Tanwa Newbold is the Creative Director of NU MI Design House, Lagos. In this interview, the mother of two took us through her journey in investment banking, to her passion for luxury interior designs and how she has been able to juggle family life with a thriving career.
Can you tell us about your early childhood?
My full name is Omotanwa and I am from Ilorin. My maiden name is Foworaja and my marital name is Newbold. My husband is British and I have two sons, they are called Sebastian and Amelia. I grew up in Lagos; I had a very happy and sheltered childhood. I moved to America when I was 14 years and I spent my undergraduate years in Tennessee. I read business administration and I went to the UK for my masters in Investment Banking. I moved back to Nigeria about 12-13 years ago. While I was living in America I worked as an investment banker but in the UK, I did financial analysis. Then I moved back home where I worked for about six months before I went into interior designs.
Your designs are outstanding, is that what you have always wanted to do?
My background is in investment banking and I have two degrees. The first degree is in business and the other in investment banking. I was doing furniture in the United States and in London. However, when I moved back to Nigeria and I saw there is a large market for it, then I decided to start it here. My goal is to make furniture in such a way that when you see it, you can’t really tell if it is made here or not. As Nigerians, we have that affinity that internationally made products are better. My goal is to prove this wrong. There is a way you put a home together with made in Nigeria furniture and everything will come out elegantly, aesthetically, sophisticated and modern.
Nigerian homes have these traditional sitting arrangements of two singles, one double settee and others, has that totally changed?
We are moving away from that now. I’m very proud to be a Nigerian because one thing that I’m learning about Nigeria is the fact that we are very openminded. We are ready to see what the next thing is, the next style, the latest aesthetics and what everybody else is doing. I don’t think we are stuck in that old traditional style of furniture. There is nothing wrong with the traditional look though and the traditional look is beautiful as well. However, there are people who travel outside Nigeria and they come back with different aesthetic taste.
Who influenced you more as a child and young adult, was it your dad or mum?
I think both. My dad artistically influenced me and my mum influenced me with the strength of work. Both joined together, drives me. I have the artistic capabilities of my dad. Dad tells me to have the strength of a woman, he tells me to create my own identity, to be strong, have a family, hold my family together, be a good wife, be a good mother and at the same time have my identity. He tells me it is good to have children or have a husband but I should do something for myself. He reminds me it is good to be a wife and mother but it’s also beautiful to have my own legacy. I brought beauty to the world as a designer and I’m very proud of it.
My background literally is in investment banking and business. But as I found my passion in interior designs and so, I took courses in interior designs. In interior design, I found out it is beautiful to take courses and also good to integrate field experiences into what you do. Once you get the field experiences, you infuse it in, you add training and school then you are good to go.
Did you go for training in interior designs?
You studied investment banking at school and suddenly you switched to interior decoration. Would you say this is more financially rewarding compared to you having a job in a bank?
For me, it is hundred per cent more rewarding than being a banker. I always knew I could make money in banking but I didn’t have the drive and passion for a banking job. I never got used to waking up every morning and I wasn’t excited about my banking job but with interior design, I wake up every morning with excitement. I love it and I have a passion for it.
How long have you been in interior designing?
I have been in the industry for about 13 to 14 years and I started very small. We grow every day and that is my pride. My pride is looking at where I came from and looking at where I am now. Every day, I tell myself I don’t think I’m there yet. I keep learning. I want to be better, I want to keep excelling, I want to be better than I did yesterday, and I want to do better than I did today.
How do you source your material?
We source locally. We have very good leather here. We actually export unprocessed leather to France. These are things we don’t know and these are the sorts of things that we don’t appreciate because we always have this mentality that what is outside is better. We actually have so many raw materials here that would help you create beautiful things if you have the talent. My goal is to provide international standard luxury at affordable prices.
You said you started small, how small was it?
Literally, when I decided to go into furniture, I had a job. I walked out on my job because I knew that’s not what I wanted to do. I had my ambition, I had my dream. I started with small jobs though. My dad is an architect, so he helped me a lot. He has been in the industry for over 30 years. I remembered my first job was a referral. It was in NASCO. I did a little office for the MD and from that small job, he referred me to others and I started to grow. I have never advertised. Nigerians are loyal, once you do a good job and they like it, they will come back and they will refer you to others.
Your husband is British, did you meet him while you were schooling abroad?
Funny enough no. We met here in Nigeria. Though we have known each other, it was in a casual setting. We said hello to each other whenever we met until the day he asked me out on a date. From the day he asked me out on the first date until now, we haven’t stayed apart from each other. Basically, we met, he asked me on a date, we dated, he proposed, we got married, had two children and here we are today.
What was the duration of the courtship?
First, he proposed and nine months after, we got married. I conceived two days after our wedding, I conceived the second baby six months after we had the first one. It has been a very busy journey.
How did your dad feel that his only daughter married a white man?
My dad is very traditional; he is a Nigerian and a Muslim. But he loves my husband so much. He said he has good character, he has the drive, and he treats his daughter like a queen.
You are married with kids, how do you combine your job with the home front?
I think the trick is to have a husband who believes in you, a husband who trusts you and shares your vision. A husband, who cares enough about you to accept you as you are. A husband that gives you the freedom to express yourself and create your own legacy. Moreover, I have a husband, children and other people who support me and they are there for me daily. This makes me stronger and makes me wake up every day and want to do more because I want them to be proud of me.
What do you do to stay this young?
I exercise and I try to eat right.
What is your style?
I don’t know what my style is. I just wear what I’m comfortable in. I don’t go with the trend. I wear what I feel I look nice in. I like dresses, I grew up being a tomboy but now I’m a girly girl. I like skirts too. My style is very contemporary, like my designs.