The Newly Reopened Africa Centre Celebrates the Continent’s Culture (and Seriously Chic Room Dividers)
We have a newfound appreciation for indigo.
Published Aug 9, 2022 2:15 PM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
The bar on the main level of the Africa Centre in London’s Southwark neighborhood sums up Tola Ojuolape’s vision for the space: tactility. The structure is topped with copper, the base wrapped in terracotta relief tiles. “This idea of creating things directly with your hands through metalwork or beading or woven materials unifies what I’ve seen across the continent,” says the interior designer, who collaborated with architecture firm Freehaus, structural engineers Price & Myers, art curator Alexia Walker, and consulting agency Mam’gobozi Design Factory to bring the newly reopened space to life.
The reimagining of the once dilapidated 1960s building took 16 months and encompassed a restaurant and café, an exhibition space, and a business center—places to serve the charity’s mission to create and promote authentic African cultural experiences. Ojuolape leaned on her travels to Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Morocco, and more to infuse the space with an essence of the continent, rather than leaning into a specific place. “It was important for me to be able to create moments that people would physically touch and could almost travel in an instant,” she says. “If I had done the back bar wall in tile instead, it would look beautiful, but you would never fully be able to experience it.” Ahead, Ojuolape reveals four other ways she swathed the space in texture.
Let the Walls Sing, Not Just Talk
The walls and parts of the ceiling are covered in a clay plaster product that’s naturally pigmented, meaning the designer was able to get superprecise with the two hues: a salmon pink color, reminiscent of the Namibian desert and the sands in Senegal and Nigeria, and the perfect shade of indigo, a nod to West African textiles. (Ojuolape spent a whole day with the Clay Works team discussing what indigo truly looks like in order to nail the tone.) At the top of the stairwell, the dark treatment serves as background for a restored mural from the former Africa Centre space in Covent Garden. “We’re building on this narrative of a home away from home,” explains Ojuolape. “We wanted to create this loungelike feel, and a darker color can do that.”
Go Graphic With Basic Construction Materials
Ojuolape loosely translated zigzag patterns commonly found in the form of Ghanaian kente cloth and Ndebele designs to half-wall partitions made up of sunbreakers (or breeze blocks). The industrial bricks are the first thing you see when you walk into the ground-floor restaurant and act as barriers between the dining benches, which are freestanding from the bricks (the upholstered backs are affixed to the seat with a wood frame).
Use Industrial Drapery to Create Privacy
A larger divider was necessary to separate the entry zone from the nearby restaurant-slash-seating area—a place where smaller private meetings and talks can take place. Ojuolape took fabric off the list of possibilities right away: The spot is too close to the kitchen, and a textile would absorb the smell of food. Instead she opted for a curtain of metal chains affixed to a track so it can be pushed aside or extended when needed.
Trickle Your Lighting Display
By tapering the extra-large pendant lights in the stairwell, Ojuolape wanted to draw guests’ eyes (and ultimately get them moving) to the second floor. “The fact that it’s beadwork immediately alludes to the tactile handmade material from the continent,” she says. Elsewhere, she staggered the cord lengths to create a sense of rhythm in the space, resulting in cozy corners where guests can shoot off a few emails, network with fellow creatives, or savor a drink from the bar.