It’s the dead of winter here in North America and oh how I’m missing a warmer climate. Lucky me I get to jump on a plane to Africa shortly. But for today, in minus 20C weather, won’t you join me on a trip to Mali? We’ll travel by blog post. Mali is one of my very favourite countries. Warm and gracious people where ever you turn, incredible food and it’s where I go for textile inspiration. Malians are known internationally for their incredible textiles. Here’s a peak in a stall at a textile market. I can’t get enough of the bright, bold designs. All the textiles are waxed, woven and dyed by hand. Some of the patterns you see are created by tying rice grains just so into the fabric before dyeing to create the remarkable patterns and symbols quintessential to Malian textiles. In some cases these patterns are a family emblem of sorts, passed down through generations. Symbols for moral principles and historical references are often included in cloths. Indeed, textile production is a centuries’ old tradition in Mali with strong cultural roots. I chose these gorgeous batik prints and couldn’t wait to take them home and turn them into these: I used these bold Batik prints to make fabulous covers for down-filled pillows, sure to liven up your seated areas. Malian artisans create their cottons and other materials using a foot powered loom. It’s mesmerizing to watch them weave with such speed and deft skill. Beyond fabrics, I’ve seen artisans produce amazing woven furniture and accessories. Beading is another long held artisan tradition in Mali. Created from clay, wood, cast away metals, beads are formed and sculpted by hand. I love the chunky oversize beads that are also intricately etched and engraved. Such fine detail married with an organic feel. I couldn’t help but choose a few special pieces for my own collection when visiting a local bead stall. This necklace below is created from beads woven from recycled metal wire. I love its shimmer. Even the tiniest Malians are adorned with beads. How darling is this perfect little hand! I so look forward to my trips to Mali. Such a rich culture and beautiful people making beautiful things. I take great pride in the way I do business on these buying trips. I love interacting directly with the artists and artisans who make these stunning pieces, I never go through middlemen. In the end the transactions are happy ones for everyone and I feel it when I’m so warmly welcomed back on my return. And I love being able to share the skill, cultural voice and individual stories through the pieces I choose with you here at home.
Want to see a miraculous make-over? Denise was recently in South Africa where she redid a lodge for a client. Above are a few of the before pics. It’s a grand space with loads of potential. With such an open space and its massive peaked ceiling, it can be difficult to define spaces by use and also achieve the correct sense of proportion. Those were two of the design dilemmas to tackle. Stacking two large headdresses above the fireplace and the use of oversize art works beautifully with the scale of the space. The extra large soft seating is made warm and inviting with the throw pillows done in great textiles, while the big custom-sized coffee table helps cozy up the space. One of the primary design goals for this lodge was to pay homage to the incredible natural environment, capturing especially the textures and the wildlife. Between hide-clad ottomans, porcupine quill accessories, baskets woven from grasses, the gorgeous zebra artwork, the scenery is well represented. The use of organic textures adds a layer of sensory interest to the living space. And when pieces can evoke feeling from multiple senses they become that much more powerful. There is hardly a division between inside and out at this lodge, which is another reason for the need to echo the natural environment in the indoor space. For a better sense of this, take a look at the wandering elephants, just off the outdoor dining area. Quite incredible to hang out in such proximity with these majestic creatures! Another priority for the space was to highlight the incredible work of local artists and artisans and the unique cultural voice and dynamism of South Africa. This last layer, the decorative layer, of accessories might just be the most important. This is what defines a space as yours. Accessories reflect your taste, individuality, travels, roots and in the end are what makes a house a home. You’ll see here many pieces in this lodge that Denise brings back for the North American market. The royal blue Juju headdresses, the beaded hand-carved Namji dolls, currency artifacts, even the hand-woven chairs. All of these are available at Snob so that you too can bring the incredible voice of Africa into your home.
Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a Bamileke stool. The craftsmanship that goes into carving these from a continuous piece of astounding. The first thrown into the river to be softened up for carving. During the carving process, if there’s a break in the wood the entire piece is abandoned as it’s viewed as a break in the continuity of life – a bad omen. who is These are done entirely by hand from hardwoods and come in a variety of sizes and patterns. This one pictured is based on a centuries old design. Known as Bamileke stools, sometimes referred to as bird’s nests or donuts, they were traditionally used only for special ceremonial seating by the Bamileke Tribe of Cameroon. The tribe’s woodworkers would build these for auspicious occasions, with the biggest and best reserved strictly for the King’s use. The intricate woven patterns carved into the wood represent the web of the earth spider, a symbol of wisdom. The Bamileke people believe the web of the earth spider is also a link between this world and that of our ancestors; carving the web into these pieces allows departed loved ones to be connected to these ceremonies in spirit. Bamileke stools are an iconic piece of African furniture, one that’s entered the international design consciousness. These stools are now found in both modern homes and their outdoor spaces across the world, typically used as side tables and occasional seating. It’s easy to see the appeal of Bamileke tables: the webbed pattern creates a sense of lightness to the pieces not often found in hardwood furniture; the unique lines make them modern and architecturally eye-catching, while the wood construction lends an organic feel to the pieces. The Bamileke stools really are as versatile as they are fabulous!
Here’s a peak at the pieces raw in the workshop in Cameroon. It’s amazing to wander around the workshop and see how these beauties are created.
Once they’ve been stained and lacquered these pieces become some of the striking Bamileke stools/tables you find here at Snob. You can find more of our African Stools here!
We love home accessories at Snob. And I especially love that our fine pieces are imbued with such culture, humour, and skill. Many are one-of-a-kind and all are handcrafted. It’s a small pleasure in life to show off a special object in your home, even more so if that piece comes with an exciting story.
So here’s a little peak behind the scenes, a little insight into how I source the objets d’arts you can find through Snob. For many of the pieces we carry, I have cultivated direct relationships with the artist, designer or artisan and our relationships are long lasting ones. But sometimes I come across pieces in unexpected ways.
This awful image of me – fresh off a 23-hour flight – was snapped moments after I screeched for my driver to turn the car around. As we were travelling down the road, out the window I’d glimpsed absolutely gorgeous windmills. Though I was on my way to a spa to work the kink out of my neck, we just had to stop so I could see these beauties up close and chat with their sculptors. I ended up buying the entire collection on the spot. The transaction was a happy one and it meant that the gents could end their work day early. But I did have to fight my driver, promising the pieces I’d just bought wouldn’t rip his upholstery or worse yet, poke him en route.
It’s transactions like these that add such interest to our offerings and give you a story to share with guests in your home. Purchases like this one often only happen once because, as hard as I try to source more, often I can’t find the artisan.
As for these windmills, I can guarantee they are one-of-a-kind pieces. Once back at home base, I had them spray painted in golds and silvers. And look at them now: a perfect piece on a bookshelf or a desk! A lovely home accessory with an exciting travel story!
This glorious image is a photo of a tribal elder in full ceremonial garb including a feather headdress, also known as a Juju hat. Worn by the tribe’s royalty, as well as the royal dancers, these fabulous hats are striking with their bold colour and texture. For some celebrations, the top of the headdress would be filled with small candies and trinkets, which would fall to the ground to the children’s delight as the wearer danced about. The feather headdress has become popular in interiors around the world, especially as vibrant wall art. It’s easy to see why: they add instant drama, elevating a space. They are striking, yet soft and have an organic beauty. But you should be aware that not all headdresses are created equal . I hand select each of our headdresses for Snob, looking for the fullest plumes made with the most beautiful feathers. One of the most important features of a headdress comes down to how it’s weaved together. It’s a painstaking process to do it right, as the weave at the back needs to be very tight and then each feather needs to be sewn into the raffia base. Without the taught weave, the headdress simply won’t open properly. Your second concern when shopping for a headdress is in determining that it’s been properly fumigated. We triple fumigate all our headdresses and guarantee that they are sold free of all insects. Some retailers suggest in their care instructions that you should place your headdress in the freezer for a time before displaying it in your home. Please realize this advice is given only because the headdress may be full of insect eggs. So while there are many new retailer of headdresses in the marketplace, given that these have entered the design consciousness, they aren’t all created equal. Know the signs of quality when you shop. Here I am with my Fabulous Feather Guys in their workshop in Cameroon. I make the trek multiple times per year to hand pick my stock. These guys make headdresses just for Snob and they are truly remarkable pieces!