“I feel like my baby’s personal assistant,” quips Kusheda Mensah over Zoom on a balmy Monday evening. She recently gave birth to a premature baby, and her calendar has been stacked full of surgeries, doctors’ appointments and, of course, hangouts with the family—better known as “the village” that’s kept her and her partner afloat during the difficult few months.
But this doesn’t stop her magnetic enthusiasm, which becomes ever more prominent as we continue our video call (her camera is turned off for the most part). Kusheda is instantly warm, although a little rundown from “new mom vibes” and keeping the cogs turning on her design business, Modular by Mensah. Adding to the already busy schedule, Kusheda also recently moved from south London’s Peckham to Crystal Palace and is in the midst of sourcing furniture. “My partner had to drag me out here because [Peckham] is where I was born and raised,” she says. Based in Nunhead myself, we laugh at the area’s newly vamped chicness—“It used to be such a joke”—and how amazingly close we live to one another.
Kusheda is a designer with a past in textiles and fashion, so the task of stocking furniture is assumedly no menial one. When I ask what she is getting her hands on, she gets the courage to switch on the camera, if only momentarily. She shows me a few of her “temporary” pieces—a monochromatic checkered number and a chunky block she is leaning on. It is a window into the life of a new mom—baby toys littered amongst trendy pieces and an empty space ready to be occupied by a velvet green sofa from SCP, set to arrive in eight to 10 weeks. Building a home takes patience, especially if you want to pack it with items you love. “I always want to fill it up with knickknacks, but my partner hates them,” she says. “I’m definitely going to try and sneak some in; don’t worry.”
As for the business, unsurprisingly Kusheda is on a short hiatus. The last project she embarked on was a collaboration with wallpaper brand de Gournay, which she worked on while in hospital with her newborn. Before this she produced “Desert Raft” for the 70th anniversary of Clarks’ Desert Boot, plus a cluster of modular and sustainable objects for adidas. Her debut collection, and perhaps her best-known, is “Mutual”—a series of modular furniture pieces first exhibited at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2018. Tactile and inviting, the curvy and interlocking shapes, which are wood-free and constructed entirely from recycled foam, encourage users to sit, lean, and, more importantly, interact with one another. A response to the increasingly digital world, these pieces set the benchmark for what was to come from the promising designer.
And now she’s spending the rest of the year recharging. “I wouldn’t say I’m at my lowest,” she says, “as I feel like I’m just getting back into the swing of things. But I find that when I’m at this point in my life, as in reassessing and reanalyzing, it’s when I have good ideas.” “Mutual,” for instance, was born as a response to the decline of physical interaction. “We live on social media, so I’m always looking to make face-to-face contact. If I had known that you were in Nunhead, I probably would have come to meet you. That would have been so much easier!”
A lot of good can come from a sabbatical, and this is something Kusheda understands fully. “I’m in this next stage of my life of motherhood and Modular; I’m transitioning into that experience, which is why I’m definitely taking the rest of the year off,” she says. Alongside a refreshed website by Studio Nari, the future might also see some pieces catered more toward children, like a “mini collection” or a modular rocking chair. There’s also a chance she might scrap the idea of modularity altogether, and instead try her hands at lighting. Whatever’s next, she says she’s “going to be back with a bang next year.” “I have no idea what I’m going to do, but it all works itself out, right? You always find some kind of inspiration, environmentally or politically. There’s always something.”
Above all, however, she hopes people will be patient. Going on maternity leave is no easy ride, perhaps more so when you’re self-employed. “I have to be confident in myself; it’s not always going to be like this forever. It does get nerve-racking that I’m a mum now: Am I still relevant? I guess the pandemic has definitely put things into perspective. But it’s your race and you dance to the beat of your own drum.”
A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 07 with the headline “Kusheda Mensah.” Subscribe today.