Interior Designer Tola Ojuolape collaborated with Freehaus on the Africa Centre and has received widespread acclaim. Here she tells us about the influences behind some of her design preferences.
Tell us a little about yourself and your design philosophies and influences.
I am Nigerian, raised in South West Ireland (Ennis, Co Clare to be precise) and now settled in London. My mixed background – Ireland, Nigeria, now London – has been a strong influence on how I work as I leaned into culture, heritage and travel as part of my world view and approach and inevitably this influences my work. My family background in aviation also encouraged us all to explore which I’m thankful for. I think a strong sense of place, culture, people, travel are my main influences with the work I do. My studies in Milan so early opened my eyes to an appreciation of beauty and refinement in design. Italy has served as huge inspiration with the use of materiality of aesthetics and function and longevity with design whether objects or interiors or architecture.
How did you come to be involved in the Africa Centre?
The Africa Centre Project was serendipitous and in hindsight was always meant to be. The Africa Centre reached out as they were looking for a designer of heritage, a Pan-African look and feel and a contemporary and appropriate space for the London market. Marrying my experience in working in commercial F&B design for the last 10 years in London, love and travels around the continent, it was a perfect fit as I had just become independent and in the process of setting up my young studio. I was appointed upon the unanimous approval of my proposal by the board. I recognised from the onset it was an important responsibility to consolidate ideas and themes from the continent. The concept was centred around the unifiers that make the African continent special and unique and I concluded this came from the natural essence of hand-made, tactile and crafted objects seen throughout the continent. This governed all the materials and finishes I sought to deliver in the space across all floors. We collaborated with a number of designers and makers from the continent and diaspora to achieve the look and feel.
We know that you fought hard for the colour Indigo to be introduced into the design palette. What is special about this colour and what has been the reaction to its use in the Africa Centre?
The indigo colour is inspired by the rich history of dyeing textiles from West Africa. Indigo cloth dyeing was a highly valuable skill passed on by specialist dyers through generations up to now. I sought to pay homage to heritage with the use of the indigenous colour as an eminent feature in space interiors specifically a backdrop to the exhibition space and stairwell areas. It also served as a contrast to the terracotta tones and timbers. It was challenging initially. However, I was adamant and persuasive and was able to convince The Africa Centre. It is part of the art of the process of projects. I welcomed the challenge because I believed in it from the onset. I worked closely with the Clayworks team to get the right colour. I have been working with the colour for number of years and understood the depth and contrast translating it into clay could bring. The colour was also strongly tied to the concept. Now the space is complete, it has been positively received and everyone is so pleased. It also serves as an Instagrammable moment in the space which is great.
Have you worked with clay plasters before? What drew you to clay and how is it an appropriate finish in this building?
Yes I have. I worked with Clayworks years ago on a residential project in Devon and I was aware the company had collaborated with other designers on projects on the African continent. Clay is a natural indigenous material and pigments are used across the continent, its eco-friendly nature also made it fitting for the project. Its breathable properties and natural and tactile texture was appropriate as it relates directly to the aesthetic from the continent.
And what about the future? Is it your intention to bring more African style to the UK?
Absolutely, I work across all styles of design and my experience is across the board, however I am always drawn to projects that have a cultural undertone as it is driven by purpose and meaning.
The Indigo Clay Plasters in The Africa Centre are Clayworks Rough-with-the-Smooth Finish in a custom colour UBF16.
Tola Ojuolape: www.tolaojuolape.com / @tolaojuolape.studio
Photograph: Taran Wilkhu
Also see the Wallpaper magazine article The Africa Centre reopens to celebrate culture and community