When you meet the beautiful Ifeyinwa Ighodalo, you wouldn’t guess her age if you tried. The stunningly beautiful 63-year-old accountant turned interior designer is a force to be reckoned with.
Born and raised in Ibadan, she holds a BSc in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but her knack for aesthetics and space eventually led her to the world of interior design. With her keen eye for design and passion for creating beautiful spaces, Ifeyinwa quickly became a sought-after interior designer. In 1987, she founded Design Options Ltd. and, later on, DO.II Designs. Since then, her company has become one of Lagos’s most prominent furniture and interior design firms. With a team of talented designers and craftsmen, DO.II Designs has worked on a variety of projects, from luxury homes and hotels to commercial spaces and buildings. But it’s not just her professional accomplishments that make Ify so impressive. She has also been a dedicated mentor and leader for many years. She co-founded the Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) organisation, which has helped countless Nigerian women achieve their professional goals and break through the glass ceiling. As she celebrates her 63rd birthday, she shows no signs of slowing down. ”I am young at heart and try not to take life or myself too seriously,” she says.
Can you tell us about your passion for interiors and how it led you to establish first Design Options, your prestigious interior decorating and furniture manufacturing outfit, and now DO.II DESIGNS?
I was fortunate to discover my passion for beautiful interiors while I was in university. Friends would stop by to admire my dorm room and ask if I could help with their spaces. I realised that not only did I enjoy this “hobby”, I was actually quite good at it, and I slowly developed a passion for it. Fast forward to 6 years later, in 1987, Design Options was established as a pioneer indigenous furniture manufacturing company to fill the niche market created by the demand for aesthetically appealing furniture, locally produced to global standards.
It’s been over 30 years now; how have you stayed relevant in the ever-changing business landscape?
I am young at heart and try not to take life or myself too seriously. I also believe in learning something new every day. This same approach has guided a number of my decisions regarding both my companies.
To be very honest, I am still reeling over how much the world has changed in the last 25 years. I have had to continuously reinvent myself and refresh the business to remain relevant. Unlike when I started out, today, a lot of grooming and training of your team is critical to sustaining your business and growth. At DO.II, we have a culture of constantly introducing new and innovative ideas, and we have managed to stay abreast and sometimes ahead of the trends whilst retaining the fresh approach required to help us stay relevant. We are not afraid to try new things and adapt to this ever-changing world.
I have also found that the constant infusion of young blood into the DO.II teams and the new ideas they bring have helped keep the company not just relevant but “trending”.
So what were the earlier days like?
The greatest challenge I faced starting out was funding and capital. I embarked on a prepayment model to overcome it very early in my business. This helped us amass the capital required to grow the company. To achieve and sustain this, we needed to get our clients to trust us. I, therefore, ensured that I built up the organisation’s goodwill by providing quality goods and services. In so doing, I created quite a strong brand, starting first with Design Options in the late 1980s, and subsequently with DO.II DESIGNS.
The second challenge was the inability to source the right type of furniture for the kind of interiors I wanted to create. Having lived and travelled around the world from a very young age, I had experienced various interior styles that I wanted to reflect in my spaces. This challenge, the unavailability of the right furniture for the best interiors, is what fuelled my passion for furniture manufacturing, which today is the mainstay of our business.
The interior design industry has seen a sudden increase in the number of non-professionals entering the market, which has led to oversaturation. How do you view this trend, and what impact do you think it has on the industry as a whole?
Quite frankly, it’s not just the interior design industry that has experienced this increase you have mentioned. I also do not believe that the market is oversaturated yet because the demand for interior solutions in Nigeria is still so great. The proliferation of furniture suppliers is actually greater than that of unskilled and untrained interior designers, and because I am a strong believer in free trade, I feel that the greatest impact is that it makes the industry players and stakeholders a lot more competitive.
But don’t you think it affects the overall quality and standard of the profession?
As in any industry, a preponderance of non-professionals will bring down the standards of the product and service offerings. As a member of the Board of Trustees of the Interior Designers Association of Nigeria, IDAN, I am aware that this poorly regulated entry of non-professionals has been a concern of the organisation for quite some time and that the Executive has been working on measures to ensure proper regulation.
Obviously, the quality and output of a part of this sector will be below the required standards, and consumers will be negatively impacted.
I honestly cannot put into words how it feels to have Omoehi choose this career path. I had no overt influence over her decision, but I am gratified to see her genuine passion and flair for interiors.
So what steps do you believe can be taken to maintain the integrity of the interior designing industry?
In addition to the efforts being made by IDAN to ensure proper regulation and entry into the industry as well as good business practices, I know that for formal training, there are academies and vocational schools that exist, and more are being set up.
Alongside this, a lot is being done to create adequate industry awareness, both for service providers and consumers. On my part, I have always encouraged a spirit of collaboration in our industry, and I know that many others share this sentiment.
Let’s talk a bit about family. How do you feel about your daughter, Omoehi, choosing the same career path as you?
I honestly cannot put into words how it feels to have Omoehi choose this career path. I had no overt influence over her decision, but I am gratified to see her genuine passion for interiors. I can only say it’s God-ordained, and I am very excited to see what the future brings.
Mehi has collaborated with DO.II on several projects with remarkable results, and I have always known that her brand, ICORA by DO.II, is the way of the future for DO.II DESIGNS. This is another example of the young blood I mentioned earlier being infused into the organisation.
What has been your experience grooming her, and how have you navigated the dynamics of working together as a family?
Once Mehi began to express an interest in the business a few years ago, I encouraged her to carve a niche that would cater to the emerging market of homemakers and corporate buyers by creating a fresh, young style of furniture, interior designs and trends for this younger generation at a more affordable price point. She’s making a success of it, and it’s been a wonderful experience. Sometimes challenging but extremely rewarding.
Omoehi and I have managed to separate our very close relationship as mother and daughter from that of co-workers and co-directors of DO.II when we are at work. I give her as much space as possible and the freedom to grow and be her own person. She is a part of the succession plan for DO.II Designs, along with a couple of our loyal and long-serving staff members.
What are some of the highlights of your career in interior design, and which projects are you most proud of?
With a career that spans over 35 years, it’s difficult to pinpoint the highlights, but my greatest pride would be the large number of people whose lives I have impacted, especially those who were groomed and trained by working in the business. There are also the tens of thousands of homes and offices we have furnished and the constant and frequent feedback I receive on the quality and durability of our furniture and the beauty of the interiors.
Of the many projects we have handled, my top three would be:
– The magnificent Banwo and Ighodalo office building, where we handled all five floors’ complete interior design, finish, and furnishing.
– Two SRS Collection residences, The Seattle Residences and Spa and Pier Harbour by SRS. We worked on over 25 apartments and several penthouses for hospitality.
– The amazing MTN transit lounge at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, which we completed at the end of 2022. This included full interior design, space planning, interior finishing and fit-out, furniture, and interior decor.
What motivates you to continue pushing the boundaries of creativity in your designs, and how do you maintain high quality in your work?
At this stage of my life and career, I look back a lot more often, and two things have motivated me and kept me going in my business.
The first is the joy I have brought to people’s lives when they purchase our excellently crafted pieces or with the creation of beautiful interiors and spaces.
The second, as I said earlier, is the impact on the lives of my team, both past and present, my supply chain, and their families.
Again, for all our clients, we create memories as well as spaces.
In order to maintain a high level of quality, I have had to rely greatly on the older team, who have been with us for a while. They have been quite instrumental in bringing up the younger brigade of Millennials and Gen Z, who come in with wonderful ideas and creativity but lack structure.
Working with them all, I insist our standards and quality are maintained—one of our DO.II hashtags is #QualityInEveryDetail.
What are some of the key qualities and skills you believe are essential for a successful career in interior design?
For a career in interior design, it helps if you have a talent or flair like I did. However, I believe that like in all careers and especially for business, the same qualities apply
– An eye for and attention to detail
– A passion for what you do
– A willingness to listen, learn, and grow
– Grit and resilience
If you are fortunate enough to run a business in any field, focus on the business aspect of your chosen career, not just design or soft skills.
Focus on turning your passion into profit and on growing your business.
When all else fails, passion, grit, and resilience keep you going.
From wife to mother, businesswoman, mentor, and industry leader, you wear quite a few hats. How do you manage to create a balance between your personal and professional lives?
In life, one must always prioritise. I would be lying if I said it has been easy, but it helps if you know who you are and what you want out of life.
I have found that prioritising helps me to clear my head and remain focused on what is important. I put God first, and my family has always been my top priority. Those who truly know me know how family-oriented I am. And by family, I mean my immediate, extended, and business families. As we all know, having a strong support system allows you the freedom to do more while still keeping up with the things that matter. I have an extremely supportive husband who has been the “wind beneath my wings” in both my professional and private lives.
Finally, staying healthy and fit gives me the much-needed energy to keep going. I try to get as much rest and me-time as I possibly can.
There’s a lot of talk about how you can have it all. The truth is that you can have all that you truly want and need, but I believe that “all” means completely different things to different people, and finding out what your “all” is is most important before you set out on the journey. Contentment is key.
Your youthful look at 63 is remarkable. What’s the secret? What beauty and wellness routine do you follow?
First and foremost, I am who I am by the grace of God.
Having said that, my wellness routine involves lots of sleep, exercise and a diet that has always included lots of fruits and vegetables every day and now includes drinking tons and tons of water. Staying hydrated is not just hype but very good for you.
My mother always looked about 20 years younger than her age at every stage of her adult life, and I thank God that I inherited her genes. My mother is the second-greatest influence in my life. For my beauty routine, she advised me not to use harsh cosmetics, to keep my face clean and allow my pores to breathe; luckily, I listened, which is why I never use foundation as a part of my makeup routine.
So, my beauty routine of light makeup, lots of exercise, clean living, a healthy diet, and lots of water I inherited from my mother. As well as the tying of my signature turban.
What is your vision for the future of DO.II Designs and how do you plan to continue growing and evolving?
My vision for DO.II Designs is to be the preferred choice for locally manufactured furniture in Nigeria and the West African sub-region.
We have experienced tremendous growth in the post-COVID years, and I have been fully focused on business development and succession planning to ensure business continuity as I look forward to retirement.
Many entrepreneurs face moments of self-doubt. How do you stay motivated and confident in your business, and what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs experiencing similar challenges?
We are all plagued by self-doubt at one time or the other and imposter syndrome, and believe me, I have experienced my fair share of both. I try with all things to focus on the good, the positive, and the strengths, both with my business and my relationships.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well; I strongly believe in finishing what I start. I look at the growth of my business milestones achieved, and above all, I focus on the impact we continue to have. It’s all there; you must look, keep believing, and strive. Failure is not an option for me, and we cannot give up.
And lastly, what’s your most valuable lesson from your business journey?
My most valuable lesson is the value of people. Nothing can be achieved without the right people. So get the right people, nurture them, treat them like family, and together you will achieve your goals and dreams.