African decor

Fort Jesus Fort Jesus, Mombassa, Kenya

African decor can be hugely dynamic, creative and inspiring. Colours can be evocative of the sunburnt earth, deep verdant rainforests, softly wistful savannah plains, burnt orange African sunsets and pinkly-purple sunrises, crazily energetic and vibrant market places. Not to forget the graphic concepts of black and white, both figurative and literal.

Using African products in an interior or external environment gives one the opportunity to use decorative pieces that portray the artistic and spiritual nature of the African people.

Using quality items that reveal the complexity of their invention and their culture is a sure way to reflect one's own passion and creativity.

Pamushana Pamushana lodge, Zimbabwe


One can generally divide African decor (the furnishing and decoration of a room) into the following categories:

  • Antique/traditional, which includes both tribal and colonial pieces
  • Nature inspired
  • Safari/wildlife
  • Ethnic or tribal
  • Contemporary/modern, locally and internationally manufactured but inspired by Africa
  • These days, decorators and homemakers happily and successfully blend two or even three, as well as amalgamating many styles into one interior. Anything goes as long as it's tasteful! Whatever one's call, there is huge delight and joy to be taken from using both old and new African furniture and artefacts in one's spaces to create both a point of interest and elegance of form.

    African art (paintings, sculpture, photography and installations), textiles, craft and furniture all contribute effectively to the styling of an African inspired environment.

    Clodagh Design Clodagh Design International

    Exteriors can also echo African nature with indigenous planting and landscaping including using sculptures for dramatic focus points.

    African furniture production in past and current times often uses hardwoods like ebony. As a citizen of this continent I believe it is essential to be aware of sustainable felling and production.

    I truly believe that as consumers, we must use our conscience and try to source products from environments, companies and communities that are committed to sustainability and are also concerned with the welfare of the inhabitants, employees and societies.

    Early Andrew and John Early, wood turner and furniture maker, SA

    Mutual benefit to all concerned with the production and purchase of the items manufactured must exist. There are products with sustainable timber certification and one needs to make an effort to search and purchase accordingly.


    There are many ways of adding African decor authenticity and flavour to one's rooms and outdoor spaces:

  • Furniture
  • Artefacts: masks, shields, spears, walking sticks, knives, containers, snuff boxes, pipes, musical instruments, headwear
  • Skins, hides and leather
  • Textiles
  • Lighting
  • Accessories: cushions, pottery, basketry, beaded items, rugs, ceramics, frames, table linen, throws
  • Fine Arts: paintings, prints, photographs
  • Sculpture: wood, metal, stone
  • Found objects, natural and discarded

  • Stromboni2 Furniture items, Vanessa Stromboni


    An individual has so many ways to make a statement with African decor. The joy of it is that not everything needs to be about expense, there are many items that can be purchased through community practices which also ensure that the crafter/artist is receiving a deserving payment for the creation of the product.

    Styles of African Decor


    Verma Photos from Jacqueline Verma
    Interior decorator

    There are two forms of decorating using traditional or antique African decor, furniture and accessories:

    Colonial, using antique furniture from trading or colonizing countries and... Tribal, using antique furniture from the indigenous peoples of Africa.


    These days, designers and homemakers very often mix them up in an eclectic style which combines elements of both traditional and modern furnishings and lends itself to stunning dynamic spaces.

    This interior shot opposite uses classic furniture upholstered in a kuba-inspired printed fabric and a dark wooden coffee table displaying a mix of accessories including a contemporary glass bottle holder and a genuine African decor artifact to lend authenticity to the scheme.

    Falcke Stephen Falcke Designs

    Matsika Aline Matsika, African decor

    Nature inspired:

    There is much to arouse one's creatively in Africa's temporal landscapes: The deep verdant forests of the Equatorial jungle; the azure seas of Eastern Africa; the Central savannah plains softly stretching in unfathomable distances; the ancient undulating forms of the desert dunes; rugged highland mountains; bright Namaqualand desert flowers - the list is endless and everyone's impressions will be individual and unique, whatever makes one's heart beat faster!

    Natural materials abound; wood, roots, reeds, vines, pebbles and stones, clay, straw, grasses, leaves, shells, feathers, seeds, pods.

    porcelain Carla de Cruz
    'Schema' porcelain

    It is in this area that textures can really come to the fore as they can be found in all the natural fibres and the products that are created with them like textiles, baskets, blinds, floorcoverings, bedlinen and tableware and artistic creations like freeform sculptures.


    Root table Laurie Owen:
    Root table with
    glass top,
    Interior with divan

    Outdoor artifacts Outdoor artifacts
    Aid to Artisans

    Colours are softly subtle earth tones creating a relaxed atmosphere and a restful environment. Touchs of natural greens, burnt umbers and reds or watery aquas can be added as accents to create interest or diversion in the scheme. For a more dramatic look inflect dark umbers, black, indigo or chocolate for graphic impact. And in true artistic spirit amazing new forms are created with contemporary materials like metal, polyfibres, resins, wire and plastics.

    Coastal blues


    Vamisi-lodge Vamisi island lodge, Mozambique

    Soft sands, textures, bleached wood and touches of china blue, aqua and teal make for delightfully soothing surrounds.

    Jungle greens

    Natural foliage becomes the inspiration for a narrative African decor story that speaks volumes about the lush African forest environment.

    Ceramics Ceramics,
    Kente cloth
    Africa Nova
    South Africa



    table placemats Table placemats
    and Bedlinen
    Dransfield and Ross


    Wall mobile Wall mobile of
    found objects
    Guy Evans, Zimbabwe

    Andrew Martin Andrew Martin fabrics

    This is an area where one can really go for drama catching all the energy and spirit of the African plains: Animal prints matched with textured plains, fun elements in the room like pouffes, zebra skin rugs, animal carvings, grainy prints on the walls of savannah landscapes to add authenticity - mix it up, go wild.

    And don't forget your mosquito net enveloping your fantasy four poster bed!

    To really add a touch of class, purchase an original piece of artwork to complement your African decor and if that's out of your budget, then a beautifully framed print will do just fine.

    Rugs-cushions Rugs, cushions and table placemats
    Dransfield and Ross

    There are amazing artists working in this field, please see webpages for a list of my favourites.

    African Ethnic

    Aione Dionne Aione Dionne, fabrics

    Warm earthy tones of rust, ochres, umbers, mud and graphite make up this palette. The same warm atmosphere will be added to one's habitat if used sparingly.

    Natural fibre rugs on the floor will settle the room and luxuriant leather and dark burnished woods can be introduced to offset the patterns that are found in artifacts and fabrics.

    Earth lodge Earth lodge, Sabi Sands

    Jeddah seat Jeddah seat, Angelo Figus

    Market Color Collision

    Here one can explode with colour and energy and loose oneself in the enthusiasm of the African cultures who thrive in the market environment.

    Manda lodge Manda lodge, Kenya

    basket stool

    Use authentic African decor fabrics, printed or woven and look for brightly hued baskets and rugs. Paint your walls in vibrant feature areas and offset all this with solid brights on your sofas.

    basket chair

    coloured rug

    Don't forget the value of white to provide a counteracting, balancing effect to all this colour!

    Kente cloth Kente cloth, Ghana Myweku

    Scour galleries and markets for original artwork; you won't regret it. Contemporary African decor artists are urban dwellers and it doesn't take much to seek them out in their own studios where you will be richly rewarded by your experience.

    Moke Moke, untitled

    Contemporary African Decor

    There has been an explosion on the world furniture and design market in the last 5 years of African decor inspired product.

    There are many things that contribute to this but foremost, I believe, is the impact that contemporary African decor artists are having in the art world. They are gaining recognition for their contribution to culture from their hosting nations like the UK and America, while Africa itself is steadily and actively promoting their own hugely talented artists.

    Platforms such as Joburg Art Fair and Dakar Art Show are gaining in momentum and authority.

    Furniture, soft furnishings, textiles (printed and woven), craft, accessories, wall decor, fine art, rugs and floor coverings, natural found objects are all areas which reflect this trend.


    M'Afrique by Moroso

    Moroso3 M'Afrique 2009, Moroso
    Bench by Patricia Urquiola and 'Madame Dakar' Chair by Bibi Seck and Avse Birse


    There were other designers on the show who made equally dynamic and exciting statements. The range featured below is made for both interiors and exterior use as is that above.


    Dutch Wax Prints...

    Binta chairs Philippe Bestenaider, 'Binta' chairs, reminiscent of baobab trees, solid and endearing

    ...inspired these playful furniture items reflect the interest stirred up by Yinka Shonibare who used Dutch wax prints in his intellectually powerful installation pieces that confrontationally deal with identity issues.

    Yinka mask Yinka Shonibare
    from 'Diary of a
    Victorian Dandy'

    Ed Cross Ed Cross Blog Interior

    fabric stools Ron Arad, fabric stools
    Dutch wax prints

    Dransfield Cushions, Dransfield and Ross

    Not all African contemporary furniture is so vivid and lively. More restrained earthy tones do exist, often beautifully complemented by steel and aluminium supports like the designer below.

    Haldane Martin, South Africa

    shades of graphite

    Black and white and shades of graphite mixed with metallics are a very arresting way of approaching African contemporary decor.

    Bold reds will add contrast with great dramatic effect.

    Songololo couch Songololo couch and Zulumama cafe chair, Haldane Martin

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