Types of Traditional African Furniture – Tables and Desks Guide

African furniture is a beautiful, functional, and artistic expression of the continent’s rich cultural heritage. Traditional African furniture, in particular, has become increasingly popular worldwide as people seek to incorporate cultural elements into modern home interiors. Tables and desks, in particular, are some of the most sought-after pieces of traditional African furniture.

In this guide, we will explore the types, styles, materials, and cultural influences that shape traditional African tables and desks. We will also provide tips on how to incorporate these pieces into modern home interiors and maintain them for optimal longevity. Join us on a fascinating journey through the world of African furniture!

Key Takeaways:

  • Traditional African furniture, especially tables and desks, is an important cultural heritage that reflects the continent’s diverse history and traditions.
  • African tables and desks come in various materials, styles, and types, each with its unique design and functionality.
  • Cultural influences, regional variations, and sustainable practices all play a significant role in shaping traditional African furniture.
  • With proper care and maintenance, traditional African tables and desks can last for generations and make a beautiful addition to any home interior.

Cultural Influences on Traditional African Furniture

Traditional African furniture is deeply rooted in cultural heritage and history. The design and materials used in African furniture are heavily influenced by various cultural factors, including regional customs, tribal traditions, and historical events.

West African furniture often features intricate carvings and bold geometric patterns, reflecting the region’s rich history of textiles and metalworking. East African furniture is characterized by its use of wooden poles and animal skins, inspired by the Maasai people’s nomadic lifestyle. Southern African furniture incorporates woven grass and reeds, reflecting the region’s abundant natural resources. Central African furniture is often made from tropical woods and features curving lines and elaborate details, reflecting the influence of colonialism and European aesthetic.

The materials used in traditional African furniture also vary based on cultural influences. Wood, bamboo, rattan, and leather are common materials found in African tables and desks. These materials are often sustainably sourced and locally available, reflecting the importance of environmental responsibility in African culture.

Traditional African Table Designs

Tables are an essential part of African furniture, serving as a central gathering place for the family in many African cultures. Traditional African tables are designed to be functional, durable, and often have unique aesthetic elements that reflect the region’s customs and traditions. Here are some of the most common types of traditional African tables:

Drum Tables

Drum tables are a popular style of traditional African tables, often used in West and Central Africa. They are designed to resemble a drum, with a curved top and a cylindrical base. The drum table is used as both a decorative item and a functional table. The base of the table can be hollowed out, allowing for storage space inside.

Coffee Tables

Coffee tables are another popular style of traditional African tables. They are often low to the ground, with a wide, flat surface for placing drinks and other items. These tables are commonly used for entertaining guests and serving tea or coffee. They typically have intricate carvings or designs on the surface or legs, reflecting the region’s artistic traditions.

Dining Tables

Dining tables are a staple in African households, serving as a place to share meals with family and friends. Traditional African dining tables are often long and rectangular, providing ample room for large gatherings. They are typically made from sturdy wood, with intricate carvings or designs on the legs or surface.

Folding Tables

Folding tables are a versatile style of traditional African tables, commonly used for outdoor events or picnics. These tables are designed to be easily transported, with legs that fold up for storage. They are typically made from lightweight materials such as bamboo or rattan, making them easy to carry.

Traditional African Desk Designs

African desks are revered for their unique designs and functionality. They are often made with durable materials and feature intricate carvings that showcase the skilled craftsmanship of African artisans. Throughout history, African desks were used for various purposes, ranging from writing letters to conducting business transactions.

In traditional African culture, desks held a significant role in education and spiritual practice. They were used to record important cultural events and to preserve ancient wisdom. African desks were also believed to hold spiritual significance, serving as a connection between the physical world and the spiritual realm.

Today, African desks have evolved in design to cater to modern needs while still preserving their cultural essence. Contemporary African desks are designed with ample storage space and useful features, such as built-in charging ports and adjustable work surfaces.

Writing Desks

One of the most common types of African desks is the writing desk. This style features a simple yet elegant design, often made with hardwood and featuring hand-carved decorations. Writing desks typically have a flat surface and a few drawers for storing writing materials. They are ideal for use in home offices, studies, and libraries.

Carved Workstations

Carved workstations are a significant part of traditional African design. They are designed with intricate carvings and usually made with wood or a combination of natural materials. These desks often have multiple compartments for storage and a spacious work area for conducting business or studying. They are ideal for those seeking a more rustic and authentic African aesthetic in their home or office.

Study Desks

Study desks come in a variety of styles and are designed to meet the needs of modern students. They feature ample storage space for books and personal belongings, and are often equipped with adjustable work surfaces to accommodate different types of work. These desks often incorporate natural materials, such as bamboo or recycled wood, to ensure they are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

In conclusion, the diverse range of traditional African desks showcases the rich cultural heritage and skilled craftsmanship of African artisans. From writing desks to study desks, these pieces of furniture have evolved over time to meet the needs of modern individuals while still preserving their cultural essence.

Materials Used in Traditional African Furniture

Traditional African furniture, particularly tables and desks, are crafted from an array of natural resources found throughout the African continent. The choice of materials is influenced by the region’s cultural heritage, availability, and the desired functionality of the furniture.

The following are some of the commonly used materials in African furniture design:

Material Overview
Wood Wood is the most common material used for African furniture due to its durability and versatility. African artisans use a variety of woods such as teak, mahogany, ebony, and acacia, depending on the region and availability.
Bamboo Bamboo is a popular material for furniture in West Africa. It is lightweight, sustainable, and has a unique texture that adds a distinct aesthetic to African furniture design.
Rattan Rattan is a sturdy material derived from palms found in East Africa. It is often woven into intricate designs, adding a touch of elegance to African furniture pieces.
Leather Leather is commonly used for African furniture upholstery and detailing. It is durable, adds texture, and offers a comfortable seating experience for African furniture pieces such as chairs and couches.

Each material brings its own unique characteristics and beauty to the furniture. African artisans carefully select and combine these materials to create furniture that is both functional and visually stunning.

It is worth noting that sustainable and responsible use of these resources is becoming increasingly important to preserve the environment and the cultural heritage of African furniture. By supporting sustainable African furniture production, we can ensure the longevity and availability of these prized pieces for future generations.

African Furniture Styles and Regional Variations

Traditional African furniture boasts a wide array of styles, reflecting the diverse cultural heritage of the continent. Each region of Africa has its unique furniture design, influenced by local customs and resources.

West African furniture is known for its use of dark woods such as mahogany and rosewood, as well as intricate carving designs. Furniture from this region commonly features geometric or animal motifs, reflecting the rich mythology of the area.

East African furniture emphasizes simplicity and functionality, with an emphasis on lighter woods like bamboo and teak. The furniture typically features clean lines and minimalist designs, but with a focus on durability and practicality.

Southern African furniture incorporates a variety of materials, such as rattan, leather, and colorful textiles. A prominent feature in this furniture style is the use of woven patterns, adding texture and vibrancy to the pieces.

Central African furniture is characterized by its use of natural resources like cane and bamboo. It often features abstract designs and shapes that reflect the unique artistic traditions of the region, such as the Senufo stool from Cote d’Ivoire.


Exploring the various styles and regional variations of traditional African furniture highlights the rich cultural heritage and diversity represented on the continent. Incorporating these styles into modern homes not only adds a unique aesthetic, but also preserves the traditional craftsmanship and supports local artisans.

Incorporating Traditional African Furniture in Modern Interiors

The beauty and cultural significance of traditional African tables and desks make them a unique addition to modern home interiors. Incorporating these furniture pieces into your home décor not only adds flair and character but also supports local artisans and businesses. Here are some tips on how to blend traditional African furniture seamlessly into your modern home design:

  • Pair with neutral colors: Traditional African furniture pieces tend to have bold patterns and textures. To create a harmonious blend with modern décor, pair them with neutral colors such as beige, white or grey.
  • Use as statement pieces: African tables and desks can be the centerpiece of a room. You can use them as a statement piece and style around them with other home décor items.
  • Combine with contemporary styles: Mix and match traditional African furniture with contemporary styles to create a fusion of cultural heritage and modern design. Use contrasting textures and patterns to create interest.
  • Highlight the craftsmanship: Traditional African furniture is often handmade, showcasing the skill and creativity of local artisans. Make sure to highlight this aspect by placing the furniture in a well-lit area or using it as a focal point in the room.

By following these tips, you can successfully integrate traditional African furniture into your modern home décor, achieving a beautiful and unique design.

Maintenance and Care of Traditional African Furniture

Traditional African furniture, specifically tables and desks, are prized possessions that require proper maintenance and care to ensure their longevity. Here are some guidelines to help you keep your African furniture looking beautiful and functional:

Cleaning Methods

To clean your traditional African tables and desks, use a soft, dry cloth to remove dust and debris. Avoid using water or any harsh cleaning agents, as this can damage the furniture’s natural materials. For tougher stains or dirt, use a damp cloth and mild soap, then wipe dry immediately.

Protecting the Furniture

Protect your traditional African furniture from environmental factors such as direct sunlight and humidity. Exposure to sunlight can cause fading and cracking of the furniture’s natural materials, while moisture can lead to warping and mildew growth. Keep your furniture in a cool, dry place away from windows and heaters, and consider using a dehumidifier if necessary.

Preserving the Natural Beauty and Integrity of Materials

To preserve the natural beauty and integrity of the materials used in your traditional African furniture, avoid using chemicals or oils that can alter the wood or leather’s color or texture. Instead, apply a natural beeswax or oil-based furniture polish sparingly, using a soft cloth to buff and shine the surface. Do this once or twice a year to maintain the furniture’s natural glow.

Common Issues and Solutions

Cracking: Natural wood may crack over time due to exposure to extreme temperatures or humidity changes. To prevent further damage, apply wood glue to the damaged area and clamp the wood together until it dries.

Fading: Direct sunlight can cause furniture materials like leather and wood to fade. To restore the color, use a leather conditioner or natural wood polish to bring back the furniture’s original hue.

Pests: Insects like termites and beetles can cause serious damage to traditional African furniture. To prevent infestations, regularly inspect your furniture and use natural insect repellents like cedar or neem oil to deter pests.

By following these tips and guidelines, you can ensure that your traditional African tables and desks stay beautiful and functional for years to come.

Traditional African Furniture and Sustainability

The creation of traditional African furniture, specifically tables and desks, employs eco-friendly practices that prioritize sustainability. The use of renewable materials and traditional techniques not only helps protect the environment, but also preserves the cultural heritage behind African furniture.

One example of sustainable materials used in African furniture is bamboo. This fast-growing plant is easily replenished, making it a popular choice for furniture makers. Additionally, many traditional African furniture pieces are made using reclaimed wood, which is not only sustainable but also adds a unique character to the furniture.

Traditional African techniques also contribute to sustainable furniture production. Furniture makers often use hand tools and techniques passed down through generations, reducing the carbon footprint of the production process. The use of natural finishes, such as beeswax, further enhances the environmentally-friendly aspect of traditional African furniture.

Supporting sustainable African furniture production is crucial in protecting the environment and promoting responsible consumer choices. By choosing to purchase traditional African furniture, consumers contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage while also supporting sustainable practices.

The Significance of Traditional African Furniture in Cultural Heritage

The rich cultural heritage of traditional African furniture, specifically tables and desks, cannot be overstated. These pieces serve as symbols of identity, tradition, and community, and have played an integral role in African history and culture for centuries.

Through their unique designs and craftsmanship, traditional African tables and desks have been used to express cultural values, beliefs, and social status. They have also been utilized in storytelling, rituals, and the passing down of generational wisdom, making them essential to the preservation of African heritage.

Moreover, traditional African furniture has continued to evolve and adapt to modern times while remaining true to its cultural roots. The use of eco-friendly and sustainable materials, as well as the support of local artisans and businesses, has become increasingly important in ensuring the longevity and preservation of these prized pieces.

Incorporating traditional African tables and desks into modern home interiors not only adds a unique and visually appealing element to the space but also serves as a meaningful connection to African cultural heritage.

As such, the significance of traditional African furniture in cultural heritage cannot be overstated. It represents not only the beauty and artistry of African design but also the resilience, adaptability, and unity of African communities over time.


Traditional African furniture, particularly tables and desks, hold significant cultural and historical value. From their unique designs and materials to the cultural influences that shape them, these pieces serve as symbols of identity, tradition, and community.

Incorporating traditional African furniture into modern interiors has become a growing trend, and individuals who choose to do so contribute to the preservation of African cultural heritage. It is important to support local artisans and businesses that continue to use sustainable techniques and materials in the creation of these furniture pieces.

To ensure the longevity of these prized pieces, proper maintenance and care are essential. Understanding the materials and employing eco-friendly practices can help protect the environment and promote responsible consumer choices.

Overall, traditional African furniture represents a rich tapestry of cultural history and heritage. It is essential to appreciate and explore the unique beauty and function of African tables and desks, while also recognizing their importance in preserving the stories and traditions of African communities.


Q: What are the different types of traditional African furniture mentioned in this article?

A: The article focuses on tables and desks.

Q: What cultural influences shape traditional African furniture design and materials?

A: Factors such as regional customs, tribal traditions, and historical events contribute to the unique aesthetics and construction techniques found in African tables and desks.

Q: What are some examples of traditional African table designs?

A: Drum tables, coffee tables, dining tables, and folding tables are some of the traditional African table types discussed in the article.

Q: What are some examples of traditional African desk designs?

A: Writing desks, carved workstations, and study desks are some of the traditional African desk types explored in the article.

Q: What materials are commonly used in traditional African furniture?

A: Natural resources such as wood, bamboo, rattan, and leather are commonly used in traditional African tables and desks.

Q: What are some regional variations in traditional African furniture styles?

A: Traditional African furniture styles vary across different regions, including West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, and Central Africa.

Q: How can traditional African furniture be incorporated into modern home interiors?

A: The article provides insights and tips on blending traditional African tables and desks with contemporary design elements for a harmonious fusion.

Q: How should traditional African furniture be maintained and cared for?

A: The article offers guidelines on cleaning methods, protecting the furniture from environmental factors, and addressing common issues like cracking, fading, and pests.

Q: What is the significance of traditional African furniture in cultural heritage?

A: Traditional African furniture, specifically tables and desks, serves as symbols of identity, tradition, and community, and plays a role in storytelling, rituals, and the passing down of generational wisdom.

Hendrix Morellaz
Hendrix Morellaz

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