by Theresa Rolen Long
“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”
Summertime steers the imagination to exotic locales that rouse inspiration. And of the many places within our diverse, earthly collection, Africa—with her scope of varying cultures, prolific mysteries, and untamed wilderness—proves to be a crowning continental muse.
African fashion and interior design trended in a big way in 2013, with earth tones, eclectic furnishings, leather, and animal skin imitations hitting the market. As this trend has settled, the best of African elements remains, speaking to the burgeoning bohemian style trend and solidifying classic staying power.
As the birthplace of humanity, and having a history peppered with foreign invasion, Africa owns a rich architectural heritage. Heterogeneous styles developed over centuries across our motherland, influencing design dialect in a myriad of ways. Here are five highlights of African style, worthy of incorporating into any decorating scheme:
By the early 19th century, a pastiche of invasive architecture had come to exist in northern Africa. Over time, Arabian mosques, Turkish castles, Portuguese forts, and Northern European Colonial manors provided Morocco with a manifold landscape. The reconstruction of Algiers in the early 20th century allowed for prominent modern architects to make their stamp on this ancient area. Today, contrast abounds in Morocco and its neighboring North African countries.
Morocco is where sun meets sand, and pastel colors ease transition from desert surroundings. Plaster walls and decorative tile accents compliment world-class rugs woven by Atlas Mountain Berber tribes. Softly colored, low-slung seating and patterned floor cushions are lit romantically by pierced metal and colored glass. Moroccan style is the epitome of Bedouin chic—ornate and multi-cultural, yet fluid and soft, fitting right in with the casual comfort so many of us look to incorporate within our homes.
Pyramids are archetypal Egypt and some of the oldest structures on earth. East-facing temples, built to honor Nubian and Kush kings and queens, were created in geometric form to correspond with astrological events and contrast with the desert landscape.
The Egyptian Revival Period became popular in the U.S. as a decorative art movement at the end of the 19th century, parlaying into the art deco period at a time scholars refer to as “Egyptomania.” This style is illustrated by reds and royal blues, accented with black and gold, geometric renderings of palm fronds, triangles, and hieroglyphic patterns. Stone statues and busts of pharaohs, winged sphinx, obelisks, and scarabs accessorize strong, upright, gilded furnishings. Egyptian accents, like classical Greek, also work well in our own southern, white-slip-covered interiors.
West African vernacular architecture consists of conical forms and fractal-scaled villages—circle huts within circular village layouts. Homes are built with organic materials, in organic forms.
Heat-diverting neutrals, accented with graphic prints and punchy, bright colors, are mainstays of this style. Concrete floors and grass matting work vis-à-vis with earth-toned and sand-textured paint. Patterned basketry, batik fabrics, raffia, and wooden bead trimmings soften hard, brown-toned surfaces. Special textiles like quilts or ceremonial cloth are used as wall hangings. Artifacts like wooden statues, bowls, masks, pipes, and walking sticks can be used judiciously, or grouped en masse, for bold impact in today’s modern homes.
Nano walls, open terraces, and screened porches blur the perimeter while sleeping amongst lions and giraffes. Light linens, bare floors, sheers, and canopy bed netting harken to luxe safari camps. Vistas captured by large windows are lit at night by candles and woven, organically formed lighting. Carved, heavy wood furniture, grass cloth wall coverings, reed ceilings, and bamboo provide haven camouflage from grassland surroundings. Leather and imitation horn and antlers are punched up with graphic zebra and cheetah prints, creating a masculine, classic look easy to achieve in your own retreat.
South African design can’t be mentioned without discussing Cape Dutch and British Colonial style. Looking to the future, the growing collaborative spirit here among artists, designers, and the cultural elite—who share resources and creative ideas—is providing this country with an avant-garde identity demanding the world’s attention.
Johannesburg and Cape Town’s fertile street art scenes parlay vibrant color and forward thinking into South Africa’s urban interior design world. Modern is on trend; less is more, but with color. Contemporary lighting and furniture layouts showcase edgy designs incorporating local materials. Gray, purple, and green are popular here as neutral interior colors. Shells and nautical overtones are used in coastal areas, but with sophisticated care.
As with much of Africa, concrete flooring is king here. Not just for temperature control, but also for the sleek factor. There is an emphasis on artwork placement providing space for it to breathe, fostering an uncluttered vibe. Design Indaba and Guild Design Fair continue to develop this region into a leader of design trends, not just for Africa, but for our homes as well.
Africa inspires. And embracing one of its many design expressions pays homage to our collective roots, while grounding your home in her worldly, classic style.