By Andrea Tapper
It’s simply called ‘The Green Room” and located at Slipway in Dar es Salaam. But the creative deco heaven is nothing short of an upmarket “Mini-IKEA” in Africa.
Founder and owner Elmarie van Heerden, a native South African, would probably strongly reject that definition. And truly, her fine and trendy furniture repertoire is neither a mass production, nor of questionable material but handmade ecological design. And yet she does have one immensely valuable trait in common with the Swedish homeware giant: Hers is a ready-to-order furniture collection, on display and in an online catalogue.
Everything can be adapted, customised and mix-and-matched and yet there is a solid, fixed-priced range to choose, order and buy from – an invaluable asset for anybody in Africa wanting to furnish a new home or refurbish an old one. No more endless talking to the fundi-craftsman explaining how you want your dream sofa to look like, tiresome exchanges of photos to copy from – often with questionable results.
Van Heerden knows from experience what home decorators lack and need here: “When I first came to Tanzania eleven years ago for a refurbishing project, I could not find anything”, she recalls with a smile, “that’s how the Green Room and workshop started.” Meanwhile, she employs a permanent staff of nine carpenters; local women do fantastic weaving jobs for chairs, headboards and wardrobes – the latest must-have in global design, called uzi in Swahili. Her boutique has matured into an African lifestyle brand including products by more than 40 East African artists and craftspeople.
Enter into Elmarie van Heerden’s realm one finds great inspiration. Her flagship store in Dar – others are located in lodges and hotels from Pemba to Selous – has a maritime-African flair, a perfect blend of beach, bush and town. Customers have the choice of three collections. The Pemba Collection is made from solid woods with African flavour and “maximum comfort in mind”, as the designer puts it. Her Contemporary Collection has a more edgy feel using industrial metal and reclaimed wood. The Classic Collection, available in white painted wood, is slightly traditional. Each collection comes with a range of king, queen size and twin beds, dining tables and chairs, sofas, dressers and shelves - in short, the complete basic furnishng for an apartment or house.
A young, fashionable entrepreneur, Elmarie van Heerden is actually a professional garden designer, her love of plants– also available at The Green Room – and her belief in nature inspired designs gave the shop its name. “All our wood is locally sourced, supporting sustainably grown wood mills and salvaged finds”, she says. Prices start at around $800 for a double bed, $700 for a large dining table. Another design highlight is her unique and bespoke furniture, for instance a rustic yet dainty home office desk from salvaged wood. “Live edge furniture” she calls her one-of-a-kind dining and coffee tables made of mango wood with metal legs.