For those that desire a home that reflects a sense of culture, travel and curation, bohemian décor can be the perfect interior design direction. Bohemian styles offer a more casual and relaxed space, giving you the freedom to create an eclectic visual feast for the eyes. Bohemian styles are the ideal choice for people looking to embrace styles and themes from many cultures and disciplines. When it comes to bohemian interior design, it’s no surprise that Moroccan décor is a popular choice.

Marrakesh
A shot of Marrakesh with a view of the Atlas mountains

Morocco is a beautiful and romantic country full of diversity. A mixture of cultural inputs from Arab culture, Persia, Europe & Sub-Saharan Africa makes Moroccan interior design and architecture wonderfully exotic, dramatic, and multifaceted. In this ‘behind the style’ article, we explore the origins and popularity of Moorish architecture as the foundation for Moroccan décor, and we take a look at its core design elements.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Moorish architecture – Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

THE ORIGINS

Vibrant jewel colours, textured fabrics, medieval character, and intricate carvings make Moroccan interior design a popular choice, but when exactly did Moroccan architecture and décor start to become prevalent worldwide

Much of Moroccan interior design is firmly rooted in Moorish architecture. Moorish architecture is an architectural style which developed in Western Islamic culture. The Andalusians (also known as the Moors) became dominant in North Africa (Maghreb) and parts of the Western Mediterranean such as Spain and Portugal (Al Andalus) between the 7th to the 15th century. During their rule, they carried their Muslim faith to new countries, implementing their style of architecture in their houses of worship. Moorish style blends influence from Berber culture and contemporary artistic elements from the Islamic Middle East. Over the centuries, the style developed clearly recognisable features such as the “Moorish” horseshoe arch, the tiered interior garden and geometric Zellij mosaic tilework.

Moorish art, architecture and design can be seen in many of the main capitals of the empires and Muslim states the moors occupied. Some of the most prominent examples of Moorish architecture can be found in Spain, with most built at the beginning of the 13th century and towards the end of the 16th century.

The Mosque of Cordoba Morrocan bohemian architecture
The Mosque of Cordoba

One stunning example of Moorish architecture that can still be enjoyed today is the Mosque of Cordoba. The mosque’s large open rooms feature double arches of contrasting dark and light stone, whilst the walls are adorned with stunning mosaics, azulejos and panels of scented woods. One of the mosque’s most famous design features is its hypostyle hall constructed from 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. The building is a spectacular representation of Western Islamic art and design that embodies multiple Moorish techniques and elements into one concise composition.

Even after Muslim rule ended, the Moroccan style remained popular and the techniques and styles were adopted throughout the centuries. The Moorish architectural style was applied by Iberian Christian kingdoms and employed to Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural styles as ornamental and decorative features. In the late 17th century, Moorish design became popular as an extension of Orientalism. As Europe and America became fascinated with the mystery or the East, Neo-Moorish or Moorish Revival style became popular alongside other styles such as Chinoiserie and the French Rocco movement.

MOROCCAN STYLE ELEMENTS

Arches

Perhaps the most iconic Moroccan architectural feature is the Moorish arch. These may have a simple curved top, or they make take the form of a horseshoe arch which follows the outline of a temple. The arch is prevalent throughout Moroccan architecture in alcoves, doorways, and windows.

Moorish arch Morrocan architecture
A typical Moorish arch

Mashrabiyas and Windows

A traditional window seen in Islamic architecture is the Mashrabiya, an oriel window enclosed within carved wood latticework. Similar to the Windcatchers that were used in ancient Egyptian architecture, these windows are an ingenious way to catch and passively cool the wind using a method of evaporative cooling. Sometimes these were enhanced with stained glass. The stained glass associated with Moroccan buildings uses jewel colours in geometric and diamond patterns, much like Islamic tilework.

Mashrabiya window Morrocan architecture
A Mashrabiya window as part of an old Ottoman-era house in Cairo, Egypt

Lamps and Lanterns

There are two types of traditional Moroccan lamps.  Perhaps one of the most recognisable Moroccan lamps is one made out of stained glass with rustic brass or wrought iron metalwork. The metal latticework on Moroccan lamps can be extremely elaborate and delicate. The lamps are finished in all number of colour combinations, although blue and amber are considered two of the most popular colour choices. The second type of Moroccan lamp is made from dyed goatskin stretched over an iron or brass frame. These lamps are hand-painted with henna dyes, decorated with symbols, geometric shapes, and nature patterns. The lamps have spiritual and symbolic meanings depending on the pattern of the lamp, for example, fish patterns represent water, fertility, and prosperity.

Morrocan moorish bohemian lamp
Moroccan Moorish Brass Alhambra Chandelier – 1stDibs

Zellij Mosaics

Zellij is a centuries-old style of Islamic Mosaic artwork and one of the main characteristics of Moroccan architecture, adorning many public buildings, historic sites, and homes across Morocco. Although inspired by Roman Mosaics, Zellij originated from Muslim artists. Because of their faith, the artwork avoids depictions of living creatures. The restriction forced architects and artists to become creative, producing spatial, abstract designs that were delicate, intricate, and complex. The Zellij style of mosaic tilework is made from hand-chiselled tile pieces set into a plaster base. The tiles are placed to form repetitive and elaborate geometric motifs and radiating star patterns. Over the centuries, the tile making process has become more refined and the thinner tiles allow artists to create more intricate and complicated patterns. The tilework has become so complex it has become a subject for study by scholars in mathematics and engineering.

The Lobby at the Royal Mansour, Marrakech with bohemian Zellig tiled walls
The handcrafted Zellij adorned lobby at The Royal Mansour, Marrakech

There are many examples of Zellij mosaics throughout North Africa and parts of the Western Mediterranean and one of our favourites is Le Jardin tucked away in the medina of Marrakech. The restaurant is internationally known for its iconic green Zellij creating an exotic and calming oasis. A beautifully renovated 16th Century building, the restaurant is a perfect example of contemporary Moroccan design and 1960’s European glamour.

Le Jardin - Marrakech bohemian roof top restaurant
Le Jardin Marrakech

Colours

Colour is an incredibly important element of Moroccan design. More contemporary designs focus on neutral colours inspired by North African landscapes such as sand, taupe, beige, and shades of white. Bold, vibrant colours are used in more traditional interpretations with colours such as fuchsia, purple, vibrant red, and royal blue. The bolder colours create an exotic sense of drama.

Materials

Textiles – a mixture of fabrics are used throughout Moroccan decor to create textures and layers within the design. Soft and tactile silks and light fabrics are perfect for achieving the sumptuous relaxed comfort synonymous with Moroccan style. Silks and chenille fabrics are draped on furniture or used to divide rooms and frame windows. Textiles also dress the floors of Moroccan homes. Traditionally used for prayer, Kilim rugs have become popular in Western interpretations of Morrocan interiors. The fabrics chosen are typically luxurious, bold and rich in colour. Tassels, contrasting buttons, piping and patterns are commonly used to add a sense of glamorous luxury drama to the design.

Metals – Common metals that are used in Moroccan design are wrought iron, copper, and gold. Traditionally wrought iron is used in the making of Moroccan lamps, whilst gold and copper inlays are used to dress intricate wood panelling and furniture.

Stone – the material is often used for the walls and the floors of Moroccan properties.  The walls and floors are left coarse and bare, which creates the textured look associated with Moroccan riads, mosques, Kasbahs and Madrasa.

Furniture

Moroccan style is all about diversity and unique pieces with quirks.  The Moroccan bohemian style embraces more unconventional furniture in favour of unique and quirky pieces. Moroccan interior design often combines delicate hand-carved furniture pieces with luxurious plump upholstery. Tables are intricately hand-carved with inlaid tile or metalwork designs whilst plush cushions, sofas, pouffes and ottomans create a relaxed sense of causal lounge comfort.

Gardens

In Morroco the term riad means “garden” but it is also used to describe the townhouses built around a central courtyard garden. Traditionally these gardens are symmetrical in layout focusing around a fountain or large focal tree. The key design rule when creating a Moroccan riad garden is to consider how the garden looks from an inward, 360-degree approach whilst also considering the space on multiple levels. The gardens are often planted with orange, lemon or fig trees whilst roses fill the space with colour and exotic scents.

Morrocan riad garden

Accessories 

Layers are essential when creating a Moroccan inspired interior. Typical accessories include wooden bowls, terracotta pots, ornate mirrors, wrought iron ornaments, hand-painted ceramics, and stained-glass vases.

If you would like to find out more about Bohemian decor, or to speak with a designer about your project, contact your local studio today.