South Africa is a smorgasbord of interior and architectural styles. Our diverse natural environments and multiplicity of cultures have created a unique landscape to which designers and architects must adapt. However, as with most things postcolonialism, we tend to follow about a year or two behind Europe and Americas when it comes to noticeable and wide-reaching design trends. In this article we forecast and explain nine key trends in South African interior design in 2020 and 2021.
Gone are the days of clinical white walls and boring brown cabinetry. Colour blocking embraces the entire colour wheel in all of its magnificent hues and levels of saturation. Colour blocking challenges our design minds to create combinations, sometimes of five or more tones, which work together. It’s a difficult trend to get right, but once perfected can add incredible interest and energy to a room. Whether it’s separating a wall into geometric blocks or more organic shapes, igniting cabinetry with fierce pops of cerulean or midnight green, or reupholstering a nude couch in vibrant velvet yellow, colour blocking is a trend we love, and will definitely be seeing more of in the latter half of 2020/2021.
This trend also works particularly well in the South African landscape, where traditional thatched huts were and still are painted in vibrant colour blocks of blue, red, yellow, white and black. While trends may be dictated by an international agenda, the key is to find ways of adapting them to our own unique cultural landscape.
Geometry has always played a key part in design. The mathematical precision of different shapes and forms has allowed designers and architects to create ‘perfect’ structures which satisfy our brains’ craving for symmetry and provide practical, yet beautiful, solutions for complex design challenges. 2020/2021 is going to see a rise of geometry once more.
Internally, geometric forms are appearing in carpeting, tiling and wallpapers to create optical illusions and add a sense of dynamism and movement to otherwise lifeless spaces. One can also use simple, repeated, geometric features like a perfectly round rug placed beneath a round coffee table, or a collection of archway-shaped mirrors or beehive shelving units to create unity and visual cohesion.
Structurally, considering the placement and repetition of angles, curves and lines within the architecture of a building can assist in fostering flow, a feeling of openness and modernity.
Photo: Kris Tamburello
While this trend has been around for a long time it’s particularly relevant to the South African landscape, which abounds with beautiful old furniture pieces which can be so easily elevated with a little design thinking.
The first method mentioned here is refurbishment - this is applicable to pieces which have suffered from the passage of time ... couches whose fabric is wearing through, old chairs and tables stained by age and weathered by the years through which they’ve served us. These objects often carry such huge significance to us that it would be a shame to simply throw them away. The answer? Sand them down, strip the old fabric and re-upholster and paint/varnish them in bright colours and lavish modern fabrics. So many signature pieces in our homes come from these humble beginnings and the clash of vintage forms with modern colours and fabrics is tantalising.
The second method, more suited to heritage pieces which ought to be preserved, is to pair these vintage beauties with modern lighting, wallpaper, curtains and art to create an exciting play between the old and the new.
It’s so interesting to ponder the evolution of luxury design thinking. From the lavish adornment of the Baroque era - during which Versailles and many of Europe’s other spectacular palaces were constructed, to the mid 20th century’s obsession with cantilever ‘space age’ forms, luxury in design has meant vastly different things in different eras. In the 21st century, luxury design is signalled by minimalism.
As more people realise the harmonious effect of minimalist architecture and interiors on their mental and emotional wellbeing, designers and architects alike are conceptualising ways to disguise, hide and minimise the spaces in which we live.
From muted colour tones to clean Scandinavian furniture, built-in cabinetry and hidden appliances and seamless finishes, it costs a lot to appear as if you own nothing these days.
The real key to successfully achieving a luxury minimalist aesthetic is in the choice of materials and furnishings. In a space which appears bare, it’s essential that every surface is well-considered. From hand-made furnishings which perfectly caress the room to high-quality kitchens such as those designed by Balthaup and beautiful, textural wallpapers, floors and paints, luxury minimalism is all in the detail.
Image: Mullin House Design
While Europe has already moved on, SA is still catching up on baby pinks, blues and the sparsely saturated and subtle colours of the pastel range. Pastels add a calming and peaceful element to any space while still adding a pop of colour. They’re perfect for South Africans who tend to be quite conservative with interior design, particularly when colours are concerned. If you’re hoping to stay on the cutting edge of interior trends for the upcoming year, then perhaps pastels aren’t for you. But if you’re aiming to create a neutral and calming space which still has personality, then look no further.
Industrial design has been a massive trend in the last few years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Track lighting and magnetic lighting, truth to materials, rough raw edges, strong bold lines, masculine colours, monochrome and blues, greys and blacks dominate the industrial stage. Industrial design is striking, raw and inherently practical, allowing for easy maintenance and adjustment.
Industrial elements are also naturally hard-wearing and easier to maintain in a harsh South African climate where most people don’t want the aggravation of having to constantly repaint, reupholster and re-do almost all interior and exterior finishings every few years. As a culture we view interior design as a little bit frivolous, yet many - particularly in wealthy circles - understand the need for design thinking, which leads them to take an industrial approach. On a slightly more bizarre note, we also tend to have a lot of large men in our country, which requires furnishings to be more sturdy and mechanically sound.
Image: Mullin House Design
An appreciation and celebration of the natural world through design has become massive in the past few years, and scientific research has proved that regular exposure to nature can improve almost every aspect of our lives - from our mental health to our physical wellness and even productivity.
As our global climate crisis continues to accelerate and documentaries such as Planet Earth and Our Planet emphasise the importance of ecological consideration and preservation, this thinking is quickly spreading into design and architecture. This has led to an increased use in interiors of renewable, eco-elements such as sustainable woods, bamboo, organic materials and more.
South Africans are particularly proud of our natural environments, and so we should be. The fynbos microbiome endemic to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape is as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and equally beautiful. Our country spans snow-capped peaks, rocky deserts and lush rainforests, and endless stretches of ocean provide a constant visual feast.
All of these factors combined mean that ‘bringing the outside in’ is absolutely HUGE right now, and manifests itself in natural pallets, a stunning variety of textures and utilising natural light in inventive and new ways to banish all artificiality from our interior spaces.
An obsession globally, including South Africa, is the indoor plant. As people are increasingly separated from the natural environments we have evolved to exist in, many are attempting to restore this lost connection by integrating botanicals into their homes.
Indoor plants boast a myriad benefits including elevation of mood, purification of air and reduction of noise … and they’re beautiful to look at. There’s also something so therapeutic about caring for a plant - it fosters a nurturing presence within us which can be further applied to ourselves and those around us.
There are many ways to integrate indoor plants into your space. They range from the classic Monstera in the corner (elegantly displayed in a ceramic pot of course), to living walls of tropical tree-growers, epiphytes which need only air and atriums of geometric sculptural cacti and aloes which can emphasise minimalist lines and add a natural dynamism to the space.
Some of our clients have even requested that entire dead trees be installed in their homes, and although this may be unattainable for most, the result can be awe-inspiring.
TOP TIP: If you’re looking to install a living wall at your property, please consult an expert before doing so and regularly maintain your irrigation pump post-installation. We’ve seen far too many dead walls of soil, and it would be a pity for yours to go the same way.
Image: Mullin House Design
In opposition to the colour blocking trend, nude takes the contrary approach. While many believe that nude = beige, we take a slightly different approach. For us, nude means toned down, and while most colours in a nude scheme will be close to white, or within the brown spectrum, it’s possible to introduce subtle pinks, blues, greens and other tones in a nude scheme ... and in fact, we encourage it.
While many South Africans may consider their existing homes to fit neatly within the ‘nude’ trend, we tend to disagree. A uni-tone room with light yellow walls, brown couches and wooden furnishings is not nude, it’s boring.
Just as colour blocking takes some experimentation, nude is in fact an incredibly difficult colour scheme to get right. Whereas other schemes lend themselves to obvious complementary and clashing colour choices, nude requires a far more subtle approach. If we had to list the sheer number of ‘whites’ we have on our books you would be shocked: white is NOT white.
When approaching a nude scheme one must consider undertones, overtones, undercurrents, cappuccinos, seashells, taupes, ivories and ghostly whites. One must then consider how each of these elements will interact with one another and what the overall effect will be.
However, when done right the nude scheme can be absolutely stunning - appearing both understated and exceptionally luxurious and inviting.
It’s also a scheme particularly well suited to the South African landscape, embracing our safari culture and vast desert landscapes.
Image Credit: atap.co
While trends can provide an amazing starting block from which to find design inspiration, ultimately they should be just that: a point where you begin to discover and express your own design style.
We all have different life experiences and lifestyle needs and these should show through, and be catered for, in our homes.
If you feel you need some help along the journey, we’re always happy to help.
About Us: Mullin House is a luxury interior design, bespoke furniture and custom curtain house with our headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, and production facilities all over the world. We cater to clients on all seven continents and believe in working to assist people find their own unique design legacy.
1. Colour blocking.
2. Geometric shapes and lines.
3. Refurbishment/Vintage & modern play.
4. Luxury minimalism.
6. Industrial design.
7. Bringing the outside in.
8. Indoor plants.
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