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African interior designers are shaking up the design world

Africa as a destination has been gaining traction amongst more intrepid travellers in the past few years, due to the vast continent’s rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and unique interior design. Of which, the latter has been gaining recognition on an international scale, especially with a wave of African designers making their mark overseas, introducing the continent’s design language to the world.

At Salone del Mobile Milan this year, the spotlight was cast on this part of the globe, with an exhibition put together by curator Hicham Lahlou, who shared in-depth insights on the region.

“When we talk about design and art in general, we are not talking about a single Africa. Every part of Africa has its own raft of creative and cultural patrimonies, which converge into one single melting pot,” Lahlou said.

Characterised by big bold patterns, bright colourful fabrics, animal prints, wood carvings, and beautiful art, the African design language is an ode to the land home to both city dwellers and the various tribes. Vivid colours are combined with earth tones, with details such as animal prints emphasising the splendour of the continent. These are complemented with virtual masks and wooden figures that gives the interiors a mystical note. The basis is simple: the house you enter should exude the warmth of the sun and sand, as well as the wealth of flora and fauna.

Thabisa Mjo.

Thabisa Mjo, the founder of interior design company Mash T Design Studio, has gained global recognition since winning Nando’s “Hot Young Designer Talent Search” for her iconic Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light in 2015. The lamp in question was inspired by the Xibelani skirt, known for its structural, tiered layers and colourful vertical pleats, and worn by the Tsonga women to celebrate their culture. The Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light is an evolution of the iconic ballet outfit blended with hallmarks of an African counterpart.

We’re then brought to Southern Africa, where another name, Mlondolozi Hempe, makes use of his background in architecture to explore design with his firm Umongoo. He is propelled into the limelight after his interior collaborations with knitwear designer MaXhosa  by Laduma in 2014, which was an interior design exhibition influenced by Nguni-inspired living spaces, a Southern African tribe.


The key pieces that anchored the space include the Inkundla-inspired sofa, inspired by the concept of sitting in a circle, thus encouraging communication. The wooden potjie, on the other hand, was a rural element common in many homes. The interiors are completed by rugs that layer the space with warmth, bringing these elements together.

Another designer making waves internationally is Brooklyn-based Ethiopian designer Hana Getachew, who started Bolé Road Textiles out of a desire to merge her love of Ethiopian handwoven fabrics with her career in interior design. Her affinity for vibrant and graphic patterns is beautifully translated into her work, which blends elements from her upbringing infused with traditional Ethiopian textiles. The end product? A homage to that cultural inheritance and a reflection of her own personal global modern aesthetic.

Hana Getachew.

With this rise in recognition in the African design language worldwide, design aficionados are translating the elements into their homes globally. If you too, are inspired by the African design language and landscapes of the vast continent, invest in furniture by these designers, and look into these additional ways to incorporate some timeless pieces into your own space.

Imagine the sun setting over the landscapes of Kenya, flooding the low coastal plains and terrains with a warm glow. If you’re looking to have African-inspired interiors, this is what you should aim to translate into your home. Incorporate hues of oranges, yellows, ochers, burgundy, reds, browns, and buttermilk into your space. Alternatively, bright pops of colour can also be combined with earthy tones, resulting in a breathtakingly unique end product.

In African-inspired interior spaces, you can find statues of tribal leaders in full regalia, animal figures or warriors placed on shelves or tabletops, complemented by dramatic paintings, photographs or landscapes on the wall of the continent’s landscapes, tribes, or animal prints.

However, do take note that wooden statuettes and masks are sacred objects in the life of African tribes, so do incorporate this respectfully and tastefully.

The African design language is characterised by artwork, unique textures and animal-printed rugs and textiles.

The African design language also features various textures such as wicker furniture and masks from clay and wood made by local craftsmen, along with natural leather from leopards or zebras for textiles and upholstery. Additionally, weaving carpets and textiles are a centuries-old tradition for many African women, resulting in unique patterns each time. Kuba cloth (created by the Kuba people of the Congo) and mud cloth are traditional African textiles that are showing up in homes in other parts of the world, too.

African interior designers are shaking up the design world

Dewi Nurjuwita

Senior Writer

Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.


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