in place, kind of the finishing touch,” explains Kawuma.

As a developing trend in Uganda, it has a number of professional challenges one of which is time management. Kawuma explains that at times, it’s very hard to get good workmanship when it

r designing is something new to many Ugandans and understanding the concept is not an easy task. “Many people confuse interior designing with interior décor and that’s where the problem starts. The interior designer is consultant from the beginning of the housing project, unlike interior décor, which comes in when the structure is already in place, kind of the finishing touch,” explains Kawuma.

As a developing trend in Uganda, it has a number of professional challenges one of which is time management. Kawuma explains that at times, it’s very hard to get good workmanship when it comes to finishing products like curtains, drawers, and other pieces of furniture. “There is a big problem with service providers, people who do carpentry and tailoring don’t value time and they lack in a touch of excellency when it comes to the final product.”

As a result, Kawuma says she has created a net of some providers she relies on. “I have four different tailors, carpenters, painters and other providers who I’m sure can do things the way I want them and on time. These are relationships I have had to build over time by investing in my own money to test their efficiency and professionalism.”

Besides shortcomings from the service delivery, the clients themselves are yet to come to terms with the reality of what they want. “Some people see things abroad or in foreign magazines and that’s exactly what they want, however, when presented with the budget, they hit the roof saying you want to reap them off. They instead want to cut corners on the costs and still expect the same end product which is not possible,” explains Kawuma.

The exposed Ugandans have developed a sophisticated sense of class and touch when it comes to the kind of life they want to live. “This means I have to be up to date with the trends in interior designing. Besides my creativity I have to read interior design magazines and use the internet for research for the new trends in the industry,” says the designer.

With this difference comes the variation in quality demanded when it comes to interior designing. “Getting the different quality fabrics and material in Kampala to meet the difference in tastes is a problem that sometimes I have to order for some materials from abroad more so when the client insists on something and they are willing to pay all it takes to have exactly that. Some of those fine fabrics are not available making it hard to get the variety in quality to satisfy the different types and classes of clients,” she says.

What it takes
According to Kawuma; “There is everything for everybody on the market, dependent on the difference in personality, test and financial ability. Some people are ready to decorate a single bedroom for as high as Shs20m, while there are those who want to have the entire house decorated for as low as Shs10m.

“Many people, if not all, want to have the interior of their houses well-done, but it is the cost that stops them. To some, interior designing is an ongoing exercise. One can start with as low as Shs5m and complete a dream interior design of Shs20m in three years. However, this kind of arrangement may see the original interior of the house changed with some breaking taking place to accommodate the new designs.

“A standard living room window curtain will require a minimum of Shs400,000 to complete, while for some people just the material required for a single window can cost as high as Shs800,000.

It depends on one’s financial stand. Ugandans who have got exposure and can afford it want to live the kind of life they have experienced abroad. Such people will, in most cases, not be bothered about what it will cost. It is the end product that they are interested in.”

Best and worst of clients

In the three years Gloria Kawuma has been practicing her dream career as an interior designer, she has lived her worst and best moments when it comes to dealing with clients. “My first job is one I would not want to remember at all,” she says, a sad look on her face. “I under-quoted everything from materials to labour costs, and I could not go back to the client asking for more money. I had to use my own money to finish the job.”

Another bad memory is of a client that spent three days deciding on what kind of curtains he wanted. “We would agree on the colour and material only for him to call me just the next day to say his friends had told him there was a better colour. The last time I had already bought the material and the tailor had started working on them! It did not help that he was not willing to adjust his expenditure with his preferences,” she recounts.

There have, however, also been experiences that still bring a smile to her face too. “There was this client who was so smart it took less than two hours to decide on what he wanted. His payments were prompt and I didn’t have to go back and forth on what to buy and what to change,” she says, dreamily, probably wishing she would have more clients like this, although she knows and appreciates that that is not possible.

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