Kenyan entrepreneur designing stylish, productive workspaces

Daphine Okonji

Daphine Okonji

Workspaces that are well thought-out and reflect a company’s brand and culture are becoming increasingly common and important to businesses. It’s these kinds of clients – corporates who are conscious of the value that the look and feel of their spaces brings to their work – that Daphine Okonji, founder of Kenya-based Elle Interior Designers, works with.

Founded in 2008 by Okonji after she lost her job, Elle Interior Designers initially worked predominantly with residential clients looking to redo their homes. Okonji had spent a year learning about interior design and gaining an understanding of the market before starting the business. At the time, she says, there were only a handful of other players in the industry. Interior design was just beginning to pick up.

Today, corporate clients appreciate the value that interior design can bring to their businesses, including how the layout and look of a space impact the productivity of employees. According to Okonji, they’re also increasingly willing to spend the money required to have that impact.


Over the last few years Okonji has received awards both locally and internationally for her contribution to the industry and to entrepreneurship in general.

The key to her success is managing the logistical details of the project, not just the ideas. She explains that, “Most projects fail because despite having a brilliant idea, the execution wasn’t done to par. From the inception of the project up until hand over, there are systematic steps that need to be followed, with client involvement and feedback sought at every stage. Overlooking one step may hamper progress and ultimately the execution of the project. Coordinating with different stakeholders, including suppliers and the project team, is crucial.”

A growing market

Okonji delights at how fast the market is growing, with new opportunities opening up constantly. The current pace of new developments, including commercial hubs, residential homes, serviced apartments and hotels, as well as office renovations, is great for business. The magnitude of some of these projects allows the company to benefit from economies of scale, which means customers get more value for their money.

Middle-class consumers drive this demand as they become well-travelled and open to unconventional design ideas in their homes and offices. Technology has also made it easier to communicate and gather customer feedback, ensuring that deadlines are met and clients are satisfied.

Rising to the challenge

Okonji identifies people management, communication and managing client expectations as some of the key challenges she faces, though each project comes with unique difficulties. Given that the project team consists of many different members – from her employees, suppliers and representatives, to the clients – ensuring that each of them is working towards a common goal is not always easy. As a result, communication breakdowns and clients changing their minds midway are issues she has learned to handle.

Okonji has written two books, one on entrepreneurship and another on growing an interior design business, which she is hoping to have published. She has also been involved with a mentorship programme aimed at teaching young people financial and business advice and plans to take up this role again.

This work all forms part of Okonji’s desire to be “Africa’s leading interior designer”. With the Kenyan market now firmly in her grip, she plans to take a step closer to this goal by expanding her brand across borders in the near future – and has already started receiving requests from potential clients elsewhere on the continent.