Saturday 24 February 2018

Explore safari style

Mix and match romanticised 'safari'-style décor with authentic African patterns for a bold interior identity with pots of personality

Safari-style interior from Atelier Lane with Barrel Clay Beaded Pendant (
Safari-style interior from Atelier Lane with Barrel Clay Beaded Pendant (
African graphic ceramics from Safari Fusion
Contemporary African textiles from Safari Fusion (
Cole & Son Singita wallpaper from the Ardmore Collection (;
Ardmore Leopard Walk wallpaper with Senzo Spot border
Cult fur
London-based interior designer Eva Sonaike, originally from Nigeria
Avoca jug
Red Ugan

'I hear the drums echoing tonight," sang David Paich. "But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation." The band was Toto, the year was 1982, and the song was 'Africa'. It's a great tune but the lyrics are pure chaos.

Toto-bashers love to complain about their blend of cliché, romantic longing and blatant inaccuracy. Kilimanjaro, for example, doesn't rise "like Olympus above the Serengeti". It's a full day's drive away.

In a way, the moaners are missing the point. The band's drummer, Jeff Porcaro, wrote on Toto's website that the song was about a white boy trying to write a song about Africa "but since he's never been there, he can only tell what he's seen on TV or remembers in the past".

The cluelessness of the lyrics is intentional.

African graphic ceramics from Safari Fusion
African graphic ceramics from Safari Fusion

There's a similar dynamic in African-inspired interiors. Most of them come from a romantic notion of Africa that owes more to the 1985 film Out of Africa than to the multiple realities of the real continent.

"This is a style that evokes the romance of the concept of 'safari', a Swahili word for 'journey'. We associate safari with the African wilderness, big game animals and gin and tonic at sunset," writes Thandi Mbali Renaldi, whose online store, Kudu Home, sells contemporary African-designed homeware.

A safari-style interior will often include sandy-coloured foldable campaign furniture, preferably in faded canvas, muslin mosquito nets draped over the beds, animal hides and carved masks on the walls.

Sometimes, the style expands to include more solid elements of colonial decoration: a ceiling fan, wooden shutters, or animal-head trophies. Often, these are referenced in a witty, contemporary way.

The Safari Life Rhino Head Wall trophy (€64) from Cult Furniture is made of plywood. It doesn't even attempt to look like taxidermy; it's just a nod to the big-game hunting tradition.

Some trend forecasters have predicted that safari-themed interiors are due to take over from the jungle-themed decoration of the past few years. The jury's still out on that one! However, there do seem to be a lot of African-themed accessories in circulation.

Contemporary African textiles from Safari Fusion (
Contemporary African textiles from Safari Fusion (

You can buy a leopard ornament from Homesense (€25) or a zebra vase from Mia Fleur (around €35). Marks & Spencer has melamine safari side plates (€20 for a set of four); safari geometric towels (from €8) and even a safari bath mat (from €17). Combine these with a calfskin rug (€99) and a leopard-print cushion (€27) from Homesense, and you'll be well on the way to a safari-themed interior.

Like Toto's 'Africa', it's all good fun. But not everyone wants to get nostalgic over colonialism and big-game hunting. It's just one strand of African tradition and it has lots of negative connotations.

Imagine if Irish-themed interiors were limited to the fox-hunting memorabilia of the Protestant Ascendancy! Once you start looking at contemporary African design for the home, you quickly realise that there's very much more to it than faux zebra-skin rugs.

Much of it is craft-based. The selection from Kudu Home includes some safari-style items but these are actually made in Africa, which seems to give them a bit more character than some of the high-street décor.

A wall-mounted sculpture in the shape of a kudu-head trophy (€110) is handmade from stainless steel wire, threaded with tiny glass beads. You can also buy Zulu wire bowls (€99). These are handwoven from telephone wire using traditional skills but in modern-looking colours and geometric patterns.

There's also an emerging strand of high-end African design. Fashion designers like Lisa Folawiyo and Maki Oh, both based in Nigeria, are known for an elegant and intelligent use of colour and pattern that draws deep on their local tradition. Now, this sense of Nigerian style is beginning to migrate into interiors.

"It's important to me to have an African aesthetic in the high-end interiors market," says Eva Sonaike, a London-based designer of African-inspired textiles for the home. "It's important that Africa is represented on all levels."

Ten years ago, when she first looked into establishing a homeware brand, she found that what was on offer internationally was sadly lacking.

"All the African products were clichéd or colonial," she says. "I come from Nigeria, where we have very colourful textiles and I thought - why not translate these into something that we can use in the home?"

Her best-sellers are ready-made cushions (around €79) but her range also includes interiors fabrics (from €100 per metre), lampshades (€145) and pouffes (€453). All of these are inspired by West Africa, designed in London by Sonaike, and manufactured in Europe.

"Nigeria has a small high-end retail market, but they understood the product and welcomed me with open arms. People in Africa often think that things are better-made when they come from abroad." Doesn't that sound familiar!

Although Sonaike is from Nigeria, she lives and works in London. "I've never lived in Nigeria for more than three months. I visit every year and I come back with patterns in my head. I find them everywhere! Visually, there's a lot going on and I think that I appreciate it more because I don't live there all the time. And I'm not scared of colour. In Yoruba culture, you wear colour to celebrate life!"

Several larger interiors brands are working to collaborate with African designers. This January, Cole & Son launched the Ardmore Collection of wallpapers (pictured above) designed in collaboration with Ardmore Ceramic Art, a South African design company. The wallpaper designs include motifs from South African foliage, animals, and Zulu folklore, and are gloriously free of the European fear of going over the top.

Meanwhile, the Swedish furniture giant Ikea has announced its plans to work with Design Indaba of Cape Town to create a collection produced entirely by African designers. "The creative explosion which is taking place in several cities around Africa right now is something Ikea is curious about," says Marcus Engman, Ikea's design manager. "We want to learn from this and spread it to the rest of the world."

The collection, by designers from South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, Angola, Ivory Coast and Rwanda, will be inspired by urban Africa and launches in 2019.


Must haves...

Pretty as a pitcher

Avoca jug

The Mynthe series comes from Denmark's trendy homeware brand Ib Laursen. It's an ongoing line of kitchen ceramics, updated every year. This one's a litre-sized pitcher in English rose (€15.95 from

A rich tapestry

Red Ugan

This little woven basket (€5 from was made in Uganda's Rwenzori region. It's part of the store's ongoing project to support sustainable local businesses and help the makers keep their kids in education.

Tray chic


Impress your design-buff friends with this trendy tray by the Spanish design ace Jaime Hayon. The handle makes it look like a piece of sculpture but it's also handy for carrying around. It costs €145.70 from

Rainbows & unicorns

Cult fur

Safari Life offers a vegan-friendly version of the traditional taxidermy hunting trophy. Options include elephant, bull, bear, long-horned cow or (for added fantasy) a unicorn. They come in walnut or ash wood finish (priced €44 from

For the dogs


For style-savvy mutt owners, this Charley Chau day-bed mattress comes in contrasting tangerine and claret velour with smart detail on the piping. Just flip the bed when you fancy a fresh look! It costs €80 from

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