Entertaining in a Small Space? Create a Moroccan-Style Dinning Room
When thinking of Moroccan design, it is easy to drift into thoughts of saturated color, exotic accents, and warm breezes. But don’t overlook the practical use of space that is a hallmark of Moroccan design. I’ve hosted successful dinner parties for a dozen people in a 650 square foot apartment by serving dinner Moroccan style.
A Moroccan salon is a traditional greeting room lined with sofas. The walls are often decorated with zillij tiles and the ceiling made of plaster etched with intricate designs. In practice, this room is like an American dining room; formal and kept out of daily use. But when it is used, the Moroccan salon is magnificent in its ability to serve multiple functions. While Americans may retire to the TV room after Thanksgiving dinner to nod off after a heavy meal, Moroccans are free to collapse in style in the very same spot where they consumed their feast. The sofa perimeter serves as a daybed, dining chair, and couch. The round table functions both as a dinning table and a coffee table. More tables are added to accommodate guests as needed and removed once used.
In Moroccan dinning, there is no head of the table or separate seating and place settings. The room is designed for communal gatherings and meals are served and eating from one large plate. It’s a dream for hostess when it comes to cleaning up, particularly if you don’t have a lot of dishware for serving individual plates. But, if your guests are squeamish about sharing, you can always offer individual plates, as foreigners in Morocco are usually offered.
Dining rooms make easy conversions to Moroccan salons because they are usually square with walls on at least two sides. Start by lining the perimeter of the room with custom benches. Once you have the bench bases in place, top them with custom foam cushions covered them in fabric of your choice, be it plain canvas or something more ornate. Use standard size bed pillows covered in matching or complimentary fabric to line the wall and form a back to the bench.
If you are not a do-it-yourselfer or cannot afford a custom carpenter to build the benches for you, you can use a day bed, which I did. I ordered mine online from West Elm. You can buy or make futon covers. Or, if you’re lucky enough to go to Morocco, you can order covers made according to your specifications. Mine were a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law. However, daybeds are deeper than traditional seating, so you will need to add extra pillows for the back.
If you do build your own benches, consider ordering carved wood plaques from a Moroccan artisan, which you can use to finish off your bench base, giving the final product an authentic feel. Or, you can cover the base with some batting and upholstery with fabric that matches or compliments the cushion covers.
I like to keep the base wood as it gives me more flexibility in terms of changing the fabric covers. They are easily removed, washed, and replaced. Think of them as fitted sheets. You can change the fabric of the sofa, and the look of the room, on a whim. No need for re-upholstery!
Once your sofa benches are in place, add a round table and a few poufs or ottomans for additional seating around the table. You now have a room with more capacity than a traditional dinning room and one that can serve many purposes. Have dinner, drinks, coffee or tea, play chess, take a nap, or just talk. Dinner guests never have their comfort shifted during the transition from dinner to desert to drinks. In fact, that is the danger of the Moroccan salon: your guests may never leave.