If you haven’t yet spotted the brightly coloured range of cushions by Natalie Manning of Design By Nats around town, or in someone’s home, you soon will.
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then, a person’s life takes them on a winding path that eventually leads to them finding and pursuing their true life’s passion. Natalie is one such person.
From holding a top position in a leading cosmetics company, to helping her husband lead a church in the remote town of Dundee, 44-year-old Natalie’s life has been an interesting one. And it has been a journey that has led to her now doing what makes her happiest – creating beautiful items and helping people create beautiful interiors in their homes.
Having spent much of her childhood in Zimbabwe and Botswana, Natalie and her family moved to South Africa, and the KZN South Coast, when she was 11 years old. Despite being passionate about fashion, interior and graphic design, Natalie says finances were tight when she finished school and she was unable to go to university. Instead she started working at the local pharmacy.
“I worked at the Clarins counter, and that’s when my career in cosmetics began.”
Soon Natalie was offering her clients mini facials and her sales started to improve. She moved up the ranks and eventually became KZN promotional coordinator. “It was very exciting, but also daunting. I was only 23 years old and driving all over KZN.”
Natalie’s life took an interesting turn when, at age 27, she took up the position of personal assistant for the lead pastor at her church. This was also around the time that she married her husband, Peter Manning, who was passionately involved with the church.
In 2010 Peter was offered a position to take over leading a church in Dundee and they made a decision that would completely change the course of their lives. “I remember driving through Dundee when I was a rep, thinking ‘who would want to live here?’, and there I was moving my whole life to this remote little town.”
After renting for a few years, the couple decided it was time to buy their own home. “We bought a very rundown, neglected home on a smallholding. People thought we were crazy! But that was when I realised that we are the kind of people who can find the treasure behind a mess.”
Natalie was finally able to use her creative flair, and lifelong passion for design, and she and Peter began overhauling the home. She did the drawing and designing and he did the building. “I drew out the entire home, exactly how I wanted it to look with each piece of furniture, and once we were ready to move in everything fitted perfectly.”
Natalie says people started to notice the transformation. “They started asking us for tips and when we had visitors stay with us, they were blown away with what we had done.”
Soon a friend of Natalie’s employed her to help renovate her house. “We gutted the kitchen and bathrooms and I took a piece of chalk and drew my ideas on the walls – she was so excited, and she let me have a lot of creative freedom. It really was perfect for my first project.”
Soon Natalie was redecorating rooms at upmarket B&B’s and building up a portfolio of work in Dundee. Every time someone asked her to do something, Natalie says she would say, “well, I’ve never done it before, but I’ll give it a try!”
One day, Natalie says, while she was having a coffee at the local Wimpy a young African guy walked in wearing a white button up shirt with brightly coloured shwe shwe print cuffs and collar. “I was immediately taken by the fabric. I went on a hunt to find shwe shwe fabric. The first cushions I made were used in a local B&B. I just knew there was something about this fabric and it was going to be big.”
When they moved back to Durban in 2017, Natalie decided to see where her décor career would take her. “It was so daunting being a small fish in such a huge pond. The décor industry in Durban is huge and the only thing that really set me apart was my cushions.”
She started selling her scatter cushions seriously in October 2017 and in December last year she showcased them at her first market, where she did exceptionally well.
Now Design By Nats scatters are stocked in stores around the North Coast, including at Melonwoods at the Ballito Junction, the Imbizo Gallery in Ballito and at the Ko-Op pop-up shop at Sage in Umhlali. “I have been completely blown away by this whole experience. I never thought that I would end up following a career in the line that I was also so passionate about.
apart from her cushions, Natalie also offers interior design services and has already completed a number of rooms in homes around Durban. Her style is modern contemporary and she loves bringing the outdoors indoors. She sources soft finishes (scatters, wallpaper) and also does curtains, reupholstering and blinds. “So many people have the same décor they’ve had for years in their homes and it’s amazing how a few small changes, working with what you have, can upgrade your home.”
Details: 082 8563929 / FB: Designbynats
Natalie’s top décor tips:
- Don’t be afraid of colour. Venture out – you will end up surprising yourself. Even if it’s just a vase or the odd scatter cushion – or even add an accent wall – colour has a way of making a space feel cozier and gives it more character.
- Plants are always great to add to your space and perfect to fill blank areas.
- Mirrors are a great way to add light and give an illusion of space in small areas.
- If you are not sure about what your personal style is, I suggest you download app’s like Pinterest or Houzz, which can help with ideas. Create a folder for the space you want to improve on and keeping adding to the folder. After a while you can go back and you’ll usually find a common thread.
- It’s amazing what you can do with the existing furniture you have. Sometimes just re-upholstering or painting existing furniture, or changing the colour on your walls (or just one wall) can make a huge difference. Another consideration is moving your furniture around! Once you have considered all the options look at where you would like to spend some money on changes.
- When you are really not sure where to start and battle to visualise, call in a professional to give you advice. It will save you money in the long run but helping you avoid costly mistakes.