Nifemi Marcus-Bello is the Nigerian designer shaping Africa’s designscape

Among Wallpaper’s ‘Future Icons’, Lagos-based designer Nifemi Marcus-Bello speaks of creating a local manufacturing network and documenting design production in Africa

Nifemi Marcus-Bello portrait
(Image credit: Stephen Tayo)

The first thing Nifemi Marcus-Bello does when we get on a call is to quintessentially thank his optimism. ‘I believe it’s what has gotten me to where I’m at now as a designer,’ he says humbly. But he is most intrigued at how he has managed to insert himself as one of the brightest and most outstanding in a design ecosystem where several designers possess the same optimism and have a very unique vision for their individual design oeuvres. 

Renowned for his out-of-the-box designs, the designer and creative director of NMbello studio is perfectly shaping the future of Africa’s designscape, upholding collaborations  and crafting innovative designs that are embellished in historical perspectives; whether following the shape-trajectory of an old Nigerian artefact or a pre-colonial design concept, he interweaves them with the contemporary, creating conceptual products that possess tremendous artistic value and functionality. 

Nifemi Marcus-Bello: curiosity and collaboration

Nifemi Marcus-Bello LM Stool

‘LM’ stool, £495, by Nifemi Marcus-Bello, for Nmbello Studio, from Très Bien Shop

(Image credit: Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*)

For a designer like Marcus-Bello, his curiosity supersedes him. ‘In my career as a designer, I feel like where I am right now, I have a lot more questions than answers. Questions on design practices, design education, on how to design a product,’ he tells Wallpaper*.

Growing up, Marcus-Bello always had a keen interest in the art of creating. At the age of 13, he worked as an apprentice at a welding shop, where he recalls making a floating bath for his mother, the first thing he made. His curiosity urged him to aim higher and he went on to study for a Bachelor's degree in industrial and product design at the University of Leeds, UK, then a master’s.

Nifemi Marcus-Bello M2 shelf

‘L2’ shelf, featuring a base and back in African mahogany (a wood mostly found in West Africa and Southern Nigeria). The shelf's design nods to 19th-century Igbo wooden sculptures

(Image credit: Courtesy Nifrmi Marcus-Bello)

After university, Marcus-Bello worked at various firms, designing medical devices and furniture. He was keen to set up a place he could think and create the future, and NMbello Studio came to be in 2017. ‘I started the studio to feed the curiosity I had basically of creating objects and products that I believe could feed from production and manufacturing that was available across the continent,’ he says. ‘I also wanted to figure out what it meant to design in Africa in a contemporary way.’

He has since become known for gritty, sculptural furniture. One of his most spectacular pieces is the ‘LM’ stool – a vibrant, geometric design that appears simple yet has a complex sensibility, and is multifunctional.

Bamboo kiosk installed by Waf skating brand and NMBello studio

Nmbello Studio's bamboo kiosk for Nigerian skate brand Waf

(Image credit: press)

Telling the story of the stool’s creation, Marcus-Bello recalls, ‘The birth of this stool was basically me knocking on factory doors, and seeing if anybody was willing to collaborate with a designer. I was able to find a generator case manufacturer who agreed I could design around their manufacturing and assembling line, at the same time creating these objects and forms,’ he says, describing his desire to push the boundaries of design while working within the possibilities of existing local production. ‘[The stool is] dear to my heart because it’s one of the early success stories to come out of the studio. Currently, we independently produce and distribute.’

Nifemi Marcus-Bello portable handwashing station

‘For the community by the community’ portable hand washing station

(Image credit: Dennis Osadebe)

Like most designers of his calibre, he is an adept lover of collaboration. The ‘LM’ stool only counts as one, others include the Waf kiosk (a bamboo structure for the Nigerian skateboard brand) and ‘For the community by the community’ portable hand washing station, which won a Wallpaper* Design Award as Life-Enhancer of the year in 2021.

Currently, Marcus-Bellow is collaborating with a photographer for a work-in-progress research project called Logo, which revolves around archiving and documenting several portraits of design products from a photojournalistic point of view. 'A lot of people were talking about design and distribution not existing in contemporary Africa and then I realised there were a lot of anonymous works across major cities in Africa. I thought it was necessary to document these products because these are contextually important,' he says.

Nifemi Marcus Bello lamp and shelf

‘Selah’ lamp and ‘L2’ Shelf

(Image credit: Courtesy Nifemi Marcus-Bello)

Being a designer in arguably the biggest art and cultural city in the continent is exhausting for Marcus-Bello. But he’s learnt to seek solace in his studio, which has become his biggest escape from the bustle of Lagos. However, he is used to the chaos in this part of the world and he’s most especially not letting the numerous challenges he faces define his work.

When asked about his big plans for the future, Nifemi Marcus-Bello tells Wallpaper* that he is very intentional about his curiosity: 'I can only say to stay curious and keep asking questions, that is my plans for the future,' he says

A version of this story appears in January 2023 Wallpaper*, The Future Issue, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Ugonna-Ora Owoh is a journalist and editor based in Lagos, Nigeria. He writes on arts, fashion, design, politics and contributes to Vogue, New York Times, Wallpaper, Wepresent, Interior Design, Foreign Policy and others.