Anselm Tabansi left a cushy job as an associate lawyer at a prestigious Nigerian firm to follow another path. He was heeding a call and is now a staple in Nigeria’s design and hospitality industry.
“I am a lawyer by profession, so this is not a familiar academic terrain for me. I worked for a law firm specializing in industrial and intellectual property and did that for about four years. I woke up one morning and decided it was not the path for me,” says Tabansi.
An Anselm Tabansi designed space leave a lasting impression on design aficionados. His is a story of passion and intent.
His creativity reaches back to his academic years in England where an interest for architecture blossomed. While it wasn’t pursued, Tabansi subsequently found himself trading in interior accessories, supplying interior designers and shops at the start of his design career. Wrought iron was the aesthetic trend in England at the time. Tabansi, believing this trend would thrive in Nigeria, made a decision to test the market at home. Following some research, he took the plunge, opening a small-scale production workshop in Lagos. He started with one welder and soon added a painter.
It was a bumpy start, with the new company, Svengali Designs, struggling to gain any prominence. He needed to create some buzz and began producing samples for friends and furniture shops to gauge their interest. Tabansi’s new venture soon proved to be a great decision. Within a year, there was a surge in demand for wrought iron furniture in Nigeria, catapulting Tabansi’s business.
“I started producing wrought iron furniture, wrought iron for balconies, railings, stairs, and gates. It was in high demand at that time but a couple of years later, the trend began to shift away from wrought iron. It had become a fad. I knew we would start to lose a significant amount of clients. The trend was shifting to wood-based furniture. Aluminum and stainless steel for railings, followed closely. We made the necessary shift and we have never looked back,” says Tabansi.
This shift would transform Tabansi’s company from one that produced a single product to a multi-faceted one.
Nigeria’s creative industry has enjoyed rapid growth as homegrown designers were given a more enabling environment. A few challenges still exist however, power and policy being at the forefront.
“The need to generate our own power is mandatory. This makes production very expensive as we were constantly burning diesel. The raw materials we use for our production are also heavily taxed on duty. This poses a huge challenge and we hope the incoming government addresses this.”
From conference tables to living room furniture, Svengali Designs has carved out a large slice in the market with production for hospitality projects taking off in 1996 and a growing customer base that cuts across key sectors.
Interior design is a key service the company offers. With a mix of locally produced and imported merchandise, clients come from far and wide. The factory has 160 employees.
A joint venture with Turkish company, Poliform, led to Svengali-Poliform, a production arm for stainless steel and aluminum railings. This has a 43-man workforce.
Looking to grow even further, Tabansi ventured into the hospitality business. Nigeria’s hospitality industry is saturated with international brands. Identifying a gap in the homegrown hospitality management industry saw the birth of Fahrenheit Hospitality.
“I am focusing on the boutique segment of the hospitality industry. Through my various past operations, I have assumed full control of over every aspect of delivering on this kind of project. Design, construction, outfitting, supplies and management is all handled within the group. We have not just reduced our costs but also ensured the quality of our design is adhered to.”
“Every final piece is a reflection of my style and taste.”
As he also plays the role of Creative Director, Tabansi supervises all steps of the production process. He says that the quality assurance at Svengali Designs gives his company an edge.
“Over the years, people have come to associate us with quality. It is my joy to hear that pieces that were purchased from us over 15 years ago are still in top form.”
Under the Fahrenheit Hospitality brand, there are plans to roll out a series of boutique hotels.
As opposed to starting the furniture business years ago, where organic growth was needed, the hospitality brand is a capital intensive project.
“We are currently trying to attract investment with vested interest in our projects,” says Tabansi.
Despite the infrastructural bottlenecks, Tabansi‘s decision to remain a Nigeria-based producer is a conscious one.
Likening his personal style to a simple sophistication, Tabansi urges budding designers to follow their passion.
“I discovered my passion in design. Defining a space, deconstructing it and redefining it. From this, I get so much joy and constantly strive to outdo myself.”
Tabansi tries to cater for a wide spectrum of clients. He, however, says that quality comes with cost.
“Our pieces are affordable and we keep our products within the reach of many.”
Tabansi has exciting plans for the future of Africa’s design and hospitality scene. He aims to be on the frontlines, pushing the envelope.