Urban, African Style Guide

Tara Dickinson
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Decorating Your Modern Home With An African Flair

African Style Defined

The design style of the mother continent is defined more than anything by nature and raw elements. The components of African design feature details that range from energetic, vibrant colors, to primitive minimalism in art form, and textured textiles. Use of sustainable natural materials in earthier shades are more common in the urban African design style. The final result is one that imparts shades of sand and sun, with contrasting animal prints, and streamlined sculptures in ebony.


Trying to summarize the entirety of African design history is quite a challenge, as this continent stretches from Morocco and Egypt up north, to Mozambique, and South Africa at the tip. With each country expressing their own style, the core elements of what is considered ‘African’ design specifically come from the earth tones, from nature, wild animal influences, and traditional tribal art going back centuries.


Urban Inspiration

This popular trend has been going strong for many years. Current Urban-African design style seems to be inspired by the exotic nature of safari, and of widening our cultural and historical perspectives of this region of the world. Calling on this eclectic style, it is simple to incorporate some timeless pieces into any taste.  Rich deep colors, combined with modern components add a sense of comfort to any space. African style fits anywhere, whether your home is modern, traditional, minimalist, or urban. There are such a wide range of colors and textures in African fabrics, carvings and works of art, that it is easy to integrate them into your current design.



The timeless nature of Mother Earth herself is the driving force behind the decorating elements of African inspired themes. Warm colors of nature, from the sandy deserts to lush greens of the savanna plains, can recreate an atmosphere that invites relaxation and indulgence in self-care. To add this look does not require you to be surrounded by eccentric ornaments or animal hides. African pieces add a touch of originality to any interior, from modern polished to Hollywood glamor. Simple rule, don’t go overboard. Choose just a few African pieces or textures to shine.



Home decoration in Africa comes from natural materials, such as clay, straw, leaves, and wood. To keep the earth awareness and eco-friendly flow alive, consider searching for African decor that is made out of natural or recycled, sustainable materials. For example, select woven blinds for your windows or wooden frames for photographs, both which are more organic options versus plastics and particle board materials.



Decorative African art falls into many distinct categories, from sculptures, to masks, baskets, textiles, and wood carvings. Many of these will be covered in their own categories below. A general rule to follow though is understanding that rooms decorated in the African style can easily use art as the focal point.



As long as faux animal skins are the chosen option, using cowhides, zebra skins, or tiger prints yell African decor with enthusiasm. Inspirations from the wild lands and exotic animals that roam them pass on an ancestral feeling when creating the Urban-African look. Use sparingly to emphasize the splendor of these creatures. One too many and the pleasing effect can quickly turn tacky.



African handicrafts such as woven baskets, range in such a generous amount of color and texture that it is easy to fit them into any room or decorating style.

  • The Senegalese baskets made of cattail stalks and salvaged strips of colourful plastic are the most well known examples. Large baskets placed in the bedroom can store throws or linens, or used as stylish laundry bins in the bathroom, or even as toys boxes in the kids room.

  • While the simple Kenyan raffia pots contrast handsomely with the more elaborate baskets from Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

  • Tonga baskets work beautifully when hung on walls, grouped into asymmetric displays.


When visioning the Urban-African color palette, there are two ways to venture. One is the most popular, which uses earth tones as a basis; warm colors of yellow, creamy ivory, brown, burgundy, burnt orange. The second path travels towards the vivid and vibrant colors of tribal fashion and bold greens and golds of the lush African flora.



For centuries, African women have been weaving unique textiles into fabrics, garments, carpets, and more. Nothing could impart the ethnic mood of Africa better than handmade fabrics residing on your furniture coverings, wall hangings, or floor spaces. Textiles can be charged with saturated bright colors that are eye-catching in their variation of zigzag and figure-shaped themes on furniture upholstery curtains, bedspreads, and pillows. The opposite also works wonderfully, choosing the earth tones in more subtle displays of ornamentation.

  • Kuba cloth by the Kuba people of the Congo is created by Raffia tree leaves that have been dyed using natural resources.

  • Mudcloth, also called 'bogolan, are strips of fabric woven together then painted with patterns and symbols.

  • Kitenge and Ankara fabric is a wax print that is colourful cotton, also commonly worn and used to make clothing in Africa.


Begin your Urban-African thought process around furniture with the notion of organic, sustainable, and hand-made materials. Number one, this is actually a more affordable way to go, looking at gently used or locally sourced. Secondly, it is a conscious and environmentally friendly option. Original furniture coming out of Africa is composed of bark, sugar cane, bamboo, clay, leather, and rattan. Wood furniture is simple, heavy, rough. With that said, corse wicker furniture also shares the same African essence in furnishings. Dark browns in fake leather upholstery definitely hold a strong place in this decor style. And of course furniture constructed of bamboo is a modern African staple.



The sacred wooden statuettes and masks of African tribes have made their way into the urban modern home as defining elements of African style. Artistic depictions present warrior figures, animals, tribal regalia in the form of masks, weapons, and costumes. Collecting several of these pieces and combining them with pottery, photographs, and baskets will set your home apart as an Urban-African oasis. Even minimal, simply made items express great aesthetic properties with elongated arms and legs, or exaggerated facial features. Colors of ebony, mahogany, or other shades of local woods will make any room warm and alluring.


The Perfect Combination

The combination of African and Urban is alluring today mainly because people have been seeking to bring the outside in; a craving for nature and natural elements is priority right now. These elements inspire relaxation and family togetherness.  African and urban combine so well because African decor is so unique. Colors of terracotta, gold, and burnt sun shades represent mother earth. African design mixed with urban design, feels luxurious and connected to nature. Rather than fast and cheap big chain furniture, African style is traditional. What to show your eccentric side? Then mix these two design styles and let the show begin!




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