As Americans, I find that we are fascinated with the aesthetics of older countries. Whether it be hanging a Union Jack flag in our college dorm room or purchasing vibrant beaded curtains for our first apartment, we often look to other cultures for design inspiration. For me, Moroccan interior design has stepped back into the spotlight this year. I think our cultural love affair with Moroccan design began with the 1940s film Casablanca. Today, audiences are once again fixated on the enchanting lure of the busy market streets and private riads as they watch Anna Delvey’s conned Marrakech vacation unfold on the new Netflix series Inventing Anna.
As you know, I am determined to complete a cross-country road trip to learn more about all-American interior design styles. But, I think I will take a slight detour to dive deeper into Moroccan interior design. (Don’t worry. I won’t steal a private jet to get there like Anna did.) So, follow along as I reveal the elements of Moroccan interior design, influences on the style, and why it has such a big impact here in the states.
But before we take off, let me tell you some backstory on my own experience with Moroccan interior design.
My Own Experience With Moroccan Interior Design (AKA Dipping My Toe in Boho Chic)
Moroccan interior design’s vibrantly lavish yet casual feel has always appealed to me. When I moved to New York City at 23 to start my interior design career, the most exciting aspects of the journey were creating my own stylish space and reinventing myself in the big city. So when I was considering what style I wanted to take with me into my new life, it was Moroccan design that I initially clung to.
Upon arriving in the Upper West Side, I immediately began shopping for decor. First, I hit up Urban Outfitters for Moroccan-style wall sconces and sheer beaded curtains to accentuate my bed tucked away under an archway. Then, I took the subway to the Upper East Side to shop for imported bed linens and floor pillows, which I decided to pile in the living room as a substitute for out-of-budget (and space) armchairs.
Upon styling my haul in the space, I realized that I created something other than an authentically Moroccan decor scheme. My limited knowledge of Moroccan design at the time, paired with my love of Bloomsbury Group style and the Laura Ashley textiles of my youth, resulted in a very casual mix of decor elements. So while I may have wanted to plunge into a Moroccan courtyard pool, I actually ended up dipping my toe in boho chic design. However, this was just fine with me! I happened to love the hippie-chic designs of Yves Saint Laurant during the 1970s (which drew from Moroccan inspiration themselves). Plus, the boho chic style was having its own moment when I moved to the city.
My takeaway from this memory is that while Moroccan design is not an “American style,” there is something very American about a melting pot of elements that come together to form something totally new.
Elements of the Moroccan Interior Design Style
Moroccan interior design embraces rich colors, including deep terracottas, indigos, greens, golds, pinks, and purples. Sometimes these colors only appear as accents, showcased in crisper neutral rooms of sandy whites. However, other times Moroccan spaces are an explosion of contrasting colors and patterns.
Like the busy street markets of Marrakech, Moroccan design schemes are layered with rich textiles and intriguing accessories. Blend elements like hanging pendant lights, decorative mirrors, airy curtains, patterned accent rugs, mosaic murals, carved furnishings, and weaved baskets to create the romantic and alluring look for which the style is known.
Many Moroccan homes and hotels contain a central riad. A riad is an interior garden or courtyard popular in Moorish and Islamic period designs. Typically, riads are highly decorative and feature a pool, fountain, or garden accentuated with adorning tile work. Rooms of the home open onto the courtyard, often containing converted patios and balconies set off with decorative arches.
Zellige tiles are handmade and brightly glazed tiles commonly seen in Moroccan design. While they can be hand chiseled into geometric mosaics, they are also applied in classic square grid patterns. Mosaic patterns are typically set into a plaster base, forming radiating stars. When laid in a simple grid, the handmade nature of the tiles reveal variations in relief which creates a glistening textured appearance.
Moroccan architecture utilizes tadelakt plaster, a waterproof material applied on everything from walls and ceilings to baths and sinks. Tadelakt is made from lime plaster and an olive-based soap, resulting in a chemical reaction that produces a waterproof membrane. Tadelakt is highly durable, and pigments give it color. Traditionally, deep reds and terracotta colors are used, and it is polished to a matt or glossy finish.
Moroccan design may be most famous for its Berber rugs. These hand-woven rugs are created with natural wood fibers and vegetable dyes. While many patterns are available, classic designs feature abstract or asymmetrical prints featuring reds, oranges, pinks, and purples. If you are lucky enough to go on a Moroccan vacation, a Berber rug is a must-have souvenir!
Influences on Moroccan Interior Design
The Moors had one of the heaviest influences on Moroccan interior design and architecture, and they were also responsible for developing the arts, sciences, and economy of the region. The Moorish architectural style was developed in the western Islamic world around the 11th century. It included many of the Moroccan design elements we associate with the look, including arches, mosaic tilework, and geometric motifs.
The Mediterranean Sea
While Morocco is a North African country, it borders the Mediterranean Sea. So, Morocco shares a similar climate with its neighboring countries of Spain, Italy, and the French Riviera. Like these other Mediterranean countries, Moroccan design also embraces indoor-outdoor living, airy textiles, lush plantings, and plenty of spaces to enjoy the sunshine.
The American Fascination with “Boho Chic”
Boho chic came to be during the 1970s, incorporating an eclectic mix of colors, patterns, and textures sourced from countries around the globe. Since then, boho chic has come in and out of style, with resurgences in popularity in the 1990s and today. In many ways, the American portrayal of Moroccan design in the boho chic movement has influenced how we view the style, taking a more casual approach to the design.
Moroccan Design’s Role in American Pop Culture
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Casablanca is one of my favorite movies for interior design inspiration. This 1942 film ignited a spark with the American fascination of Morocco, creating a highly romanticized allure with some of the most iconic scenes in movie history. For many, Casablanca is a dream vacation (although I hear nearby Marrakesh is much more tourist-friendly). It’s films like these that often serve as design inspiration for our homes without us even realizing it at first.
“Round up the usual suspects.” Anna Delvey, also known as Anna Sorokin, the Magician of Manhattan, the fake German heiress, and a Russian con artist, has recently reignited a fascination with the luxury and exclusivity of Morocco alongside dozens of celebrities. Headlines about her conned Marrakesh vacation and the newly released Inventing Anna series on Netflix have our eyes on her scandalous schemes and glamorous poolside riad Instagram posts. (Anna was by no means a trendsetter here, as dozens of celebrity selfies inspired her trip to the La Mamounia resort.) After watching the series, I thought about how interesting it is that a select few tastemakers can make or break the popularity of a destination (or design style) and how someone could infiltrate the age-old system. While I personally can’t relate to anything about Anna, we both seem to appreciate a quality Berber rug.
What Makes Moroccan Interior Design So Alluring to Americans?
I have come a long way from tossing floor pillows around my first New York apartment. With many more years under my belt, I have a much deeper knowledge of interior design styles and history. However, I am still enchanted by Moroccan interior design. I am drawn to the effortless glamor and comfort of a tunic, communal seating arrangements, and brightly patterned textiles. Slight Moroccan influences are present in many trending design schemes — Zellige tiles are all the rage right now, no matter what style your home is. Still, I think Americans are drawn to the romance of the riad and the aspirational luxury some of us (like Anna) are willing to do anything to unlock. My personal approach to luxury is embracing what captures your imagination, even if it’s simple floor pillows for your first apartment.
Now, I think I may just break out the floor pillows and popcorn for a Casablanca movie night.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.