Moroccan decor is all about sharing the joy of living under the sun. Here is how to emulate it.
Moroccan decor draws inspiration from its cultural identity, which is a vibrant mix of Islamic, Berber, Sahrawi, African, Arab, and European heritage as reflected in its best known traditional home, the riad. The term riad comes from the Arabic word for garden.
The first known riad with an inner garden was built in the early 12th century in the Almoravid palace of Marrakech, Morocco by Ali ibn Yusuf under the Almoravid Berber Dynasty.
Moroccan riads are traditional stately city homes and palaces with interior gardens rooted in Islamic and Moorish architecture that only the wealthiest citizens could afford to own in ancient times.
Explore the old medina of Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat or Fez to discover world-class architectural beauties showcased in the carved woodwork, handcrafted zellige tiles, and ornamental plasterwork that adorn magnificent homes and historical sites in these towns.
Spend time discovering these places that boast a rich history, whilst negotiating a Berber beni ourain wool rug, a colourful leather pouffe, and stunning sabra cactus silk cushions in the markets (“souks”)’s shops, enjoying heartwarming conversations with local people.
Whilst you may not reside in a fabulous riad or a modernist home in Morocco’s upmarket neighbourhoods, let’s unpack what defines the Moroccan decor style, its evolution, and what makes Moroccan interiors attractive, particularly to maximalists and the international jet-set.
Lastly, let’s explore a few interior decorating tips you can draw upon to infuse Moroccan decor style into your home in a way that best reflects your own personality.
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What is Moroccan Style Decor?
From Yves-Saint Laurent to Omar Sharif and well-heeled politicians and the international jet-set, Morocco’ superb architecture and interior style have seduced many over the years.
Sumptuous, colourful, and bohemian chic are some of the few words that come to mind when thinking about the Moroccan decor style. There are some characteristics that can be found in most traditional and contemporary Moroccan homes.
Moroccan decor is heavily influenced by its mediterranean climate that encourages indoor-outdoor living and a deep connection with nature and its tribes, from coastal towns to Western Sahara inhabited by the Sawrahis and the Atlas mountains, home to the Berbers.
Whether they live in a traditional riad, a dar, a douria, a kasbah, a contemporary house or apartment, Moroccans like to create inviting outdoor spaces and add natural elements and plants into their homes.
Geometric patterns, Quranic calligraphy, ornamental metalwork, arched structures, sculptural forms, handcrafted zellige tiles, intricate woodwork, and “Tadelakt” lime-based plaster from Marrakech are some elaborate architectural features found in Moroccan homes.
Vibrant colours and detailed patterns form the backbone of Moroccan decor where both aesthetic and style are very much at the forefront.
In Moroccan homes, it is quite common to find a rainbow of colours and handmade textiles of various textures on walls, ceilings, windows, floors, tiles, and home furnishings that clash together in cohesive eclecticism that only the most skilled maximalists can achieve.
However, with the rise of minimalist design, it is not uncommon to find a departure from such a theme in contemporary homes and modernised traditional riads, dars, and dourias for a more neutral colour palette. White, sand, beige and grey hues, earthy tones mimicking the Western Sahara desert, and natural elements reign supreme in these updated homes.
As for furniture, Moroccans like to blend traditional handcrafted furniture pieces, including low-seating areas, to create a relaxing atmosphere in their homes with classical and contemporary European designs.
Like in many Arabic and Middle Eastern cultures, Moroccan decor is also about home fragrances. An array of kitchen spices, floral scents from the Atlas Mountains, and Mediterranean citrus plant extracts embalm the air of most Moroccan homes.
The best way to approach Moroccan decor is to look at how Moroccans bring to life their country’s landscape colours and cultural heritage in their homes’ architectures, furniture styles, and handcrafted home accessories to celebrate the joy of indoor-outdoor living.
Let’s now look at key time periods in history that helped birth Moroccan decor and influence its seductive architectural design styles.
A Brief History of Moroccan Design
Berber and Islamic Influences – 9th to 14th Centuries
In the 9th century, the Arab Muslim Idrisid dynasty, considered to be the first Moroccan Islamic state with Fez as the capital, built one of the first mosques, the al-Qarawiyyin in 857 or 859 courtsey of Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed al-Fihri. The religious building cemented the introduction of Islamic architecture in Morocco.
Traditional Moroccan riads with their ornamental details, which epitomise the best known Moroccan decor, were introduced in Morocco between the 12th and 14th centuries under the Almoravid, the Almohad and the Marinid Berber Dynasties and the Nasrid Muslim dynasty.
This early period of Moroccan architecture helped establish the riad’s inner garden model as a distinguishing feature of secular and royal palaces’ architecture in Morocco, Andalusia (Muslim Spain and Portugal under Moorish rule in the 8th-15th centuries), and North Africa.
Interior gardens were a popular feature of palace architecture and prestigious mosques in the Muslim world, because greenery and water were associated with images of “Jannah” (Arabic word for paradise or heaven in Islam).
Building on such a design principle, the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque architecture was significantly expanded under the Almoravids, whose capital city was Marrakech, and subsequent Muslim dynasties.
Riads, with their rectangular inner gardens, are symmetrically divided into four parts along their central axes and typically have a fountain or water in a pool-like style in the middle.
They generally have two or more levels built around their central interior gardens, with upper balconies overlooking the lower floor. Most have roof terraces with high walls.
Aside from riads, other traditional homes help define the Moroccan decor style: the dars, the dourias, and the kasbahs (castle-like fortresses).
Dars differ from riads architecturally, in the sense that dars have an inner courtyard only, whereas riads have an inner garden. The Douria is simply a smaller apartment-style property similar in design to a dar.
In the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara and pre-Sahara rural regions inhabited by the Berbers and the Sahrawi people, kasbahs primarily made of rammed earth and decorated with local geometric motifs inspired by Islamic architecture are very much present in the landscape.
The ksar (fortified village) of Aït Benhaddou dating back from the 11th century under the Almoravids in the southern High Atlas mountains of Morocco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, has a magnificent kasbah near Marrakech worth checking out.
French and Spanish Influences – 1912 and 1958
French and Spanish design influences during Morocco’s colonial occupation between 1912 and 1958 helped introduce the Art Deco and neo-Moorish (or Mauresque) architecture in the Kingdom.
The use of bright colours toegther with earthy tones, a stripy details, bold geometric forms, soft curves,cubism, and fine craftsmanship using expensive materials in modern design styles started their entrance in Morocco’s elite colonial circles.
Introducing Modernist Architecture – Late 20th Century to Date
After Morocco regained its independence on March 2, 1956, there was a resurgence of traditional Moroccan elaborate architecture as showcased by the completion of the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V in 1971 and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca in 1993.
From the 20th century to this date, modernist architectural designs embedding arabesque and geometric decorating elements and tadelakt plaster have gained momentum in Morocco thanks to tourism and an increasingly multicultural, urban, and well-travelled population.
These contemporary constructions are designed to accommodate the needs of a growing urban population and tourists, who need much simpler, affordable and easier to maintain apartments and villas better suited to their modern lifestyles and much smaller family sizes.
There are few interesting features Moroccans tend to focus on to bring their beautiful homes to life. Here is how you can cleverly lean on them to subtly embellish for your own home.
6 Clever Interior Decorating Tips To Emulate A Moroccan Style Decor
Celebrate Architectural Elements
Colourful handmade zellige tiles, ornamental metalwork and plasterwork, including Tadelakt (stucco), arabesque and floral motifs,geometric patterns, Islamic calligraphy and arches, and handcrafted woodwork and doors form part of riads’, dars’, and dourias’ architectural details.
Water fountains, domes, stained glass windows, carved wood beams on the ceiling, and mosaic tiles are also integral to traditional homes’ architecture in Morocco.
Traditional Moroccan homes are inward focused to allow for protection from the weather and for family privacy. This inward design feature is characterised by the lack of large windows on the exterior walls and the presence of inner gardens and courtyards in these homes.
The design principle is anchored in Islamic cultures that place great value on privacy to delineate private family spaces, where women and children can relax and work, from semi-public spaces to welcome and entertain guests.
Modernist homes and apartments in Morocco are almost similar in design to the ones you will see in most Western urban areas, except for the fact that earthy tones and coastal hues, arches, arabesque and sculptural forms are subtly added into their designs.
One of the clever ways to infuse Moroccan decor style into your space is by cleverly adding zellige tiles or mosaic tiles in a colour that matches your home interiors in your bathroom, as a kitchen backsplash, or a patio flooring option, as on your kitchen ceiling if you are daring.
Applying Tadelakt natural lime-based plaster on your walls in any colour of your choice, particularly in your wet room areas is another sophisticated option to add a Moroccan touch into your space. Both decorative and waterproof tadelakt will give a smooth and elegant finish to your walls akin to polished concrete or a natural stone.
Embrace Indoor/Outdoor Living
In addition to their inner gardens and courtyards, riads, dars’ and dourias’ walled roof terraces are turned into inviting outdoor spaces for al fresco dining and to allow the sun, fresh air and rainwater to circulate in the buildings through pitched roof edges.
Some upgraded roof terraces have glass covering the opening, even swimming pools, and low seating areas to entertain family and guests. The outdoor ambient lighting tends to be soft to create an inviting atmosphere.
Most modern homes and apartments in Morocco have balconies or patios filled with potted plants and furniture to allow people to take full advantage of the year-round sunny weather.
So, if you are lucky enough to have a porch, a balcony, or a patio, invest in upgrading them with a covering of your choice to be able to enjoy outdoor living all year round.
Decorate them with easy-to-maintain outdoor potted plants. As for outdoor furniture, splurge on floor cushions, ceramic stools, water resistant wooden benches, and Moroccan bone inlay coffee tables to elevate your exterior.
Introduce Opulent Colours
Moroccans are skilled in building their homes by taking cues from their colours’ landscapes.
Houses in the Marrakech region, Ouarzazate, parts of Fez, and Western Sahara celebrate earthy tones in red and warm clays.
The coastal towns of Casablanca, Agadir, and Tangier are embracing various shades of white as their dominant hue, whilst Chefchouan is colour drenched in turquoise coastal blue.
In traditional homes, dominant colours tend to evolve around various hues of white and grey, Majorelle cobalt blue, citrus yellow, warm purple, dark green, tangerine, medium wood, and a little bit of black with rainbow-like stained glass windows, mosaic and zellige tiles.
To emulate Moroccan decor at home, create a bright and airy feel in your space with white and neutral tones as a starting point.
Design an accent wall in more vibrant hues to make an impact, and be playful with your wall art decor and soft furnishings which are easier to swap during the year.
If you can afford it, choose a door or a window for one of your rooms blending in colourful stained glass that could beautifully spread light in your home interiors.
Add A Touch of Bohemian Chic
Moroccan bohemian decor influences arise from the nomadic Sahrawis from Western Sahara and the semi-nomadic Berber tribes, who are highly skilled crafts people. Their craftsmanship together with the other elements of Moroccan decor expanded overseas thanks to the wave of young bourgeois hippies who visited the Kingdom in the 1960’s.
A handmade tuareg or kilim rug or a fluffy beni ourain wool rug, pouffes, sabra cactus silk cushions, throw blankets, and napkins are a few simple decor items you can add to your living spaces or a bedroom to bring out the boho chic style in your home.
Invest in Moroccan Handcrafted Furnishings
Pay homage to exquisite Moroccan wood carvings, metalwork and ceramics by investing in a few vintage vases, wall lights and chandeliers for a soothing ambience, or a handmade bone inlay chest of drawers or a small desk to help ground your space with artisanship.
Add a room divider screen showcasing Moroccan woodwork artistry found in riads and dars into your space to serve as an interesting backdrop to a room corner.
Elevate a dull living space with handcrafted wooden stools or antique small side tables in hammered aluminium, which may be flexibly turned into extra seating for guests.
Brighten a room with decorative mirrors framed with wrought ironwork or deeply carved wood that will add interest to your walls.
Infuse Captivating Scents in your Space
Moroccans love to saturate their homes and world renowned cuisine with lots of interesting scents.
Draw inspiration from them by adding flavourful spices, floral and citrus water including the legendary saffron known as zafrane in Morocco, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, and a bit or rose water and orange water in your dishes, beautifully stored away in your kitchen cabinets.
For the garden and communal living spaces, infuse your spaces with scented oud candles, rose petals and oils from Morocco’s valley of the roses in Kalaat M’Gouna, and citrus scents of orange blossom, lemon, and grapefruit essential oils from its Mediterranean soil.