frica is a vast continent sprawling from Egypt and Morocco in the North down to South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique in the South. While each and every country has its own unique style, interior design ideas usually incorporate neutral, earth tones combined with vibrant splashes of color. African decor is inspired by nature, wild animals, colorful fabrics and wood carvings. People are inspired by African culture for a number of reasons. For some, it is the dream of a photographic or hunting safari, and others appreciate it from a cultural history perspective. Whatever it is that inspires you about African decor, there are plenty of ways to incorporate some timeless pieces into your own space at home or in the office.
The animals of Africa have and will always be a central theme in the continent's artwork and fabrics. The animals that appeal to most decorators are elephants, lions, leopards, zebras and giraffes. From wood carved animal napkin holder to a faux zebra rug, the possibilities are truly endless. The colors of these animals will also help you in determining your overall pallet. Grey, brown, black, white and beige are all fairly neutral colors which make great wall and floor colors. But if you want a dramatic splash, paint a wall bright red to showcase a fantastic dark mahogany mask or black and white zebra print curtains. Black and white animal photography or original African artwork of animals always makes a bold statement when decorating. The everyday reminders of these magnificent, wild beasts conjure feelings of strength, power and virility.
There are a number of textile options from the various countries within the great continent of Africa. From Zimbabwe, you will find hand painted and batiked options in pillowcases, tablecloths, table runners and placemats. Look for Mali’s hand woven mud cloth for a culturally rich, distinctive look. For a very interesting piece of fabric art, use a Weya story quilt as a wall hanging depicting the village life of an African tribe or an Asafo flag with hand appliqués. Carved wood sculptures are a strong tradition in Africa. Place a well-crafted sculpted bowl on your hearth or dining room table. African artifacts such as handmade leather purses and pouches, walking sticks, smoking pipes and even warrior masks and shields make interesting decorative pieces.
African Decor - Less is More
Contemporary African décor’s not about cluttering a room with masks, tables, chairs, pictures and carved wooden ornaments or statues. Consider tiling the floor with sandstone tiles or terracotta tiles. Plain concrete floors that have been treated and stained are also very popular these days in Southern Africa, and are very cool in a hot climate. Thick sisal mats work well on top of this type of flooring. Paint walls a neutral shade of beige, brown or cream, with perhaps one wall or two opposite walls painted in a rich terracotta or clay color. Textured paints have become very popular; choose a paint that once painted on the wall, has a rough sandy texture to it.
If you want to incorporate African design into your home, where do you start?
Sharne Algotsson, owner of a product and design consulting firm and Twist, a lifestyles store in Philadelphia, is also the author of African Style Down to the Detail, provides some answers:
Do your homework. Visit the interior design section of bookstores and look for books that specialize in ethnic design or African design.
- Look at African textiles and objects in local museums or travel to areas that have museums with African collections.
- Visit local stores that sell African objects, furniture and textiles. See what's available.
- Choose your color schemes. Do you want Moroccan pastels or safari earth tones? Paint a wall brown or terra cotta and use an African mask or statue to get the feel.
- If you don't want to spend a lot of money, cover pillows with African-inspired fabric or just cover cornices with an African fabric and use sheer curtains.
- If one is interested in decorating African style, it’s worthwhile to research a specific country to get the style as authentic as possible.