People leave comments across this site asking for contacts who know how to build or craft traditional Moroccan furnishings and interiors. I can’t blame them. Check out the great post and pictures “Four Riads in Five Days.” I wish I knew architects versed in Moroccan design. I wish there were more Moroccan design in America, which is where I’ve been stuck for the last few years.
I feel bad for neglecting this site. Morocco is never far from my mind.
I’ve been doing lots of custom painting, stencils, and lighting at home. I appreciate the peace Moroccan design brings me, even when I’m so far from Moroccan sunlight. There’s no substitue for sunlight.
There’s an empty bank building in Washington, DC, near where I work. There’s a closed Hann’s Shoes story on the street level. I wish, I dream, I see a space inside of it, renovated with a riad’s interior and a fresh produce vendor on the street level shop. We live so much better together, or so do the two cultures inside me.
Moroccan design makes the best use of light and space. The rooms waste nothing. And everything is an extension of the space. No pre-fab. No standard. Custom everything.
I want this bathroom so bad. Where are you, Moroccan design?
The Volubilis Visitor Center was designed to leave a minimal imprint on visitors to the Roman ruins and UNESCO World Heritage site. The new buildings fold themselves into the hills and the ruins take center stage.
The project was completed by Kilo Architecture. I appreciate the intention of clean, considerate, and lovely architecture. If I were in Morocco, I would go to Volubilis to see the new as well as the old.
See the Achitecture Review article for more details on the project.
I never heard of Moorish revival architecture until I saw the Bloomingdale’s home store in Chicago. It is housed in a restored Masonic temple built by architects Huehl and Schmidt in 1912 for the Shriners. More
“This pattern is called ‘The Spider’” our guide said excitedly while gesturing towards a zillige-covered wall. “The Prophet Mohammad was hiding in a cave from his enemies when a spider came and built a web over the entrance. His enemies believed he couldn’t be in the cave because the web was unbroken. This is why it is haram (forbidden) to kill spiders and why this pattern is called named after the spider.”
The Story of the Spider
Gene Turangan was kind enough to send me some photos of his workshop in Indonesia. He makes Moroccan-style mosaic tables and vanities using his own technique. More
Since returning from Morocco to the solid walls of the United States, I’ve been craving pattern. My solid-color walls are staring at me like a blinking cursor on the computer screen. Judging by the pages of the Fall 2008 Pier One catalog, I’m not alone. Could it be that wall paper is making a comeback?
A craving for patterns...
According to an article by Sarah Touahri at Maghrebia.com, earlier this month the Moroccan Secretary of State for Traditional Crafts Anis Birou revealed government plans to open the country’s first higher institute for training in traditional crafts by 2010. Training in handicrafts has traditionally been done through apprenticeship. A formal training institute will help address problems in production and help the handicraft sector meet international demand for Moroccan goods – a need not being met by current supply. The full story is online at full article at maghrebia.com.
My only question is: can they teach me to make stencils like the ones hanging in this wood working shop in Fes?
Color is never shy in Moroccan design. Bold blues, rustic oranges, tropical greens mix with metalic accents. Flavors of vegetables like eggplant and olive, spices such like saffron and cumin, and fruits like the barbarian fig offer further color inspiration.
Moroccan Color Palette
I found myself in a SUV driven by an American who was touring Morocco with his girlfriend from Chezh Republic. I assumed they were married and asked how long. “They aren’t married” my tour guide whispered “that’s why he laughed when you asked the question.”
We talked as we drove towards the Merinid tombs. “Moroccans sure like their walls, don’t they?” the man asked rhetorically. “They have walls around nothing. He told me” the American said in reference to our guide “that the holes in the walls are for birds.”
Holes in the Walls
Sitting on the beach in Restinga looking at the Mediterranean I imagine Phoenicians sailing their galley ships across from Lebanon to Morocco. The oarsmen could rest on a windy day like today as they sailed their ship westward towards Tingis, modern day Tangiers.
I just bought a bag made of fabric woven from silk and cotton with leather detailing. I bought it from the “purse guy” on Rue des Consuls in the medina Rabat. He has excellent quality bags. If you get to go to Rabat, stop by his shop. I don’t know how to describe the exact location, but you should be able to spot it by the steady flow of customers coming in and out.
My Moroccan Bag
So often in Morocco the exterior door is all you ever get to see of a building; the exterior walls mask the interior structure, which is securely hidden. Riads are designed with windows facing in towards a central salon, so there is no hope of peering-in or guessing what lies inside. Mosques and relilgious buildings are interdit, completely off-limits to me as entrance is forbidden to non-Muslims. Luckily, and consequently, doors in Morocco are beautiful.
The sunlight in Morocco is spectacular. It adds or subtracts from the depth of color. It creates patterns that change through the day so that a simple trellis becomes a thing of wonder.
Tassels and embroidery have always had a place in Moroccan design. Lately I’ve noticed them being applied in nontraditional ways. More
Riad 20 Jasmins is the reason why I skipped half of the Morocco Business Forum. I left the conference early on the second day to take a much needed nap. My room, the smallest and, ahem, least expensive room in the house, was towards the front of the building. I could hear medina life at all hours of the day and most of the night. People watching was off limits. My room’s window was above the alley, so all I could see was the small garden where black birds made a ruckus in the morning just after the morning call to prayer. Instead of napping I enjoyed the quiet of the riad when all other guests exhausted themselves with tours of the medina. I essentially had the salon to myself, wireless Internet access, and excellent examples of zillige tesselations, borders, and stars to contemplate.
Staying-in in Fes
In the medina you can occasionally find haute couture labels mixed-in with traditional handicraft products. But there is something wrong with the design: the leather smells, the lining is missing, the tailoring is skewed. These are the products that didn’t make it past quality control. Would-be exporters and designers who want to take advantage of Morocco’s surplus of world-famous artisan talent will have to face the issue of quality control again, again, and again.
As an English speaker, researching the origins and history of Moroccan design has been a nightmare. Virtually no one in the English language writes about the culture of Morocco. The subject is treated by picture books, travel guides, and cook books that do more to inspire than inform.
More on my quest to understand Moroccan design
Driving from Fes to Ifrane, I spotted patches of red amongst a green patch of land. On closer inspection, I realized there were Berber women gathered dying wool in the shallow river-bed. As we drove, I saw some women running towards buses. They carried buckets overflowing with red, freshly-died yarn. I wanted to take their picture, but felt unsure about invading the moment with a camera. To be a good photographer, I suppose you must be invasive. The sight of the women and the red yarn in the green riverbed is a picture I continue to wish I had taken.
Berbers in Morocco
The Moroccan government set-up a new minsterial department dedicated to marketing the Moroccan craft sector. The plan focuses on marketing Moroccan artisanal products to consumers in the United States, Russia, the Gulf States and wealthy Moroccans.
Noting that 10 million Moroccans are employed in the handicraft industry in Morocco, the Secretary of State for Handicrafts Anis Birou stated “…it’s a third of the population, which is a fundamental part of Moroccan life and society.”
“I want our marketing policy to give pride of place to our independent craftsmen, who aren’t able to make a profit from what they make every day. I want to give them the opportunity to go and see what is happening elsewhere and to attend international exhibitions, even if only as observers, so that they can find out about the competition,” Birou announced.
For more information, see full article at Magharebia.com
I expected to see Moroccan design influences during my trip to Arizona. The desert climate is perfect for tile, cement/adobe houses, and water fountains. A pleasant surprise was an unplanned trip to Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. Built in 1777, this active Catholic church has been called the Sistine chapel of the United States. I had never heard of it before. It was beautiful and well-worth the visit.
Moroccan pattern in a Catholic church
I got an e-mail from an artist who is constructing Islamic patterns and was wondering about the use of a grid. Since there are only three regular tessellations; square, hexagon, and triangle, I think each of those grid types would be useful as a base for constructing complex patterns. I found some free downloadable grid papers online. Scroll down the page and you’ll find triangles, hexagons, and even octagons, all which should be very useful for learning how to construct zillij patterns. Some writers state zillij designs are constructed through circles, but I am confident there are more straight forward grids underlying them. Let me know how it works out for you if you try them.
Some tips on creating Islamic patterns
A brief look the places I can’t afford to stay at in Morocco, and a few I can. Luckily, I am able to appreciate good design through photos.
Do you know of a Moroccan hotel that exemplifies good Moroccan design? Leave a comment and include a link to photos. Then we can all live together in a virtual Moroccan wonderland. Thanks.
Places I can't afford to stay at in Morocco
Roof line at Casa Hassan, Chefchaouen, Morocco.
Driving through the Washington, DC, suburbs, it’s easy to feel the wonder has been stripped from the world. Gas is 3.699 per gallon. A bright red sign in shop windows advertises 50% off spring merchandise. People on the side of the street hold signs reading “Closeout: Leather Living Furniture. Everything Must Go!” or “Vietnam Veteran. Homeless. Please Help. God Bless.” Talk radio transmits news and events in far off places. I sit passively behind the wheel of my car, surrounded by steel.
Remember the Art of Geometry
Fashion has been trying to integrate Moroccan style into clothing for years. I recollect a quilted skirt in a zillij pattern years ago that never made it off the runway into mainstream. Recently, Tracy Reese created a zillij-inspired handbag that I think I have to buy. It is a much better version of Morocco than the Furla bag I saw a few springs ago, which featured an unfortunate zillij print.
Anthropologie has picked up the effort to bring Moroccan style to fashion with it’s 2008 spring catalog titled “Escape to Morocco.” I brought the catalog to a recent family dinner to get the opinion of my husband and two brother-in-laws. “The tall brunette got more attention than the blond in Morocco” was the opinion of the oldest. “Why did they do her hair that way? It is really unflattering” was the opinion of the cover model given by the youngest. My sister in-law questioned “Are you looking at the girls or the clothes?” My view: ladies, none of the feature outfits are appropriate for a tour of the medina in Fes.
More Moroccan Style?
I’ve recreated a few Moroccan tiling patterns. These designs are great for web and graphic designers or for anyone to use as desktop wallpaper. I kept the designs black and white. You can use an image-editing software to customizing the color scheme to suite your taste. They are free for download.
Download Moroccan Pattern Backgrounds
An interesting documentary on medieval Arabic/Islamic society in Europe, specifically Southern Spain. Includes an explanation of the geometric proportions used in the construction of the Alhambra, which is based on proportional rectangles. The images in the video are from Morocco or Al-Andalus, the Iberian Peninsula. It is a bit odd to see Rifi women in the North of Morocco on screen as the narrator discusses how Mohammad founded Islam in Mecca. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful documentary worth watching.
If you preferring reading to video, a lot of the historical content in this documentary is also covered in the book Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain . “Ornament of the World” is the phrase a medieval German traveler described Granada, which represented a more advanced society than found in the rest of medieval Europe.
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.
Create a Moroccan-Style Dinning Room