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African Style

Finding design In history, nature

February 10, 2010
By Debbie Travis

You will find cool design in the most remote places. Whether you are an armchair traveler or have actually had the unforgettable experience of visiting Africa, its rich cultural history and natural beauty will always be with you.

Africa is big, it's huge; wherever you are, the grand sweep of land, hillsides and rivers, populated by wondrous beasts and fascinating people, take time to comprehend. African decorating style celebrates age-old roots. Always connected to the earth, colors that are seen most often are saturated tones of mustard yellow and burnt orange, rich soil browns, ripe greens, gray and bark black.

Walls can be painted in lighter hues with one bright accent wall, or a colorful border can be designed to enhance the mood. If you have decided on the strength and exuberance of African style as a theme for a room, you have a wide choice of textiles and accessories from which to choose. Batik fabrics resonate with bold patterns that illustrate tribal life or the magnificent animals of the region. Cushions and curtains, table and bed linens, each have a story to tell.

Sculptures and carvings of leopards, elephants, tigers, giraffes and panthers are central to their culture, indicative of how dearly the country's wild animals are revered. Any of these elements will build the atmosphere in your room, and you aren't required to go big to get the theme across. Artifacts brought back from travels or sourced at home do not have to take over your style. It is quite simple to introduce a collection of baskets and urns, crockery and carvings by setting up a display on a tabletop, mantel or series of shelves.

I have recently returned from a publicity tour in South Africa, where I enjoyed speaking engagements in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. I was then thrilled to be invited to spend a few days at Singita's Lebombo Lodge (www.singita.com), a game reserve in Kruger National Park, which is located near the Mozambique border. We were deep in the bush, and while everyone else was staring at the wild animals, I couldn't take my eyes off the simple luxury and modern design of the lodge.

Described as contemporary African chic, the separate loft-style suites are perched high above the N'wanetsi River. The wall-less spaces, unique to this country, have sweeping wood decks that are furnished with sculpted, basket-weave seating and sleek white sofas, where you can relax amidst all this outdoor splendor and watch a giraffe wander by. At the far end of the lounge, there is a display of African basketry and crafts that becomes an integral part of the overall scenery.

I was impressed at how effortlessly you can combine ancient and modern design with the lush landscape. Although this plan sits open to the elements, in cooler climates, glass or walls with large windows would allow you to keep the connection to the outside.

If a vacation has inspired you, display your mementos within the context of whatever style you enjoy at home. They don't have to match - they probably won't - but you can create an abiding connection with good balance. Layer a plain sofa with a fringed, faux leopard skin cushion or throw. Line up a herd of elephants on a glass shelf. One tall giraffe on a corner table would be stunning. African style is basic and unabashed, hot and cool.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Readers may e-mail questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. They also can follow Travis on Twitter at www.twitter.com/debbie_

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