In 2009 Natalie Manima was in search of a hobby, something to do when she got off work as a cognitive-behavioral therapist. “It was stressful sometimes, just the nature of that job,” she says. So she picked sewing. One night class here and there quickly turned into extra sessions and, eventually, a colorful range of home and gift items called Bespoke Binny, which Natalie only embraced full-time in February 2020 (coincidentally right when the pandemic hit). “I was like, oh, my God, this is the worst time to quit a job,” she recalls. “I was scared.”
Her business started as—and is to this day—a family affair. Natalie’s pieces are all handcrafted using signature Kente and West African cloth designs, a nod to her Ghanaian heritage. “I’ve always been around them and loved how bright and vibrant they are,” she says. In the very beginning, her husband, Mas, tapped into his digital marketing background to help get the word out. When things really started to pick up production-wise last year (Natalie’s lampshades have been the biggest hit), her mom stepped in, becoming her first official employee. And perhaps one day the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Maya, will want to learn the ropes. “At the time we moved here, she was too young to be making any design decisions, but if we did it again I’m sure she’d be telling me exactly how she wanted her room,” says Natalie.
Planting permanent roots in North London was a natural choice for the young family: Both Natalie and Mas grew up there. When they came across an apartment in their price range, it sealed their fate. “We thought, it’s not a complete tip,” says Natalie with a laugh (or in other words, the place wasn’t a total dump). The previous owners had swathed the 1,000-square-foot space in bold colors—but not the kind Natalie is typically drawn to. She estimates it took seven layers of white paint just to cover up the living room’s former bright red walls. And that was just to achieve a blank canvas.
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From there, the creative painted slanted lines on the walls using a 3-by-1-foot stencil she had custom-made through a vendor on Etsy. The pattern is meant to look like an abstract take on traditional mud cloth fabric, a design she’s grown extra familiar with over the years (while Mali might be best known for mud cloth, she sources all her textiles from Ghana). “I wanted something that wasn’t so busy, but that I’d still be inspired by,” she explains.
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Still, her palette doesn’t stray from standing out. With the exception of calming blues, she tends to gravitate toward warmer shades. Brick orange (like the shaggy rug in her daughter’s bedroom) is her favorite of the moment. The group of wood gazelle figures in the living room, made by an Etsy seller Natalie has been “stalking” for years, sums up the rest of the scheme in the apartment nicely: dusty pink, aqua, sunny yellow, and earthy brown.
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Natalie’s pendant shades and pillows make every corner feel personal, but the designer recently learned a new way to incorporate her textiles at home: upholstery. After a one-day class, she updated an IKEA stool in Maya’s room with her playful bird print. “It was easier than expected, but not easy,” she says of getting the fit just right.
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Another find from the Swedish retailer: Maya’s Kura bed, which is designed to be hacked. The mattress can be lofted with a ladder, creating a play nook below, or flipped as it is now so it’s lower to the ground. Natalie went an extra step and dropped the bed even further down in the frame so the sides act as a protector of sorts, preventing Maya from rolling out of bed. “She’s a climber, so she likes to walk along the edges like it’s a balance beam,” says Natalie, noting gymnastic classes are on the parenting to-do list. After a few coats of white paint, she covered the bedroom’s once–dark purple walls with the same mud cloth-inspired design, this time in orange.
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While the couple debated having a workspace in the main bedroom when they moved in, it’s proven extra handy during quarantine. “It’s a nice way to enhance your space and get the most out of it,” says Natalie. Most of her work happens in her studio, so Mas has taken over the corner. With no extra room to spare for nightstands, the pair opted for an IKEA headboard with attachable cubbies and surfaces to store their current reads. Clip-on task lights take the function to the next level.
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“I like stuff,” says Natalie of resisting the rise of minimalism. “That’s been my mantra: Surround yourself with items that feel personal.” For her husband, it’s little things, like portraits of his favorite hip-hop artists; for her, it’s peppering history and tradition through prints and passing them on their daughter. “It’s about having things in your home that is representative of you,” she says.
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Photography by Veerle Evens