Designing Africa

A Stranger Space Banner

Featured Article

A Stranger Space

WRITTEN BY: Shannon Lawrence


Stranger boutique and micro-café is a concept space located in Lekki, a rapidly expanding suburb of Lagos. The name seems to play on the anonymity one feels while living in the vastness of this urban space. A megacity boasting a population of 20 million, Lagos is an easy city to get lost in, but more importantly, it’s a city demanding the occasional escape.

Conceptualized by husband and wife duo Yegwa and Bibi Ukpo and designed by architect/product designer Juan Alfonso Ruano Canales, Stranger is built to be an evolving space that lends itself to dialogue and the fostering of a design community. With a degree in biotechnology, it is no wonder Ukpo describes the space as his “lab”. The hue emanating from the magenta room micro-café is reminiscent of a futuristic sci-fi film with the café’s vacuum siphon coffee filters lined up, ready for experimentation. Ice coffee is made using a three-foot tall hand carved cold drip tower and tea is ceremoniously presented based on the gong-fu style, the instruments for preparing which are brought out on elegant black wooden trays and gently set down for the meticulous and methodical preparation ahead.

Nothing in this space is without purpose. Rather than abandoning its environment Stranger engages with its surroundings head on. Ukpo deliberately avoided what he calls the typical “Afropolitian vibe” and instead pays homage to Lagos in a more whimsical way having created a space that doesn’t need to bluntly announce its identity. Beautifully constructed modular components both occupy and define what is otherwise an open room, provoking us to think about our relationship to objects and space and ultimately asking us to re-imagine the elements, which on the surface, define Lagos as a chaotic metropolis.

Stranger is constantly being redefined as the needs present themselves, allowing the idea of form and function to evolve with the regular reconfiguration of fittings. Metal room dividers covered with white perforated blinds, inspired by Oscar Tuazon’s work, have multiple uses as window coverings, change rooms and projection screens. The concept for these pieces came to Canales while driving around Lagos thinking about how much time people spend behind screens and compound walls. The bespoke 13-foot long communal table, which occupies the entire magenta room, has been constructed from local Agonyin wood and repurposed plastic highway barricades.  The table can be expanded or collapsed to adjust its length with the leaves revealing various functions, from chalkboards to bookshelves, on their flipsides.

As he reflects on the design process, Ukpo boasts that he is happy nothing in terms of fittings have been imported, the clothing however; is a different story. Stocking brands such as Marvielab, Yoji Yamamoto and Commes de Garcons alongside minimalist Nigerian designers Orange Culture, iamISAGO and Post Imperial, reinforces the narrative that Stranger is about more than just walking in the door to buy something. It is in its essence a broader conversation about the idea of modern minimalist thought and design and where this fits into the Nigerian landscape. From the onset the goal was to create a space where a design sub-culture could congregate. Where the narrative of detailed design informs every element of the experience. A space that perhaps opens up the conversation making more people inclined to join in.

When I ask what design projects he has in store for the future, Ukpo says “for now this is my thing…completely unrelated to Stranger I am working on another project with Alfonso, but I can’t talk about it on the record”. I turn off the tape recorder and am let into the caverns of his creative brain; and I can only say that it is worth waiting for.