Whether it is the symmetrical designs of Morocco, the vibrant colours of India or the warm tones of Africa, traditional fabric continually stands out against contemporary designs.
The love for African touch designs as is currently the wave with a number of Kenyans embracing kitenge designs for attires and ladies going all natural with hairstyles, has just gone a notch higher with office furniture.
The allure has caught up with renowned luxury furniture maker in Nairobi, Panesar Circa, which has been in existence since 1940s. When you visit their showroom along Mombasa Road, the bold and vibrant African fabric colours on bespoke furniture pieces cannot go unnoticed.
“For the past one and a half years we have embraced African themed fabric to give meaning to the made in Kenya by Kenyans tagline – since that is what we do,” says Vir Panesar, a third generation of the Panesar family and the chief operating officer and executive director.
Their line of office conference tables and boardroom seats include the signature Entebbe chairs—designed in the shape of a typical office chair but with added comfort in the upholstery and curved back.
“The African-themed fabric is perfect for companies and businesses looking to make a proud African statement with beautifully designed crossed legs at the back and handcrafted arms,” says Vir.
The fact that all their furniture is handmade, gives their craft an edge over other available imported designs.
Vir, however, talks of the slow reception of boardroom seats with an African touch in the Kenyan market as many still hang on to the “simple European designs”.
“Kenyans are not risk-taking enough in office spaces,” he says.
“Why can’t we have funky offices with our own tribal designs? We need people to know that we don’t have to be the same with everyone else.”
A number of Kenyans are blending tribal designs in their homes, but not many offices have them.
At least four Nairobi-based corporate offices have ordered and bought sets of boardroom furniture with stripes of African fabric— giving them a push to make designs to attract even more clients who come through referrals.
Panesar Kenya currently has a team of four interior designers who come up with intricate designs for the African touch furniture.
They source African fabric from Netherlands-based Vlisco Fashion, a Dutch fabric designer and manufacturer.
“The local manufacturers of African fabric (in East Africa) create very beautiful designs but… they don’t last long. Their manufacturing quality is somehow below par thus we outsource,’’ says Vir, who adds that they tend to think of themselves as the Rolls Royce or Bentley makers when it comes to luxury furniture.
They use eight different species of hardwood including Kenyan palm. Because of the strict anti-logging rules in the country, Vir says they import wood from Dubai (initial source being Russia), DRC, Uganda, South Sudan and Canada.
These ranges from; mahogany, mvuli, oak, teak and Russian walnut wood.
Admiring a finished design and creating one is not an easy process though, he adds.
“I recall a very detail-specific client who insisted that he needed Canadian wood for his seat and nothing short of that.’’
“It took us a month to procure wood from Canada, another month to dry-clean the wood another two months to dry and one month for climatising it before we could do anything on it. After the final product was done, we had one very happy and satisfied client —we don’t take that for granted.”