Tribal Decorating Tips

Cate Heming, Co-owner Design Establishment shows you how to get a tribal look at home.

To me the tribal look evokes visions of the wide expanses of the African Savannah, of somewhat mysterious wild creatures and the harsh reality of nature in its raw and beautiful state. This is one of my favourite ‘looks’ for the home.


Colours that envision the African palette include: burnt orange, cream, black, browns, and red. However, I am a big believer of having neutral ‘staples’ in the house. Eg: a super comfy couch in neutral impartial tones – in a lovely linen fabric with colour ranging from white to deep taupe – this gives you an easy way to change your look without going over your credit card limit. As its far easier to pick up beautiful accessories to ‘revive’ your room, than it is to replace that bright red leather couch that seemed like a good idea when it was in fashion a few years ago!


Also important is a beautiful timber dining or glass dining table with lovely upholstered dining chairs (in a neutral colour) - these are classics that never seems to date and the chairs can easily have some new additions such as Traditional Mud cloth pieces placed over the back of the dining chairs which will completely change the look. The Design Establishment’s Bamileke stool (pictured with the Central Occasional zebra chair) bring some dark deep timber colours to the mix.

Once you have these right – its easy to add texture, which is crucial to give the room another dimension. By using ‘Kuba cloth’ (or Rafia cloth which is made from the leaf of the Rafia tree, mainly emanate from central Africa) adds as amazing wall hangings or table runners. Or ‘Mudcloth’ scatter cushions for your Sofa with their rough organic feel and primitive patterns.

Wall Art

Don’t forget to express your creative side with something for your walls; Primitive timber spears, or timber tribal masks or sculptures, or Kuba cloth or Mudcloth wall hangings. Or even a stunning piece of art or framed photography - maybe from a trip you did yourself in Africa, or something like ours (pictured) which is by the fabulous Artist Boaz Rottem – that really gives you a glimpse into the life and spirit of the people he captivate’s with his camera.


Then the final thing is accessories. Everything from rugs and blankets in a Zebra, Leopard or Cheetah print pattern, or animal timber carvings or bronze statues. We have a beautiful range of Bronze African Rhino’s and Elephants with intricately detailed even down to their coarse skin pattern. As well as hand woven baskets or bowls (there are some striking colour combinations, and geometric patterns in these hand woven masterpieces that can provide real impact to your walls or coffee table).

It can seem quite daunting at the thought of trying to create your own piece of Africa in your home. But before you panic, take a deep breath and relax. There are plenty of ways to go about doing this no matter how big or small your budget is. The best way is to take your time. Something like expressing your inner self into your room can’t be crammed into a weekend. Get out and about Sydney and see what’s out there that intrigues you! And never forget that it should be an enjoyable process so remember to have fun !

People want to know the story about the ‘piece’ so sometimes half the fun in showing your friends and family your new room, is explaining to them how you stumbled across that Bamileke Stool, or Timber Tribal carving, or ‘carrying that hand woven bowl all the way back from Africa’. There is no limit to what lengths you can go to and the best way is to not rush into trying to do it in a short period of time.

For more information call The Design Establishment on (02) 8353 3888 or log on to

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