If love and design were a person, it would be this dynamic design-duo: professional architect and interior designer Mholi and Nqobile Mthembu, co-founders and directors of MAD DESIGN STUDIOS, a turnkey architecture, interior design and custom furniture manufacturing studio based in Durban.
They have an innovative and fresh outlook to design. Coupled with Nqobile’s background in marketing at one of the world’s largest FMCG’s, they have a unique capability to combine their business and design skills to push boundaries and offer clients curated design solutions from project inception to project handover.
In the past few years, their clientele has grown to attract upmarket residential clients and multi-million rand corporates for which they have designed a number of commercial spaces, each with over 1200 square meters in the Umhlanga Ridge area over the past 12 months!
Having established their business just over six years ago, it hasn’t been easy to get off the ground, in fact they both recall a time when they would question the risk of their venture, however the conviction of their dream and their vision for a more inclusive design ‘landscape’ keeps them going.
‘Even with the strides that we are making, they are small in comparison to what equally qualified designers from other races are doing. For example, you could drive through construction site after construction site reading the construction sign boards in an area like Umhlanga or Ballito or even Sandton and see the same design business names or contractors working on a number of different projects. This is not due to a lack of presence of black designers as all races qualify through the same educational systems, but it is perhaps a combination of societies outlook and perception of that their design needs are better serviced by one group versus another – whether black or white, the clients with spending power, often share the same mindset – something we hope with the coming time will change” said Mrs Mthembu.
‘Predominantly black designers haven’t been as active as other groups within the industry and the vision with MAD, is to create presence, to break boundaries and to show that good design is a universal language that knows no colour.’ Says Mr Mthembu.
The couple met at university when Mholi had returned to do his Masters in Architecture and Nqobile was an undergrad in her second year of study! According to Mholi, he knew before greeting Nqobile that she would one day be his wife.
Their experience and time invested in establishing industry networks, through the country, has placed them perfectly to realise their business model and lead their team to deliver with excellence – without which they know they cannot hope to be trusted with the same opportunities as other designers in the industry.
‘As a designer, you are constantly learning as the industry evolves and introduces new trends and technologies often. You therefore have to put in the hours, be versatile and be open minded to learn and evolve or risk being left behind or losing relevance!’ said Mrs Mthembu. To her, a successful designer is one that is strong not only in design, but in planning and mathematics! Unbeknown to many, the Insta-ready set up takes a lot of planning, costing, coordinating contractors and subcontractors, sourcing – the list goes on!
‘Our dream is to grow a sustainable business with equal access to opportunities which in turn will allow us to provide sustainable jobs for our team whose lives we desire to improve, but also to create new jobs and a platform for young designers to learn and grow into their full potential. We want to leave behind a legacy, to build a business that will be here for generations to come. A dream that is beyond just us’ said Mr Mthembu.
The Mthembu’s advice to young people with aspirations to join the industry is to be clear about their unique vision and business model and then work tirelessly to achieve it. ‘This is an exciting field, with so many possibilities! Trust your skill and offer it to the Almighty and He will guide you on how to go about growing into the future that you desire’. They added.