Leaf, Motif & Bold West African Colour
We chatted to Eva Sonaike, the creative force behind the eponymous West African interiors label…
Fizzing with energy, excitement and endless design ideas, Eva Sonaike is the kind of creative who inspired the concept of Telescope Style. An imaginative textile designer whose vibrant homewares have a distinct connection to a country or cultural aesthetic: in this case, the landscapes and bold, stylised motifs of West Africa. Her talent for translating these into stylish, modern furnishing fabrics, cushions, lampshades, and rugs is much in evidence and the very definition of ‘destination-inspired’ design. We sat down with her to find out more about her motivations, ideas and future aspirations for the brand…
Has designing fabrics and homewares always been a vocation? How did your creativity manifest early on?
‘I think it has always been my vocation. I was obsessed with interior design and fabrics from a very young age. I remember flicking through my mother’s interiors magazines and imagining how I would improve and design the spaces before I was even able to read. I was always more interested in the design of my dolls house – rearranging furniture and making little cushions and bedsheets from old curtains – than actually playing with the dolls!’
‘My parents were both very much involved with the art world, with Dad being an art historian and Mum an art collector. Growing up, I was surrounded by art. We spent holidays visiting museums, historic buildings, and heritage gardens. At the time I was often bored. Over the years, however, I began to enjoy these trips more and more. As an adult, I can see how they helped develop my visual appreciation and understanding.’
The cushion in the centre of the styled shot is the African double knot print cushion in aqua with the two tropical leaf print cushions in blues (bottom) and a vibrant green (top) inspired by the botanical gardens in the Aburi region of Ghana shown alongside.
What was your career path prior to setting up the Eva Sonaike brand?
‘I came to London in the late 1990s to study journalism. After my BA in journalism, I worked in TV for a few years before doing my MA in Fashion Journalism. I then worked as a UK fashion correspondent for many years for glossy German magazines, such as Instyle and Elle Germany here in London.’
What made you decide to focus on West African-inspired colour and design?
‘I think my family heritage is the main motivation for my West-African inspired designs and vibrant colour schemes. I was born and raised in Germany, but my parents come from Nigeria, in West Africa. So I was surrounded and influenced by both cultures.’
‘I loved my job as a fashion correspondent but didn’t feel creatively fulfilled. Also, I never came across any high-end, African, interiors brands and barely any African, fashion brands that could be featured in the magazines. I really wanted to change the image people have of African design and so I came up with the idea of a high-end, qualitative, interiors line that would translate well in contemporary design schemes. Now the market has changed completely and there are many internationally-recognized African brands. As I said, back then there was hardly anything available, so I simply had to do it.’
One of our favourites, this tropical leaf print cushion in a lively purple hue is a surefire head-turner. Shown alongside it are the African circles print cushion in blue (top) and the lattice print cushion in green (bottom).
What’s your favourite part of the design process?
‘I love the whole design process from initial research to shooting the finished products. However, my favourite task is choosing the colours. I actually work on the colours first, before designing the collections, as for me, the colour combinations are the most important aspect of my designs.’
Can you articulate your passion for West African design? How do the bold colours and motifs translate within contemporary homes?
‘My passion for West Africa is immense. Whenever I am ‘home’ my inspiration and ideas just flow. But I understand that many people find it difficult to imagine how these vibrant colours and bold patterns might translate within their homes.’
‘I think soft furnishings are a great way to start as they are interchangeable. A key pointer is to start small. I have some clients that buy one piece at a time. Over the years, they have built up their colour confidence and now feel much happier choosing fabrics and soft furnishings they love.’
‘Keeping it simple is another option. I was recently working with a client who has a beach house in Greece. She loves colour but didn’t want her house decor to distract from the lush scenery outside. To this end, we opted for subtle blues only – in fact the blue circles print cushion
(also shown above) – to decorate her predominantly white-on-white house.’
‘So, if you are confident using colour in your home, go wild and create whatever suits you and your style. If you are unsure of how to use colourful, African-inspired designs in your home, I say start with one piece, either in your favourite colour or a colour that matches a piece of art or a rug in your home. Then, build this up slowly, adding in either similar, toning hues or stronger colours to create a pleasing contrast.’
‘People are often surprised by the fact that in my own home, here in north London, I use a great many of our products altogether, in an array of colours. The trick is to stick to a monochrome backdrop. Crisp, white walls and black wooden floors set the colours off brilliantly and create a fresh, contemporary vibe.’
Eva’s bold, stylised designs, such as this blue upholstered pouffe in tropical leaf print fabric inspired by the Aburi botanical gardens in Ghana, work brilliantly against a muted, contemporary backdrop. The geometric wallpaper shown here is by Cole & Son. The purple lattice print cushion (top) and the double knot print cushion in aqua (bottom) are also shown here.
Budget notwithstanding (!), where would your dream property be located? Which items from your collection would you use to decorate it? Describe the look!
‘My dream property would be a house in the mountains, in the Aburi region of Ghana. I am from Nigeria, but fell in love with the tranquillity and peace of the Aburi region, hence one of my collections being named ‘Aburi Rise’. It is lush, very green and often misty and humid. I would love to renovate a mid-century modern house with a big garden there. The style would be minimalist and open plan, with grey concrete floors, white walls and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, overlooking the valley. I would use an eclectic mix of mid-century furniture and traditionally-made, local furniture. I’d enhance the space with a display of my Nigerian masks and artefacts. I would use blue and green Wewe cushions and pouffes from my collection to effectively ‘bring the outdoors in’, given the fact that they represent the blue skies and lush green scenery of the region so perfectly.’
Eva gathering inspiration and designing colourful new collections for the Eva Sonaike brand at her London studio.
Which other interior design brands do you admire and why?
‘I love Dedar Milano
. Their use of colour and pattern is phenomenal and so qualitative. I am also a big fan of antique, Moroccan rugs. I source mine through Nadia Dafri
. Last but not least, I love AAKS
. Their products are the most beautiful, handwoven handbags in Ghana. They recently branched into homewares with a collection of lampshades.’
What’s next in terms of product development and new collections for Eva Sonaike?
‘We are working on a subtle yet colourful textiles range that combines easily with all our existing patterns and designs. I can’t say too much yet, but please keep checking back and the new designs will be revealed later this year. The wallpaper collection is also well under way. Hopefully clients will be able to have Eva Sonaike on their walls come autumn!’