AKILAH SWAN’S motivation as a designer and the owner of Aina Curated goes far beyond drawing plans for aesthetically pleasing buildings. “I have grown to really enjoy what great design does for people’s lives,” Swan says. “How a beautiful building and a well thought out master-plan, including interior design and landscaping, can transform a space in a positive way. To me, that is compelling and really inspiring.”
Aina Curated is a full-service boutique architectural design agency that also offers bespoke interior design and procurement services. Swan stresses the word “boutique” to emphasise her focus on providing a tailored and customised service to a limited number of clients.
One of the firm’s key differentiators is the way its services are structured to invest more time in understanding clients and their needs in order to create an environment in which they can experience the life they desire. This curated approach involves taking a project through from an idea to reality, comprising a property review, a conceptual design, an architectural design, interior design and sourcing. “We will create the lifestyle that you always wanted but didn’t know you could have.”
Swan has seventeen years of architectural experience, having trained at George Brown College in Toronto, the University of Western Ontario and at Boston Architectural College. Before launching her business, she worked with Goody Clancy in the US and Linberg & Simmons and Geoff Parker Architect in Bermuda. She launched Aina Curated when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height, in May 2020. “To quote Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” she recalls. “The positive side was that while we and the world were in lockdown, it actually allowed for the grace that I needed as a startup and that helped me ease into life as a solopreneur. I was still doing some part-time work with the firm I was with previously, so that helped as well.” Swan’s family is an integral part of her business. One of her sisters assists with marketing, while another, Alandra, is her manager. “I’m incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such a strong support system,” she says.
Swan believes her business received a fillip from the Black Lives Matter movement and the Choose Bermuda campaign. “These things opened up this awareness of black businesses and being a black female in a male-dominated industry also made people want to get behind me. It became a launching pad I didn’t expect.” She joined the Ignite entrepreneurial accelerator programme, which she describes as “an incredible vehicle of support.” In 2022, she joined the Ignite board of directors. Having a positive impact on her clients’ lives is a great motivator for Swan. She says: “On multiple occasions, I’ve seen clients get teary-eyed when they see their idea executed. That has been huge for me. I’ve also had commercial clients saying it’s a joy to come to work every day—it feels like a breath of
“And it’s been great working with local vendors who see what I’m trying to do in terms of getting our whole industry better known by the public.” In 2020, she made a series of Instagram videos, called AC Highlights, featuring local, medium-sized construction-related businesses. “I just wanted people to know at a time when many were think- ing about renovating that we have some great local businesses you can go to,” she says.
Swan’s dream project would be to design an experiential children’s museum. And her dream client? “Someone who is willing to take risks, to push boundaries in design, even if it comes with constraints—but they’re willing to push for it. But also, someone who respects the process because when I’m working with people who get what we bring to the table, they understand it goes beyond the design.”