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 sunsets or pinkly-purple sunrises and vibrant splashes of raw hues reminiscent of crazily energetic African market places.
Not to forget the graphic concepts of black and white, both figurative and literal, which often reflect the mastery of decoration used by African artisans.
Using African products in an interior or external environment gives one the opportunity to use unique pieces that portray the artistic and spiritual nature of the African people.
Using quality art forms that reveal the complexity of their invention and their culture is a sure way to reflect one's own passion and creativity.
One can 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
- 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, amalgamating 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 artifacts 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.
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 we, as consumers, 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.
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 flavor 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
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
There are two forms of decorating using traditional or antique African decor, furniture and accessories:
- Colonial, using antique furniture from trading or colonizing countries
- 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.
There is much to arouse one's creativity 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.
Interior with divan
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.
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.
Vamisi island lodge, Mozambique
Soft sands, textures, bleached wood and touches of china blue, aqua and teal make for delightfully soothing surrounds.
Africa nova, kente cloth and ceramics
Natural foliage becomes the inspiration for a narrative African decor story that speaks volumes about the lush African forest environment.
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!
soft furnishings, Dransfield and Ross
Guy Evans, kudu horn mobile, found objects
Andrew Martin fabrics
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 or photo will do just fine.
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.
Or like the interior below, shot with bright red for contrast and dramatic effect.
pamushana lodge, singita group
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don't forget the value of white to provide a counteracting, balancing effect to all this color!
And, in true artistic spirit, amazing new forms are created with contemporary materials like metal, polyfibres, resins, wire and plastics.
Contemporary African Decor
There has been an explosion on the world furniture and design market in the last 10 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
The range featured below is made for both interior and exterior use as is that above.
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
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.
Doktor and Misses
Kassena town is a range created especially for a design exhibition by the Johannesburg-based company.
The pieces echo the striking buildings built of mud by the Kassena people of West Africa. They are painted in bold, graphic patterns in contemporary colours.
kassena sleep stool
Peter Mabeo is a designer who is based in Botswana but is steadily growing in international repute. While being very committed to local craft, his heritage and his workshops the collaborations with international designers have led him to expand his creative vision to new found heights.
Mabeo with Claesson Koivisto, Rune
Seri series, Mabeo with Garth-Roberts
His product is sophisticated, streamlined and very tightly designed.