The Founder's Feature: Kizzy Laura Kerongo
From red brick houses in the colonial day to whitewashed government houses that carry Blueband, Kasuku, Cowboy and Omo adverts. One thing has always been a constant for the people of Nairobi and in the greater breadth, Kenya; the interior of the house has to be beautified as it is the space where you spend most of your time, host family (who must leave impressed) friends and special friends. .From back when newspapers would adorn the walls, to today when interior design has become an accepted profession with words like gypsum and granite becoming household names. This, however, has not come easy. In fact, it has had a number of hurdles and challenges that these creatives called interior designers have had to tackle.
Today we speak to Kizzy Laura Kerongo, Founder of Renovazone, as she walks us through her interior design journey.
You studied Biochemistry, right? So how did you end up doing interior design?!
I have always been a creative, and I have always liked working with my hands. I’m a very hands-on person. I love the journey of doing something and seeing the end product. I love colour, fabric, textures, experimenting with concepts and so this almost comes naturally to me.
What is your professional strength?
I can see the elements in my mind and bring the customers idea to life. As I walk into a room, as much as someone may have asked for curtains, I see the chandeliers, furniture and how everything comes together.
I have also learnt to work with fundis (handymen), which can be the most challenging aspect for my job. I am resilient, willing to go the extra mile to satisfy the customer, and you could easily find me in Kamukunji, Gikomba or Tiles and Carpets. I will do whatever it takes to get the right stuff.
How did you start out?
I started by doing my own furniture and curtains, then I branched out to doing renovations for clubs and that is when I realized my passion. My first project was a renovation at Taboo in 2010, I was working as the operations manager then and one of my tasks was to renovate the club.
What is the difference between renovations and interior design?
Renovation is changing anything from its current state and giving it a new look and feel. Interior design is more of adding some touches to create an ambiance and environment the client desires.
Biggest job to date?
Rafikiz Club in Nakuru. We were converting a supermarket with two floors to a big bar and restaurant with no floors. We had to demolish the structure and make a high-ceiling club. With a 3-metre chandelier hanging from the ceiling, it was grand!!
What is your thought process when you start a job?
First I see the space, then listen to the client’s idea and vision. There are three types of clients;
1. Those who give you space, full creative rights, a hefty budget and tell you to go crazy and do whatever you want.
2. Those who give you the space and an idea of what they are looking to achieve.
3. Those who give you the space and the exact concept that they want and you execute.
Each category of clients has unique needs. The sweet spot is getting to take what the client has in mind and ensuring what you deliver surpasses or in the very least matches their expectations.
The element of interior has a lot of moving parts; a lot of time and money is spent sourcing for products. Things keep changing: Design includes fabrics, prints, textures, surfaces, and how everything intermarries when you bring them all together.
What would you advise someone who wants to do interior design and renovations?
The industry is growing; I can confidently say that in the last five years it has really grown.
1. More people are willing to spend on it, whereas previously people were not willing to pay for it. So there is business for anyone willing to get their hands dirty.
2. Get yourself a team of specialists who can deliver: A plumber, an electrician, a mason, a tile guy, a painter, a carpenter, wallpaper team. I have identified specialists to work on different aspects of a job as opposed to the Kazi-ya-Mkono aka KYM fundis that purpot to be good at doing everything.
3. You really need to have an eye for it, and attention to detail. I am committed to excellence and delivering exactly that to every client I serve.
What were your worst experiences?
This one time a client asked me to do a kitchen cabinet, and she invested quite a bit in doing this job. One of my best carpenters whom I had worked with for years did the cabinet for me, however the workmanship that he delivered that day was horrible, as in honestly really bad. He had been delegating the job to his other fundis. Each time I visited to check on progress, he would promise that the cabinet would look better once the lipping was done, and then once the painting was done… it was just one thing after another and in the end the job was not done to my satisfaction or the client’s satisfaction. I was devastated and the client was disappointed. From there I learnt:
1. To rely on my gut and expertise. If I feel something is going wrong, I call it out immediately and if it demands, then repeat the job. It costs less trying to make adjustments through the process rather than waiting until the job is complete. I have to give a stamp of approval through each stage/ process of a job.
2. Not to be too reliant on one set of specialists, instead, have a pool of them that you can call on. Once I realized the fundis work was not going well and his delivery was not going to improve, I should have gotten someone else to finish the job.
3. Be present. For renovations you will find that I am either on site or sourcing for materials. I must also pass by each project if I have several happening in tandem..
So, what is next for Miss Kizzy?
I am currently at a crossroads; I fell in love with a concept 14 years ago. I found a gap in the market and decided I would fill it up. However, the product was not available in the country; it was based on a global concept and not very popular in Kenya. It was something I wanted to develop and bring home and I think it is about time I brought it to fruition. It will make your advertisements so much better so you’ll need to be on the lookout for that!!
What advice would you give your younger self?
It's taken me 14 years to go back to a concept I fell in love with! Jesus! I didn’t follow through then but now I am determined to see this through to the end. It is hard putting myself out there, but I think it's something I owe to myself. If I could speak to my younger self I would say, “Don’t be afraid, follow your dreams. Stop caring what people think. Do you. Do not compare yourself with other people and be comfortable in your own skin.”
What is your business mantra, if you have one…? :-)
A candle never loses its light by lighting another candle. I have come to realize that we live in a society where we can work together and uplift each other and support each other. If someone needs help, help that person where you can, but do not refuse someone help because you feel that they will be better than you. The world is your arena, how well you play is up to you.
Dressed by: Sarai Afrique Fashion House
Article By: Caroline Kuria.
Photography: Dennis Moazy