The recognition of Planning Interiors Limited’s works at the Africa and Arabia International Property Awards Summit was an indication that the world had noticed the Kenyan interior design company.
It is common for visitors to walk into foyers of leading companies, hotels and retail outlets and marvel over breathtaking works of interior design.
From the reception areas of companies like Deloitte East Africa, General Electric, Hashi Energy and Coca Cola, to waiting lobbies of prestige sections of banks such as National Bank of Kenya, Barclay Bank, I&M Bank, GT Bank and KCB to foyers of hotels like dusitD2 Hotel and Tamarind Tree, the tagline is interior designs that leave many in awe. And lately, anyone walking into Kenya Airway’s lounges at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport will notice a spectacular fresh look.
Unknown to many people, these interior designs and many more have one thing in common – they are the creation of Planning Interiors Limited (PIL), arguably the leading professional interior design consultancy in East Africa. “We are the leading interior design firm in the region because of our track record and reputation,” says Eugene Ngugi, Managing Director. He adds that the firm commands a rich portfolio of clients due to its ability to create world-class brand-led interiors that enhance clients’ business profiles.
That PIL is the home of exquisite designs is in no doubt. Though operating in an industry that is largely unregulated and where anybody can venture, the firm has built a reputation of seeking to understand customer needs and addressing them with elegant interior proposals that project the image and aspirations of the client. Indeed, in most of its projects, the firm aims to blend the client’s core business and corporate themes with the environment and industry they operate in to come up with unique designs.
Fulfilling and even surpassing clients’ expectations has always been PIL’s philosophy since its establishment in 1993. The firm started as a subsidiary of Planning Systems Services, one of the top architectural practices in Kenya. Ngugi, who joined Planning Systems Services in 1992 as a senior interior designer, was instrumental in establishing the subsidiary. In 1995 he assumed leadership as managing director and for eight years transformed PIL to a leading practice within Planning Systems Services.
In 2003, an opportunity that Ngugi together with a colleague, Fatema Essajee -Keshavjee who was a senior interior designer at Planning Systems, could not resist to grab presented itself. The senior partners at Planning Systems Services decided to hive off the interior division, prompting Ngugi and Fatema to enter into a management buy-out deal that saw them acquire Planning Interiors, thus resulting in the firm becoming an independent practice. Fatema is the firm’s Design Director.
Although having been part of Planning Systems services meant that PIL was not new in the market after the buyout, becoming an independent entity came with new realties. While previously the two directors only concentrated on design work, they were now faced with a situation where they were running a business. Consequently, the scope of their roles expanded beyond creating designs to looking for clients, handling accounts, human resources and the whole spectrum of running a business.
“In terms of design, nothing changed but everything else was new to us,” explains Ngugi. He adds the whole situation equated to the culture shock that often hit people when they move out from their parents’ homes to start life independently. “The good thing is that we knew the interior design market well,” states Ngugi who holds a degree in Design from the University of Nairobi and OMP Business Leadership Programme from Strathmore Business School.
Cutting Edge Strategy
Driven by a vision to bring out the best of Kenyan interior design to the world, PIL has since managed to stand on its own and is today a force to reckon with in the interior design industry. The firm has adopted a brand-led strategy in which it has segmented its target market into three areas namely corporate, retail and hospitality. In corporate projects, PIL seeks to address the aspirations of companies driven by the mantra that good design is good for business. The company goes out of its way to research a client’s brand and designs an office environment that reflects the dynamics and values of that client.
In the retail segment, the firm believes that the customer experience – be it shopping or banking – is the most important aspect of retail interior design. It therefore designs spaces so that the finished product will be a creative expression of the client’s brand through improved customer experience achieved through a well thought-out layout. In the hospitality sector, PIL aims to create African inspired destinations. The firm prides itself in understanding the true meaning of ambience, and creates designs that meet international standards but with a local flair.
The focus on clients and attention to detail is what has made PIL become the leading interior design practice in the country despite rising competition. Although Ngugi contends the design market is huge enough and that there is space for everyone, the unregulated nature of the interior design industry has given rise to price wars among firms desperately seeking to remain afloat. “There is a lot of undercutting in this industry,” he observes, adding that PIL has been forced to slash its fees by at least 20 per cent as a result of this malpractice.
Despite the challenge, PIL maintains a pricing mechanism that is above its competitors but still attracts many clients because of the value it offers. Today, the firm has in its portfolio the who-is-who in the country’s business circles. The rich client base is a strong selling point because majority of corporate clients want to work with firms with the capacity to deliver projects on time, on budget and to their expectations.
“Versatility and strong relationships have helped us to grow our client base,” notes Ngugi, adding that clients also want a firm with a track record and that practices honesty and integrity.
In 2011, PIL was ranked number 35 in the Kenya Top 100 Middle sized companies survey. The survey, an initiative of KPMG Kenya and Nation Media Group, seeks to identify Kenya’s fastest growing medium sized companies in order to showcase business excellence and highlight some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurship stories.
While all the projects that PIL has undertaken have met client’s expectations, some of the projects have left a lasting impression on the firm. Among them are the dusitD2 Hotel, Catalyst Principle Partners and the Kenya Airways lounges projects. The Kenya Airways project saw PIL win the African Property Award for Best Public Service Interior for remodelling the lounges at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The firm beat hundreds of other competitors from 25 African and Arab countries to clinch the five-star honour at the Awards.
“The award is an affirmation that we are doing something right and the world is noticing,” says Ngugi, who gets great inspiration to develop exquisite designs from travelling widely across the globe. “I travel and see what is happening outside Kenya and this has contributed to widened exposure on expounded design experiential,” he notes. Among the countries from where he has drawn inspiration include United Kingdom, France, Belgium, South Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, Australia, United States, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, Turkey, Mozambique and South Africa.
According to Ngugi, PIL, which consists of a team of 26 staff, 14 of whom are professional architects and designers, is determined to maintain its growth trajectory. “In the short term we want to continue growing,” he states. He adds that in the medium and long term, PIL’s ambition is to establish a design school to empower upcoming designers. It also intends to open a design shop to showcase local designs and engage in corporate social responsibility as a way of giving back to the society.