Design & Interiors

A designer of home offices


A home office designed by Barbara Pepeno. PHOTO | POOL

For offices, most people pick a wooden design, monochrome colours and leather for furniture; a normal look.

However as some Kenyans work from home, this is not the design they want to bring back to their houses.

Arnolda Shiundu, a lover of literature has always wanted to have a home office but this became more obvious with the Covid-19 pandemic.

She needed a space to work, read from and store her books.

“I am a workaholic, but in a nice way. I wanted to work without sitting on the couch. I also needed a fabulous environment where I would enjoy to sit or walk into,” she says.

She changed the colours of her walls, put in a clear glass shelf with gold rods in her living space, candles and added a glass table, with the help of an interior designer, Barbara Pepeno.

“I didn’t want traditional or boring. I also didn’t want clutter on the desk, hence I opted for a minimalistic look,” she adds.

Ms Pepeno says home offices have evolved with some clients doubling up the areas as entertainment spaces, with a bar or a gaming unit. Some add a lazy sofa, making it an independent space.

For those without extra rooms, you can set an office at a corner in the living room and blend the colours or furniture with the rest of the house, Ms Pepeno says.

To make you a home office that is inviting and calming, add wall paintings, a carpet, a potted plant, and floating corner shelves for your files or books.

“Have a simple desk and a nice comfortable chair. You can add the knick-knacks just to look presentable,” she says, adding that you should not make the home office feel like you are walking into a commercial building.


Barbara Pepeno, an interior designer in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

The 32-year-old runs an interior design business, Living By Jiiko, a name derived from her middle name Wanjiku. Besides home offices, she plans and improves the look of kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, balconies, and pantries.

The business started as a passion, working on her mother’s house, then a friend’s, before taking a leap of faith in 2018.

“I haven’t gone into the commercial space yet. I have a commercial project in my pipeline working on a director’s office,” she says.

She runs the interior design business as a side hustle as she is employed, managing partners selling data centre solutions.

“I juggle both worlds. The two jobs are not conflicting because one is IT and the other involves looking at houses, paintings, wall papers or colours. It’s like two separate worlds. My work comes first but I also like to design and create therefore I find balance,” she says.

“I buy the supplies when I am out of the office. Also, clients ask when you are available and engage you at that time.”

She says just like there has been a shift from curtain boxes to curtain rods, interior decor has changed and it is dependent on personal preference.

Common trends include having floating shelves, use of scented candles, room sprays, bedlinen spray, home fragrance or diffuser for the middle of the coffee table, and people warming up to light fixtures.

“Nowadays we are seeing a mix of colours for curtains from use of one patter, gypsum, while others want an exquisite look.”

“Some people can’t stand white walls, grey couch and off cream, carpet, but would say I want to have a nice chandelier, or I want to have a nice expensive carpet and side lamp.”

As a designer, she requires a brief, a budget, a time frame and guidance on what the client likes. For instance, do you fancy wallpapers, gold or silver items? What is your colour scheme? Do you prefer glass over wood?.

“Some clients like wood while others think it is chunky, taking too much space in a room.”

It is also important to know whether the space is rented or owned and how long one is staying at that home or office.

“It is important to understand the client and their character. Or else, I will execute a Barbara room,” she says.

“If one hates green, for instance, we stay away from the greens or the blues. Some people want projects executed in a week, others in three months. Others, due to budget constraints, want one area done and when they get money, we can move to the next room or skip a month,” she adds.

According to Ms Pepeno, spaces such as bedrooms ought to be subtle because they are resting spaces. They can however include art, portraits, mirrors and other sentimental items.

Tom Sang, a resident in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa recently redesigned his bedroom, daughter’s room, dining and living room.

“I was moving houses and wanted something decent,” he says.

For a dining area, an interior designer considers the shape and the size of the room versus what is being put into that space, light, other fixtures in the room or hangings on your walls.

Ms Pepeno charges Sh5,000 for consultation, then develops a scope of work based on your budget, suppliers, time-frame and her fees.

Remodelling rooms can cost as low as Sh20,000 or upto millions of shillings.

“It’s a very traditional mentality where we see interior designers as expensive.”

“You need a professional to come and tell you there is no symmetry in this room, or you have too many pieces of furniture, or you need to buy or declutter. So you need an eye for detail or help you know where to improve this space.”