Meet the young South African interior designer whose unique style is making waves both here and in the rest of Africa
It’s been a whirlwind six years since interior designer Donald Nxumalo first opened his business. In that time, the Pretoria-born entrepreneur has wowed clients across the country – and the continent – with his unique blend of trending tastes and classic style.
Donald’s big break came in 2014, after he won TV show Top Billing’s “Win A Home” interior design competition. He has since designed and decorated functional and elegant spaces to live, work and play for clients in residential, corporate offices, boutiques and big hotels, the most recent of which is a hotel in Uganda. At present, he’s working on the Kenyan High Commission in South Africa.
Interior design was something Donald developed an interest for at an early age. “I grew up watching a lot of TV, and took an interest in the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” he says. “I was always moved by how people’s lives were changed after the home was completed. I knew I wanted to make a change in people’s lives. I wanted to be the solution to interiors and spaces.”
He studied interior design at the Tshwane University of Technology, and in his final year started designing spaces for small retailers around Pretoria to fund his studies. “It has been an interesting journey from where I started, and it continues to be an inspiring one to where I’m heading.”
In 2012, Donald opened his studio, Donald Nxumalo Interior Design, in the design district of Kramerville in Sandton. Although he self-funded the business from the beginning, to grow it further he needed to raise funds – not an easy endeavour. “I firmly believed in my craft, which made for great motivation on the days I thought of giving in,” he says. “Some of my greatest successes can be attributed to my humble beginnings and the belief that nothing is impossible.”
He now has his own range of fabric designs that has been an excellent addition to his business commercially, but he still faces some specifically local challenges. For Donald, it has been an industry with its own dynamics, especially when it comes to black South African clients. “The dilemma is that most people believe they are inherent designers and therefore do not view the services of interior designers as a real profession,” he says. “This misconception is strong in the black community, especially given the unfortunate fact that most of our parents only view a few fields of expertise as ‘real employment’. It is easier for a black parent to support a child who wants to be a doctor, an accountant or a lawyer, as opposed to an interior designer. So as easy as it is to break into the industry, it’s quite complicated for a black designer to make it with flying colours.”
Despite this, Donald has broken all barriers – and what makes him stand out is a determination to make use of past references in his work. “It could be inspiration drawn from a previous fashion era, or a trend that made the headlines a number of years ago. My inspirations come from far and wide. I believe my signature is reinventing the wheel.”
Asked what trends should be expected in the medium to long term, Donald believes more and more of his clients are embracing clean lines in combination with comfort and the African aesthetic. His style is also constantly evolving – and in a digital world, it is no surprise that he is incorporating a number of smart technologies into his work.
“We have always been a company that’s environmentally friendly, and we have come up with ways of reducing our carbon footprint as well,” he says. For example, all home designs he works on make use of LED lights. “We have also started incorporating solar energy systems that control lighting and heating, and some that control things such as curtains and blinds. From here, we’re looking at fully automated homes that use minimal energy.”
Spearheading a wave of talented young South African interior designers, Donald describes his design business as “a place where everyone is good and feels at home, bound together by a culture of skill, talent and determination. This is my tribe of people.” Now, having firmly established himself as a talented interior designer with a classically sophisticated but inherently African style, he is charting new territories and making an impressive name for himself.
HANGING OUT WITH DONALD
I LOVE CAPE TOWN
It’s my escape, and a breath of fresh air. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a different world that allows me to rejuvenate, re-energise and unleash more creativity.
BEST RESTAURANT FOR BREAKFAST
Nothing beats the salmon and poached eggs at Munch Cafe in Kramerville, its convenience and proximity to our studio and the cappuccino it comes with.
The Saxon is a small escape within the city that guarantees that out-of-town experience. The steak there is a masterpiece.
Saint in Johannesburg. Everything is how it should be, the ambience is great, and the food is utterly divine!
MY OFFICE SPACE IN IS KRAMERVILLE BECAUSE…
It is the unofficial design district of Africa, and it’s great to be surrounded by like-minded creatives.
Definitely Tiger of Sweden. There are outlets in Sandton City, Melrose Arch, Hyde Park, the Mall Of Africa, and the V&A Waterfront.
WORDS Thabiso Mochiko