Africa influences designs, colors of home furnishings

January 02, 1994|By Ava Van de Water | Ava Van de Water,Cox News Service

Home furnishings designers have always looked to other cultures for exotic inspiration. But thanks to the enthusiasm of clothing designers who have gone crazy for Kente cloth and other African textiles, the ethnic trend has nudged the African look into America's mainstream.

You can buy authentic African accessories at Target, Spiegel and Bloomingdale's; you can find African-inspired towels and sheets at J. C. Penney and Macy's.

Penney's wanted to tap the apparel budgets of African-Americans. But the expansion into bed and bath linens has had broader appeal.

"We were shooting for the ethnic angle, but it appears we're catching that mainstream customer as well," said Art Avila, special segment manager for J. C. Penney's Home & Leisure division.

Developed with the help of Harlem Textile Works, J. C. Penney's "African Origins" products are sold mostly through its Influences catalog (only 170 of its 1,300 stores carry the line).

The American-made collection has been so successful that the holiday edition of this catalog also included dinnerware and table linens. Accessories include Kente cloth pillows, African-inspired fringed throws and quilt wall hangings.

Spiegel's African home collections also evolved from a desire to target the African-American clothing market. Spiegel's products are sold through its E-style catalog -- a venture with Ebony magazine.

Besides clothing, the catalog includes accent pieces such as a doll wall hanging, throws, prints and pillows. As in J. C. Penney's collection, most of the items are African-inspired and made in the United States, although some fabrics are imported from Africa.

Target ranks its African Theme accessories among its best sellers. Debuting about six months ago, many of the products are imported from Kenya and Nigeria.

Among the wide variety of accessories are decorative soapstone plates, boxes and candlesticks, hand-painted with an African motif. There also are wooden picture frames with painted animal prints from Kenya, woven baskets from Nigeria and accent lamps with African-print shades. Current colors center around black, burnt red and cream, but look for lighter colors when the spring collections debut in January.

Jo-Ann Fabrics has a good selection of African fabrics, and specialty shops with authentic African accessories have begun to spring up.

Clothing king Cross Colours -- which discovered the mass appeal of African-inspired apparel a few years ago -- has entered the home front as well. Four African patterns of dinnerware, designed by Carter Runnels Designs, include: "African flag" (red, black and green); "Face 2 Face" (featuring the peace/unity graphic designed by Cross Colours co-owner T. J. Walker with the motto: "We have to work, live, sing, dream and think together"); "Golden Triangle" (symbolizing the primitive, timeless designs of the pyramids); and "Kente" (the colorful woven cloth once worn by African royalty).

There also is a solid group to coordinate, plus matching tiles and trivets, frames, place mats, napkins (dinner and cocktail), runners and quilted coasters. Prices range from about $7 for mugs to about $64 for serving bowls. Most dinner plates are in the $15 to $25 range. They can be found at some Macy's and Neiman-Marcus stores or through the Cross Colours Home Catalog.

While party goods come out for special occasions, African accessories and artifacts need to be eased into an existing decor. Don't throw everything out and jump into the African theme.

"A fad is just that. It's here for a little while and then it's gone," says interior designer Shelley Siegel of Accessible Interiors Network in Fort Lauderdale.

If you have ceramic tile and off-white furniture, you're a perfect candidate for African accessories, sheets and towels, says Ms. Siegel.

Even if your decor is traditional, there's no need to shy away from one or two pieces of African art or even pillows on a sofa.

"Accessorizing is always a good way to go, because it makes things eclectic and it doesn't go overboard," she says.

INFORMATION

* J. C. Penney's Influences catalog: (800) 222-6161

* Spiegel's E-Style catalog: (800) 345-4500

* Carter-Runnels Designs' Cross Colours Home catalog: (213) 890-4730

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