54kibo Is Sparking Conversations on African Design and Culture

54kibo porcupine decorative piece

The Spruce / Illustration by Amy Sheehan / Courtesy of 54kibo

Home Away From Home is a series that spotlights BIPOC brands that are adding a cultural essence to everyday items. This allows anyone to always have a piece of their culture in their own space without ever feeling homesick or out of touch with their roots. We're exploring the stories of the individuals behind the brands that have touched people's hearts through their products and have allowed people to feel at home anywhere.

Design is a powerful language that allows people to communicate who they are as individuals and tell their story through the unique pieces they have chosen to be a part of their home. For Nana Quagraine, founder of 54kibo, that design is an unspoken language which is understood by everyone. "If we see something beautiful, we all get it," says Quagraine. "It's a universal language."

As a way to spark meaningful conversations about African design and the history behind it, Quagraine created 54kibo to share the elaborate craftsmanship of African designers. The cross-category home goods brand, 54kibo is diversifying home collections and making African decor accessible globally, so anyone can enjoy and appreciate African decor in the comfort of their own homes.

Nana Quagraine

Courtesy of 54kibo

Quagraine grew up in South Africa and has lived in the United States for about 20 years. Although she is grateful to have lived in two different, culturally impactful places, she has been trying to find an overlap between the two countries. "I'm really trying to merge both," admits Quagraine. "I want to bring the beauty that I see in one place that's missing in the other and bring it in."

Making Modern African Design Accessible

Quagraine saw the lack of African design within the home space, and made it her mission to share the story of the diligent craftsmanship of the artisans across the African diaspora. From woven light pendants to wall baskets, 54kibo is using design to make modern African design more accessible to anyone in the world.

"Not everyone can travel to how many countries there are in the world to go experience everything, but you can bring what you've learned and bring it here and share it."

Quagraine emphasizes how everyone craves engagement in some way but they don’t always have the proper tools to communicate with one another. She hopes that 54kibo's pieces will become helpful tools to foster conversations. "If you bring a new piece into your home, everyone's going to ask, where did you get that porcupine on the wall?" says Quagraine. "Now suddenly you're talking about Zimbabwe, and you're talking about this and that. So I think the design is a great way to assist engagement."

Representing Africa

54kibo’s name may seem simple, but its underlying meaning is far from it. The number represents the 54 countries in the African continent and celebrates its wide diversity, while kibo comes from the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. When both parts are combined, it translates into a personal mission of delivering the highest quality of African design and adding a unique touch to your home.

beaded light fixtures

Courtesy of 54kibo

Quagraine uses the brand's name as a reminder to look broadly across the African continent. "We make sure we don't focus in one region because you could just do Southern Africa and there's, like, so much. You could do East Africa or North Africa, and there's so much," says Quagraine.

Details, Details, and More Details

54kibo constructs pieces that are beautiful, vary in color, and yet are still functional. Quagraine hopes the pieces will be absorbed by guests and inspire them to learn more about the extensive process behind the products. She encourages everyone to get in the habit of asking thought-provoking questions about the products they buy or the design they may look at. "If you strip away the colors, if you strip away the patterns, well, what's actually going on underneath?" asks Quagraine. "What's the type of bead work? What's the type of metal work?"

woven light fixture

Courtesy of 54kibo

One of Quagraine's favorite pieces in all of 54kibo's collections is the woven pendant light fixture. Over the past year, Quagraine and her team spent long hours researching and looking at the different techniques of basket weaving across Africa. Starting in Zimbabwe, Quagraine and her team learned about 20 different ways of basket weaving. A similar process was used to create the woven pendant light fixture.

She explains how everyone naturally gravitates towards the fixture thanks to its versatile look with the natural wood, various colors, gold details, and lastly, the ornate hand woven pattern. The light fixtures are all handmade and shipped flat, so it's guaranteed to arrive intact.

Connecting People Back to Their Heritage 

Quagraine notes that, often, people don’t consider that many African descendants are completely cut off from their family's history because of the impact of slavery. "There is no route to connect to because they don't know how or where to find the route," says Quagraine. 

By exploring traditional design through the African continent, Quagraine aspires to use 54kibo as a way to deliver contemporary African design to a wide audience, but most importantly, use it as a platform that connects people back to their heritage.

"A connection point where you can explore through design," adds Quagraine. “Hey, look at this piece. Let's learn about Zimbabwe. Let's learn about Burundi. Let's learn a bit about that table that's made in Ghana.”