In African Interior Design, textures take a cue from natural materials, like clay, stone, timber and thatch. The colours used are warm and earthy and include various tones of ochre, yellow, brown, red, burgundy, black and white. Animals and their skins are used throughout: nguni, leopard and zebra. We see traditional crafts, i.e. basket making, woodwork and beadwork, used to make several functional and decorative items.


Traditional African design, like traditional european design, draws inspiration from the surrounding land, people and animals. Traditional housing differed according to ethnic group. Let’s take a look at four groups within South Africa.


The Zulu people are the largest ethnic group within South Africa and hail from the province now known as Kwazulu Natal. Traditional Zulu houses are beehive-shaped, finely thatched domes. Some have finely detailed entrances, and several have layers of mats beneath for insulation. These houses were grouped, and domesticated cattle were kept. Beadwork is an important part of traditional Zulu life.


Xhosa people come from the predominantly mountainous Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The Xhosa are the second largest cultural group in South Africa. They often built their houses near the tops of ridges that overlook local rivers. Later homes of the Xhosa tend toward a consistent form: cylindrical, single-cell house with a conical thatched roof called a rondavel. Traditional crafts include beadwork, weaving, woodwork and pottery. As in the Zulu culture, beadwork has important cultural significance and conveys information about the wearer. The Xhosa are agriculturists who also keep goats, sheep and cattle.


The Ndebele people live primarily in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. In addition to elaborate beadwork, they paint the walls of their homes using colourful, intricate patterns. The limestone whitewashed rondavels were initially painted with brown, black and ochre paints made from natural materials. These paintings have evolved into the bold and bright geometric designs we see today. They traditionally resided in hamlets and relied on agriculture and animal husbandry.


The Basotho people live primarily in Lesotho and the Free State province of South Africa. Their traditional dwellings are built from rocks and clay and have strong grass roofs. Litema (translated as “ploughed land”) are beautiful mural decorations made by the women. To achieve the indentations, the clay is combed and scraped while wet. For their food supply, they relied on agriculture and animal husbandry. The Basotho are known for wearing brightly coloured blankets and conical straw hats.


The African continent has a beautiful, rich and organic contribution to make to our interior designs today. In contemporary interior design, we see influences from the traditional houses described above in thatched roofs, earthy colours and textures, animal skins, animal prints, bold geometric designs and beadwork.

What about you? What about these African Interior Design styles speak to you?

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