African express: an art collector’s colourful home

Isatu Funna sees me eyeing up the beaded West African throne in the double living room of her north London home and I hesitate. The upright armchair is not only decorated with colourful beads, it also looks backbreakingly uncomfortable.

“Try it!” she laughs. “You’ll be surprised.”

Indeed I am, and so I remain seated as Isatu explains that it was “an interest in having contemporary African pieces in my home and an inability to find them” that first inspired her to import pieces from her native Sierra Leone in 2015. She now designs fabrics, too, and her pieces and products, including bright geometric cushions, lampshades and ceramics, are sold in Dar Leone, her boutique shop in Islington, north London.

A stool holds its own beside the throne, a pair of carved figures by the late Makonde artist George Lilanga, from Tanzania, peering out from behind. She and her husband Philipp, an angel investor in start-ups, have twin daughters, aged 17. “I think of them when I look at these,” she smiles. “Their faces are so evocative!”

The stool is covered in one of her newest fabrics, Naima the Teals, a mix of blues and gold, it is a daring positioning beside the throne’s purples and reds; if it clashes, then so be it. “I don’t do matchy-matchy,” says Isatu, who moved from Freetown to Maryland, USA, as a young girl. After training as a lawyer, she turned her attention to the collection of contemporary art, first European and now African. Beneath a painting by Israeli artist Yehudit Sasportas, three of Isatu’s cushions brighten the old plum sofa from B&B Italia.

“I’ve rescued a lot of friends’ grey sofas that way,” says Isatu, whose fabric, which is printed in Yorkshire, is inspired by Sierra Leone country cloth, also known as kpokpo. It’s woven in strips on looms and then stitched together to form a whole piece. “It’s a very traditional Sierra Leonean craft. I love the idea of celebrating that.”

The formal double living room is divided by glazed bi-folding doors. One corner houses bespoke walnut shelving, designed by interior architect Ramses Frederickx to house mainly Dutch antique books inherited by Philipp. “It’s a mini formal library in a modern setting,” says Isatu. The couple lived in Berlin for many years, where they began collecting contemporary European art, before moving to London in 2006.

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