Fill us in on your background—personally and in your creative practice.
My personal interests and career have always been oriented toward design. I studied architecture in undergrad, and urban planning and design in graduate school. I didn’t go into either field immediately because I caught the international affairs bug during grad school, and spent the next four years working squarely in human rights philanthropy. Although I had traveled to Uganda and Morocco long before that, that career path allowed me to see even more parts of the world and of Africa. It was eventually on a work trip to Senegal that sparked my interest to launch xN Studio. I came back from that trip with tons of fabric from le marche (the market), sketched ideas on the plane back, and started xN Studio as a side hustle almost immediately after my return to Brooklyn. That was April 2011.
From that day forward, my creative process has relied heavily on travel, whether locally through museums and galleries (more often the case these days), or through books and travel features online.
How does your connection to nature influence you personally, and how does it influence your art?
The colors and patterns found in nature are an endless source of inspiration. But if I’m moving too fast, or spending too much time away from nature, then I don’t benefit from its generosity. I split my time between Maryland, New York, and Kampala (less-so now because of the pandemic), and I make sure to spend time in nature in all of those places. Spring time in Maryland (a stone’s throw from Getaway’s DC Outpost where I spent my Fellowship) is one of the most beautiful seasons because of the medley of budding flowers.
My collections are also made mostly from sustainable and organic materials, so in a very direct way, they are because of nature. I think that is a huge part of why the work that I brought to photograph during the fellowship integrated so well into the cabin and grounds.
How does your identity influence your art, if at all?
I identify as many things–a woman, a mother, Ugandan, American, entrepreneur, a benevolent contrarian (to each, their own!), and more. All of these things influence my work. My mother worked in an African art gallery during my entire upbringing, so not only was our home infused with African art and objects, but I also spent a lot of time with her at the gallery in Georgetown, Washington, DC as well as African-based cultural events in and around town. My Ugandan heritage is also central to my artistic inspiration. The baskets and other customary objects that we had in our home tied me to my family members in Uganda, many of whom I was not able to meet until my teens, and some whom I never got the chance to meet. But being surrounded by beautiful objects from Uganda as a child made it feel less far away. It didn’t occur to me until much later when I started my home decor line that these objects would resonate with non-Ugandan people the way they do! So it has been an honor to integrate accents from there into my product offering, and to use those accents as a channel for sharing Ugandan culture and for working with expert artisans.
How was your Getaway? Did your time in your cabin influence your process or inspire any new ideas?
My Getaway was incredibly inspiring and refreshing. I was able to tune out entirely from the common mode of always being plugged in. I brought some key pieces from my newest collection, which launches in July, and took the opportunity to photograph some of the work in the cabin and on the grounds. My textiles and other accents popped against the clean and modern design of the cabin.
I even got to set up and photograph a curated picnic tablescape for an al fresco meal. It was the perfect opportunity to test drive the Cowhorn Inlay Trivet I just developed with my team in Uganda which just launched in July, as well as the hand carved Helix Salad Servers, which are already customer favorites.
The cabin’s smart design inspired new ideas as well. I pride my decor and design approach on functionality without sparing style. There were so many clever and seamless nooks in the cabin where you could tuck away your woods escape odds and ends without taking up space, like the cut-out underneath the bed. It was perfect for my shoes! There was another one below the step-up to the bathroom that was ingenious.
As I am also in the process of revamping my interior design services, I will definitely be applying some of these clever ideas into my own projects (and have already started to implement them on a Brooklyn apartment project!).
Anything else you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear your feedback!
It happened to be National Rosé Day during my weekend in the woods, and I dubbed one of my concoctions in honor of the occasion! Affectionately known as the Getaway Rosay, the Getaway metal cup and xN Fair Trade raffia coasters are a must 🙂