Around the world in interior design: South Africa

sa interior

Continuing our journey around the world’s many different interior design traditions, we explore South Africa’s eclectic approach to contemporary home decor: a mix of traditional crafts, vibrant pattern and earthy tones... Plus tips on how you can use lighting to achieve some South African style in your own home…

See also:

Around the world in interior design: Italy
Around the world in interior design: India
Around the world in interior design: Feng Shui
Around the world in interior design: Mexico

It was the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu who dubbed South Africa the ‘Rainbow Nation’, as a sign of hope and in celebration of the country’s diversity and multicultural heritage. The end of apartheid in May 1990 marked the beginning of a new era across the country’s social, political, professional and cultural life, which is very much in evidence in contemporary South African interior design and architecture.

Visitors from around the world now flock to this vibrant country, drawn by its wildlife, stunning landscapes and temperate climate. At the same time, South African designers and architects are building national and global reputations.
ndebele buildings
Traditional Ndebele buildings, Lesedi Cultural Village. Photo: Angela Abel via creative commons.

A rich architectural heritage

Today’s South African homes draw on many influences, including rondavels, the thatched circular huts of the Xhosa people; the beehive shaped iQukwanes created by the Zulu, and verandahs associated with huts built by the Venda.rondavel

Traditional Xhosa rondavel. Via creative commons.

Cape Dutch architecture, with its instantly recognisable thatched roofs and whitewashed walls is the legacy of many generations of Dutch settlers. It remains a popular style across the Cape but is particularly prevalent in the wine region—Franschoek and Stellenbosch in particular.


Cape Dutch architecture at Groot Contstantia, South Africa’s oldest wine estate. Photo: Tjeerd Wiersma via creative commons

In complete contrast, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town’s former Malay Quarter, is renowned for its pastel and primary coloured houses, which date from the mid-19th century.


The ice cream colours of Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Photo: South African Tourism via creative commons.

South African homes today – the key elements

Many South African interiors designers draw on the country’s diverse heritage and frequently opt for a fusion look, in terms of pattern, colour and traditional motifs.

sa interior

The modern pan-African look: natural light and a stylish blend of earth colours, natural materials and traditional crafts. Photo: Keegan Checks via creative commons.

There is increasing awareness of environmental issues and sustainable practices and the current generation of designers are likely to specify environmentally conscious design strategies, using eco-friendly materials, and incorporating energy-efficient features. The Lutge Gallery in Muizenberg, Western Cape, has a reputation for its stylish tables, cabinets and other furniture, designed by owner Allen Lutge and crafted from reclaimed indigenous wood. Lutge’s designs sit alongside the gallery’s range of Cape antiques, architectural salvage and contemporary crafts.

jacis lodges

Interior, Jaci’s Lodges, Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province. Photo: South African Tourism via creative commons

Here are some of the key contemporary South African interior design motifs:

  • An emphasis on open spaces and maximising natural light from those big African skies; windows and skylights are large, and sliding doors lead to verandahs, decks and outside spaces, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.
  • Natural materials such as clay, stone, thatch and wood are preferred, providing a sense of warmth and authenticity and reflecting South Africa’s natural beauty and.
  • Earth tones are everywhere, inspired by the South African landscape; expect to see plenty of ochre, sand, sienna, and terracotta - but strong, rich colours abound too.
  • Animal prints and patterns, inspired by the country’s wildlife, including giraffe motifs, leopard spots and zebra stripes are perennial favourites.
  • Indoor plants. South Africa’s plantlife is as rich as its animal life, and indigenous plants such as aloes, grasses and succulents can be found in many homes. As well as adding freshness and colour, indoor plants reflect a growing interest in bibliophilic design schemes.
  • Traditional handicrafts and tribal art and textiles, such as beaded artwork and cushions, carved masks and wooden furniture, pottery, wall hangings and woven baskets, are perennially popular features.

Creating traditional beadwork, Ndebele Village, Mpumalanga. Photo: South African Tourism via creative commons

Contemporary South African interior design: four to follow

Interior design is one of the country’s growth industries and although Cape Town remains the country’s leading design hub, studios are springing up across South Africa, reflecting the demand for well designed, functional home and work spaces.

1) Ditau Interiors (@ditauinteriors) – based in Johannesburg, Ditau Interiors, has clients across the country and globally. Founder member and managing and creative director, Nthabi Taukobong, describes the Ditau style as simple and uncluttered: “…spaces that reflect relaxed and natural interiors with distinct elements and cultural influences from around the continent.” (@

2) Donald Nxumalo (@donaldnxumalo) – Donald grew up in Pretoria, where he became fascinated by antiques and historical artefacts. Now based near Johannesburg, he is committed to working ethically, within an entrepreneurial spirit. He views his approach as: “sophisticated, African, urbane and intuitive.”

donald insta

3) Gregory Miller ( – In 2023, Gregory Mellor became only the second South African (and African) designer to receive the prestigious Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year Award, following in the revered footsteps of Stephen Falcke in 1999. (Falcke is credited with revolutionising the way that African tribal art and textiles could be used in contemporary interiors.) With an international portfolio ranging from luxury game lodges in East Africa to classic holiday homes in the Pacific, Mellor likes to combine traditional and modern design, furniture and art to create interiors of “timeless elegance…authentic, eclectic…”

4) Karen Roos of Babylonstoren (@babylonstoren). A standout location that has been winning plaudits in recent years is Babylonstoren an estate owned by Karen Roos and Koos Bekker in the Western Cape’s Franschoek wine valley. One of the oldest Cape Dutch farms, it now comprises a luxury hotel, cottage accommodation, a choice of restaurants, landscaped fruit and vegetable gardens, and vineyards. Karen, a former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa is the driving force behind Babylonstoren’s distinctive aesthetic. The interiors offer an evocation of the past, with skilful restoration and preservation work, blended seamlessly with 21st century design. Furnishings are simple, with the perfect balance of antique pieces.

But you don’t need to travel to the Southern Hemisphere to see an example of the couple’s Babylonstoren philosophy; simply head to Bruton in Somerset to The Newt. Their visionary UK venture, which has Hadspen House, the 300-year-old former home of the Hobhouse family at its heart, is now a stunning hotel, restaurant and garden, where Karen has added blended colourful, contemporary design with classical Georgian elegance.

the newt

The Newt, Bruton, Somerset. Photo: André-Pierre du Plessis via creative commons

Get the South African look with lighting…

Keen on the South African look? Lighting is a smart and easy way to bring a touch of African-inspired style to your home. Here are some ideas to inspire you…

Handcrafted natural materials

The handcarved beauty of our dark wood Eileen table lamp has a South African vibe. Its simple design and natural finish make Eileen wonderfully versatile—equally at home in a Mid-Century modern setting, country cottage, or 21st century minimalist apartment.

Eileen table lamp in dark wood

Our partnership with Collaborative Crafts Projects resulted in a fabulous range of Ilala palm basket pendant shades. Made in Botswana, across the border from South Africa, the four pendant styles are decidedly modern, while celebrating the best of traditional crafts and natural materials.

Serena natural woven palm basket pendant shade

Animal print
Master of colour and pattern, Matthew Williamson, has reimagined the classic allure of animal prints in this leopard love empire shade: painterly leopard spots coalescing into love-heart motifs.

leopard love

40cm straight empire shade in classic Leopard Love by Matthew Williamson

Earth tones
Our Ambrose table lamp in terracotta has earthy, natural tones and a traditional shape that works brilliantly with a contemporary shade for that modern South African mash-up style.


Larger ambrose table lamp in natural terracotta


For more interior design inspiration, browse our tips-packed blog. And see our full range of lamps and shades here.


Image top: The Palace, Sun City, North West, South Africa (Photo: South African tourism via creative commons)