Leading Lady – a rose among the thorns Pleasantly pursuing purpose

Boitumelo Maswabi

“I put my heart and soul into everything I do. Design, for me, is not just about curating spaces, it boils down to how I dress, how I carry myself, the spaces that I want to occupy. My aim is to communicate that design is not just a concept, it’s a way of life.”

I liken this striking trendsetter’s approach to life to the Japanese philosophy: Ikegai, which essentially means pursuing a peaceful life only possible through doing only what is fulfilling.

With a whopping 49.4k followers on Instagram, founding director of House of Noir, Natasha Tlagae, is the creator of sublime yet sensible spaces.

A labor of love – she led her team to turn an exciting and lofty vision into reality, designing the interiors of the popular restaurant currently taking the market by storm, Park 27, which she co-owns with 3 other partners.

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A connoisseur of fashion, indeed the stylish Gaborone-born Tlagae is fast making a name for herself gracefully.

An absolute force to be reckoned with, the youthful multidisciplinary designer and restaurateur sits down for a conversation with Voice Woman about her entrepreneurial journey, sophisticated sense of style and love for the finer things in life, gracious disposition, as well as passion for food and service, her admirable ambitions, and intentional motherhood.

Perhaps it is a given that she should love being a mother, her entire world fell apart when she lost her own mother around the same age as her son, 23 years ago.

“I am a mother before anything,” she says.

Tlagae’s dad went to be with the Lord 7 year’s prior, but she recalls that her mum did a sterling job raising all three children; she was ‘mum’s little princess’, something she sorely missed throughout the latter part of her childhood.

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But like gold, which is purified by fire, these trials refined her.

“When you lose your parents at a young age, you experience – and respond to – life differently; that shaped the woman that I have become, the driving force behind what I do. My relatives say I remind them of my mother, Alice Mantho Tlagae, because she was a resilient businesswoman. There’s an article that was written about her where she encouraged other women to go into business; incredibly, today I’m sitting for an interview doing the same. I’ve come full circle,” she says, and adds, “In business, I always want to do things that I’m passionate about; ‘cause then it doesn’t feel like work…”

With an air of contentment, Tlagae continues, “I put my heart and soul into everything I do and, when faced with challenges, I’m able to overcome easily because I’m constantly inspired. Everyday is different and an opportunity to think up new ideas thus create something special. I didn’t go the conventional route in search of employment upon graduating – I have an Honour’s Degree in Professional Communication, majored in Corporate Communication – but I chose entrepreneurship,” she explains, and adds that her aunt, who became their guardian at 28 years of age, and at varsity, also inspired her.

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Throughout all the vicissitudes of life, the young Tlagae remained focused. The thing that sustained her all of those years was the determination to follow in her mother’s footsteps as she fearlessly founded House of Noir Interiors in 2011.

“House of Noir: noir means black in French. Black is my favourite color. It is timeless, pure, like the truth. I adore French style hence I looked for a fancy word. Like a house with many rooms, House of Noir has the interior design aspect, the fashion aspect and we’d like to venture into perfumery, jewellery, the arts – to one day have an array of services and products.”

Leading Lady - a rose among the thorns Pleasantly pursuing purpose

A self-taught interior and fashion designer who has previously won Fashion Without Borders design comp, the talented Tlagae has designed plush interiors across the city and, as the stars began aligning for her, she took on bigger projects.

“I think it’s the same as having style, its’ not something you can be taught; it is inherent. I believe everyone has that one thing that they’re genuinely good at, your God-given talent. When you tap into it, only good things can come out of it. I did a lounge bar for a client in Setlhoa, it’s spectacular, if I do say so myself. I also designed interiors for a medical practice called AesthetiQue, also in Setlhoa, just to mention a few.”

Beyond the many residential projects, Tlagae has also redesigned the Avani Hotel Casino.

“You will remember the former casino was a wooden shell, a lot of brown, a tad bit dated; we have given it a facelift. The brief was ‘we want something timeless, that looks like money’. They said, ‘our clients spend a lot of money here so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible in a place that is aesthetically pleasing and up to date, to stay competitive – on par with international standards; so we‘ve given it a bit of character, class,” she gushes proudly.

Taking me through the design process of her newest project, Park 27, and the partnership, she explains: “In this industry, I have learnt that you develop a very close relationship with your client, in this case my partners.

It’s important to understand them, their consumer behavior, how they react to stimuli in general and so you then manage that and communicate succinctly.

You ensure they’re a part of every process, they learn along the way thus will have a comprehensive appreciation of the vision.

Design is a journey; and because we all are unique, it is imperative that you develop your own ethos, which brings me to our earlier discussion; I want to study psychology to fully understand consumer behavior to deliver effectively.

My partners and I came together to curate a unique experience.

We’re accustomed to the usual franchises but there’s a shortage of homegrown eateries with a proudly Botswana stamp: design-wise, service and food-wise.

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Brainstorming the name, we wanted a name that people can remember – that’s how Park 27 was born.”

With a preference for local manufacturers, Tlagae sought to remain patriotic.

Leading Lady - a rose among the thorns Pleasantly pursuing purpose
ON TOP: Restaurant design

“I find that it is not only cost effective but I’m supporting Batswana. Anything I feel we can make locally, I go that route and even when doing the mood board, I always incorporate ideas I know I can implement. For instance, we designed the wine cellar ourselves. Design is dependent upon how you bring elements together. You do not necessarily need to go for the most expensive materials to design a charming interior!”

Choosing not to disclose the budget for this swanky restaurant, or any other project, she says: “I’m obviously in the business to make money, and this is something that is also my passion that I realized I am good at. My biggest question is always, ‘how much is your budget?’ … Because the budget then dictates how much I am able to do and how much of your concept I’m willing to implement, so a good understanding of the client’s brief is of utmost importance. From there, we do a mood board to interpret the brief and present to client; then develop a scope of work.”

Tlagae says they worked on Park 27 over a period of six months.

“As is the nature of construction projects, there were a lot of snags; a lot of going back to the drawing board, however, we managed to stay within budget. At one point we came to the realization that we have to start somewhere, then grow from there. It gives us an advantage in our market in that we are able to grow with our clients to offer a different experience each time they walk through those doors. The thing is, the market changes and our key customers will change in the next two years and we need to be able to cater to that demographic, so we want to be dynamic. We have been able to retain good numbers, establish a loyal clientele. That says we’re doing something right; per square meter it is possibly the biggest restaurant in Gabz; packs 350 seated, with 2 options – the thatched area offers quiet dining, and the pergola is the VIP section – casual lounging over coffee, sundowners with friends and suchlike.”

Talking about VIP treatment, together with her Park 27 partners – Thebe Makgetho, Faksy Moitshepi and Kgotla Kgotla – the quartet shut the city down with an upmarket event and “got tongues wagging” recently.

“We partnered with 011, an events company, to curate a top drawer event. We just thought we need to bring a different experience, to raise the bar and it was sold out! It was more of a lifestyle event for a niche market. There’s a market for quality lifestyle events in town,” she concludes and says to look forward to family-oriented events as well, but refused to divulge info on something else in the pipeline… a little birdie told me in one of the affluent neighborhoods in the capital!

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