Press Enter / Return to begin your search.

Architect and furniture designer Moran Munyuthe is the founder of the Saba Furniture Company, a studio, workshop and retail outlet based on the island of Lamu where he works in partnership with local craftsmen to create heirloom quality furniture inspired by local design and motifs. We caught up with him to get an insight into furniture design, running a workshop and shop and the journey of working for yourself.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself: your background, where you are based, and what led to setting up Saba Studio.

Hmmmm….. My background, I studied architecture at Central Saint Martins in London then worked for an architectural studio in Rome. I moved to Lamu 3 years ago to work on a construction project. During this period I was exposed to vernacular design and motifs.

Moran Munyuthe Saba Studios Lamu Usitu Daybed Interview

2. What is the motivation behind working for yourself as opposed to working for someone else? And what have been the biggest challenges of starting your own company, and the greatest rewards?

Being self-employed allows you to design your career. When I started working for myself the biggest challenge was capital. I have been very fortunate to have clients from day 1: the initial sales through friends and family really helped grow the business.

Also, operating from Lamu cuts down the heavy initial costs that come with starting a business: the cost of living and rent is much lower in comparison to bigger cities. This coupled with our clients’ support has allowed me to open our flagship showroom on a shoestring budget early this year.

The biggest reward in being self-employed is implementing a very personal process to my working life which is very fulfilling.

Being self-employed allows you to design your career - Moran Munyuthe, Saba Furniture company Click To Tweet

3. It seems that architects at some point in their career design furniture. Drawing on your own experience why do you think that is?

Personally, I think it comes from a fascination with material and craft and a longing to scale down and simplify.

Architectural design work is very complex and takes a long time to be realised if at all. Furniture design in contrast in my experience is very intimate; during the design, process conversations happen between the client, the carpenter and me, that’s it!

Moran Munyuthe Saba Studios Lamu Usitu Daybed Interview

4. What inspires your furniture designs, and how do you keep challenging yourself to grow and develop your craft?

My Inspiration comes from a study of the crafts and the past whilst incorporating contemporary ways of thinking and making. In a way, I am looking both backward and presently to where we are right now.

5. You work with local craftsmen, why is this important for Saba Studio, and what have you learned from them?

My collaboration with local craftsmen began as a matter of resourcefulness and slowly evolved into an interrogation of design language. Each global region has a specific set of materials that create a vocabulary to work with. How one organises/ uses this material vocabulary is what we call craftsmanship or in the case of language grammar. So if one is observant enough you will notice that within each region in the world there is a specific design language that is employed owing to a set of fixed factors such as materials and evolving factors such as culture and technology. My collaboration with local craftsmen in a way is an interrogation of Lamu’s design language.

Moran Munyuthe Saba Studios Furniture design Lamu Interview

6. You exhibited your furniture for the first time at the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair in Johannesburg. What impact did this have on you as a designer and on Saba Studio?

It was a game changer as it exposed our work to a new and wider audience, and it gave me the financial push to open our first physical location in Lamu’s Old Town.

7. Having opened a physical store you have also established an artist residency programme. Why are these important to the development of Saba Studio?

Visual arts have always held special significance for me. I enjoy the intimacy and ambiguity of visual arts, and I believe that art can serve as very meaningful cultural and social commentary.

The residency is intended as an opportunity to offer domestic patronage to artists early in their career.

Moran Munyuthe Saba Studios Lamu Interview Nyota Desk

8. What would you say is the most important thing you have learned on your creative journey, and what advice would you give to aspiring architects and furniture designers?


Embrace uncertainty.

And on that note, we thank Moran for taking the time to chat with us and to find out more about Saba Studios and their  furniture by visiting:; or following on Instagram @saba_studios

– Tapiwa Matsinde

[Image credits: The images shown belong to the Saba Furniture Company. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This popular Africanisim beautifully illustrates the pioneering spirit of togethernes. It highlights how working and collaborating with others can propel you to new heights. Building a business rarely happens in isolation. Atelier Fifty Five seeks to to shine the light on African brands, and this includes extending a hand by sharing our knowledge and expertise to help African brands become the best they can be. So let us go together. Sign up to the Atelier Fifty Five Academy mailing list and join a community of ambitious creative business owners dedicated to creating brands that make their audiences sit up and take notice.⁣
.  #quotes #inspirationalquotes #motivationalquotes #africanproverb #brandstrategy #creativeentrepreneur  #entrepreneur #mycreativebiz  #brandbuilding #africanstartup #africanbusiness #makeithappen
  • Preserving traditional skills the Kayla cushion by Frida 54 highlights the art of Tritik, a process of knotting and sewing that results in a variety of symmetric patterns. Handwoven with 100% cotton from the cotton mills of northern Cameroon the textiles are dyed with handmade dyes using ancestral techniques. [📷 credit: @frida_54 ]
  • Values . Respecting the design [📷 credit: @atelierfiftyfive]
  • Infuse your interior style with the colourful elegance of African beaded necklaces courtesy of The African Woven Necklace light shade by @moderngesture. The design features graduating circular hoops each hand wrapped with colourful woven thread bands. Handcrafted in Cape Town, South Africa by designer Candice Lawrence, the lighting is available in the  Atelier Fifty Five shop. [📷 credit: @atelierfiftyfive]
  • Eight years ago I started a blog as a place to document the interesting things I was discovering with regards to the design and creativity emerging from Africa. From the moment I created my first blog post little did I know where the journey would take me. Fast-forward to present day I have not only been privileged to witness the development of an industry, but to also have an active role in creating awareness about it.

On this journey, I have seen Africa’s design industry grow from a handful of names from a handful countries to a continent wide-reach. Some names that were just starting out have become internationally respected leaders in their field, whilst behind them, a new generation of names are coming up and claiming their place in the industry.

To say that it is an exciting time for African design and creativity would be a gross understatement! We are in a time of rapid advancement and unbridled creative expression, that is setting the foundations and standards for future generations to build on. And like many other emerging industries in Africa, creativity is opening up opportunities to those who are willing to seize them. And seizing them designers are!

And as Atelier Fifty Five begins a new chapter it is an opportunity for me to renew my commitment to supporting the development of the African design industry and helping those I work with and write about, and work with to fulfill their potential for creating world-class brands. 
I invite you to visit our website to discover more. [Link in bio]

Tapiwa, Founder Atelier Fifty Five
  • Instagram Image

Instagram @ atelierfiftyfive